Brighton Starling Murmurations - 2020 / 2021

Welcome to my starling murmuration essay for 2020/21. I had planned to photograph something else this winter, but I changed my mind on a whim, after going to Brighton Pier a few days after the second lockdown ended. By the forth visit, I had enough creative images to stop and publish the essay — and the twenty images here are from a total of six trips to the pier. Some of my images are highly unusual, and left me wondering how I even managed to take them. Take the first picture  a night city motion blur shot of birds and light trails from evening traffic. Shots three and four give us an idea of what a starling murmuration would look like, if photographed from within the atmosphere of Jupiter. The monochromatic motion blur images (ten to eighteen) look like they've been sketched on art paper using a pencil. I captured the strangeness of the murmuration, as it compacted into an oval before unravelling like a rope in pouring rain well after sunset, as most other photographers sheltered under a veranda. All images are single exposures — my camera is set to write data straight from the sensor and I bring the flat, unprocessed raw images to life in Adobe Photoshop. 

Phone cameras and apps are so good at automating image workflows, that anyone can take photographs to an acceptable standard, post them to social media and receive hundreds of likes. The demarcation between beginner and expert has become less clear, now that technology has made photography more accessible. My journey as a wildlife photographer began in the absence of friendly validation and the imperative was therefore on me to judge and improve my standards. I have always found taking photographs easy, but so many variables must come together at just the right time, that creating consistently good art requires years of experience to execute. I hope this comes across in my latest photo essay.

The Brighton murmurations take a while to gather, particularly in fine weather, as the starlings maximise feeding time before heading over to the pier. I've seen quite a few people turn up early and ask "Is that all there is?" before wandering off disappointed, only to miss breathtaking huge oval-shaped murmurations fly 50 metres overhead 20 minutes later. The murmurations usually reach their peak about 15 minutes after sunset, so keep warm and sit tight. Rain just before sunset can prompt the starlings to gather early and if you're lucky, the sun might come out again when the murmuration reaches peak size. 

   Starling Murmuration and Brighton Night Traffic  Starling Blurmuration over Brighton Seafront  Starling Murmuration at Sunset - Brighton 2020  Starlings and Jovian Sky  Starling Murmuration and Red Sky  Orange and Grey Sky and Murmuration      Motion Blur Starling Murmuration  Brighton Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur  Starling Motion Blur  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur - Sausage Shape  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur - Minimal  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur - Minimal  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur - Minimal  Starling Murmuration - Motion Blur - Minimal  Starling Motion Blur and Waves   Starling Blurmuration over Sea   

Technical Specs: I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L USM lens handheld for all shots. To prevent the lens focus from jumping from the starlings to the background, I reduced the focus tracking sensitivity to the lowest setting. Murmurations change direction and speed erratically, so I increased the autofocus acceleration/deceleration sensitivity to the highest setting. Low sun angles and vivid skies increase the risk of blown out highlights, so for the images shot at high shutter speeds, I turned on Highlight Tone Priority. I set my camera to shutter priority and used 1/13th second for the motion blur images, adjusting the ISO from 50 to 400, depending on the light levels.

I hope you've enjoyed my starling murmuration photo essay for winter 2020/21. Your comments are always appreciated. It would be great to see your starling murmuration shots, at Brighton Pier or any of the other places around Europe known for starlings, so don't forget to include a link. Let's hope 2021 will prove to be a better year than 2020. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you get vaccinated soon and everyone can safely return to the activities we enjoy!


Comments

Christian said…
Hello Alan,

this photo essay of yours is an instant favourite!
I spotted your first picture on flickr but the last two of your series are my absolute favourites. And thank you also for sharing the technical details - I might give it a try too some day.

I send you my best wishes to Brighton, which we fell in love with during our last visit (2013, much too long ago!).

Alan MacKenzie said…
Hello Christian!

It's great to have people appreciate my work in the way you did. Most photographers post single images to social media, receive a flurry of likes and get swiftly forgotten. Viewers are just gobbling through images, like popcorn. I like to provide a narrative, with context. See my photo essays on Roe deer. Anyone with an interest in my subjects can come away with a greater understanding of their lives and how I photographed them.

Brighton has changed quite a lot, with new buildings, a brand new park and a tall viewing platform called the i360. If you ever return, there are some wonderful places in Sussex - the High Weald Rocks, Friston Forest and the Knepp Rewilding Project.

All the best.

Alan.

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