Murmuration of starlings: How our stunning front-page photograph was taken

James Crombie, press photographer of the year, spent months chasing the perfect shot

The scene of James Crombie's murmuration photograph at Lough Ennell, as starlings transform in the shape of a giant, otherworldly bird. Crombie was just named press photographer of the year by the PPAI. Video: Colin Hogg

 

You look at the photograph of the murmuration of starlings once, and then twice, with rising awe, because something else astonishing is happening in it. James Crombie’s spectacular image of the murmuration over Lough Ennell, in Co Westmeath, is itself in the shape of a giant, otherworldly bird.

Crombie, who was named press photographer of the year just last week, at the Press Photographers Association of Ireland awards, spent several months chasing this picture for The Irish Times.

I’m usually a sports photographer, so for a while I’ve had a bit of time to think about other things. I could see they were making shapes. I kept going back, to get the image I had in my head

“A friend of mine, Colin Hogg, lives near the lake, and he said to me last year that the starlings would make a great picture,” says Crombie, who works for the Inpho photo agency. “They nest in the reeds around the lake, and they move every four or five days, towards sunset, and when they move they make shapes.”

Gallery: See more of James Crombie’s stunning starlings here

The front page of today’s Irish Times, featuring James Crombie’s photograph
The front page of today’s Irish Times, featuring James Crombie’s photograph

Crombie made, he thinks, about 50 trips to Lough Ennell in the past few months. “I’m usually a sports photographer, so for a while I’ve had a bit of time to think about other things. I had an image in my head,” he explains. “I could see they were making shapes. I kept going back, to get the image I had in my head.”

Time was ebbing: the starlings will be gone from the lake in a matter of days. This week they were much more active: they make these huge, ever-changing murmurations to protect themselves from predators in the sky; birds of prey.

Finally, at about 6pm on Tuesday, Crombie focused his Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and got the image he wanted. That night alone he shot between 400 and 500 frames before capturing this unforgettable photograph. “It paid off,” he says.

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