Man Takes Perfect Photo of Diving Kingfisher after Six Years and 720,000 Tries

It’s a trite saying, but ‘Try, try until you succeed’ does hold true even today. Case-in-point is Scottish photographer Alan McFadyen, who spent six long years trying to get the perfect shot of a kingfisher diving into water. 720,000 tries later, he finally succeeded!

Alan, 46, was adamant about getting the shot in memory of his late grandfather Robert Murray, who often took him to see the kingfisher nesting spot at the beautiful lakeside near Kirkcudbright, Scotland, when he was about six years old. In fact, those childhood treks actually inspired him to take up photography at age 40.

“As a small boy of about six, I remember my grandfather taking me to see the kingfisher nest, and I just remember being completely blown away by how magnificent the birds are,” Alan said. “It was extraordinary how quick they flashed into the water with their brilliant blue colors – they didn’t look real, they were like a bullet they were so quick. So when I took up photography, I returned to this same spot to photograph the kingfishers.”


So Alan returned to the lakeside a few times each week and spent his time taking hundreds of photographs per day. The father-of-three spent an average of 100 days a year, clocking up over 4,200 hours and 720,000 photos before he finally got his dream shot – a kingfisher executing the perfect dive, without a single splash.

“There are not many people in the world who have got this shot,” Alan said. “Kingfishers dive so fast they are like bullets so taking a good photo requires a lot of luck – and a lot of patience. The photo I was going for of the perfect dive, flawlessly straight, with no splash, required not only me to be in the right place and get a very lucky shot but also for the bird itself to get it perfect.”

“I would often go and take 600 pictures in a session and not a single one of them be any good,” he added. “But now I look back on the thousands and thousands of photos I have taken to get this one image, it makes me realise just how much work I have done to get it. I never really stopped to think about how long it was taking along the way as I enjoyed doing it but now I look back on it and I’m really proud of the picture and the work I have put in.”


According to Alan, the kingfisher that finally gave him the perfect shot was an adult female, about two or three years old. He actually had to give her a bit of a helping hand, because the birds weren’t able to survive due to flooding. “I got in the water and built them an artificial bank, by digging a hole and filling it with clay. I wanted to give her a helping hand with her nest and see if her chicks could survive.” Unfortunately, about 70 percent of them died, either from flooding or not learning to dive properly. “It is so difficult to learn to dive like the one in the picture as the bird has to judge the refraction in the water,” he said.

But the kingfisher in the photograph survived, and it took him about seven hours to get the shot, positioned in a photography hide that he built about nine feet from the bird. She supposedly sat on a perch about four feet off the water and would do only three or four dives a day – so he was actually quite lucky in the end. His only regret was that he couldn’t show it to his grandfather.

“I’m sure my grandfather would have loved it,” he said. “I just wish he could have seen it. All of my family contacted me when they saw it and said he would have been so proud of it. I’m not really an emotional guy but hearing this really did get me going. I felt very proud as my grandfather brought me up as if he was my dad, so it really meant a lot.”


Now that he has the shot, Alan says he’s too hooked on kingfisher photography to stop. “I have already started taking my eight-year-old son Leighton along with me and he spotted a kingfisher for the first time just last week so my dream is for him to take it up too,” he said. “Just because I have now got this shot, I’m never going to stop going to this spot and snapping the kingfishers. It’s a very relaxing place and I just love it.”

“But I’m not sure how I can ever beat this picture,” he added.

Photos: Scottish Photography Hides/Alan McFayden

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