Sunday 23 June 2013

The Jennifer Bruce Photograph

You may have noticed this photograph on various Nessie related websites but despite this not a lot is known about this picture taken over thirty years ago. The first mention in the Loch Ness Monster literature is from Rip Hepple in No.54 of his "Nessletter" which was published in October 1982. The archive link for this issue is here but we show the relevant extract below (click on image to enlarge).

It is presumed that the picture was taken in August but there is no certainty about that. The location is the north side of Urquhart Bay, and it looks like it was taken at or near Temple Pier. And that is really it in terms of further information. I tried to obtain the original clipping from the owners of the Calgary Sunday Sun but without success. I will ask Rip Hepple, but if anyone has a copy of this article, it would be great if they could scan it and email it to me as it could contain relevant information.

The problem is that this photograph appeared in the post-Nessie hunter era. The books by Dinsdale, Holiday, Mackal and so on had been largely written and so it missed the bus, so to speak. However, Henry Bauer mentions it in passing in his 1986 book, "The Enigma of Loch Ness" but had little to say about it.

In the same year, Steuart Campbell's sceptical book, "The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence", did briefly cover the picture but makes no conclusion about it. Meanwhile, Paul Harrison's excellent book, "The Encyclopedia of the Loch Ness Monster" does not give it an entry.


So, as you can see, this article is in some sense starting from a low base, but let us see what can be discovered. The zoom in below was obtained from the Criptosito website and will be used for comparison analysis.

Let us look first at Rip's suggestion that this was merely a bird swimming or floating on the surface of the loch. Having looked at the birds mentioned, the best candidate in terms of long neck is the cormorant of which a representative picture is shown below.

If we superimpose this picture over the Bruce image with a view to equalising the width of the neck bases we see a problem with the bird interpretation. Basically, the bird's head is too big by a factor of at least two. The Bruce image lacks the sharp beak and is an altogether smaller head than what would be expected. Whether a cormorant could also achieve the sinusoidal contours of the Bruce neck is also a matter of debate.

In that light, the bird explanation seems forced and, as I shall point out later, there is another good reason to doubt this interpretation.


But another explanation has been suggested by researchers such as Dick Raynor and that is the idea that Jennifer Bruce merely caught a snap of a bird such as a seagull in flight across the loch. Below is a picture of a seagull in a pose not dissimilar to the one suggested (original link here). To see the suggested bird, the head-neck is the upturned wings in flight and the horizontal base is the tail to beak of the bird.

Let us superimpose this bird over the zoomed in Bruce image to help you see the proposed configuration. Now having seen it, can you see what is wrong with this alleged bird?

Looking at some further pictures of seagulls in flight (below), one is struck by the abnormal nature of the Bruce "seagull". The first abnormality is the position of the mid-wing joint which is too high up. The joint should be nearer the middle of the wing as you can see from the various gull pictures below. This suggests that this is not in fact a seagull at all.

The second problem is the sinusoidal nature of the "wing". Basically, it just does not look right. When a bird is in flight the lower half of the wing does not curve back like the Bruce "wing".The "wing" is also thinner compared to the pictures below.

Thirdly, the Bruce "wing" is disproportionately longer compared to the "body" when compared to the sample gull pictures. All in all, if this is a gull or any other bird, I suggest it is a deformed one which as a consequence is not capable of flight! There are too many problems with this interpretation and the burden of proof lies with the proposer to prove we are looking at a bird.

To see what real seagulls look like at Loch Ness, check this link. Overlaying the gull in flight at that link over our gull picture produces a nice, proportioned fit.

original link here


So, taking the position that this is not a bird in flight or at rest on the water, what further can be deduced about the object? Fortunately, I was able to find a similar photograph with a known object in the foreground. The picture below was taken in 1979 at Temple Pier and is reproduced here under the Creative Commons license from the panoramio website.

From this we can estimate the size of the object in the water by superimposing the Bruce image over the boat image and resizing it to fit the general background contours. As it turns out, there is a person feeding two swans in the centre of the boats who is about the same height as the object. This would mean the proposed head and neck is at least five feet out of the water. The two overlaid images below are to the same scale. As hinted earlier, this is the other reason why this could not be a bird in the water as no bird at Loch Ness has a neck five feet long.

The two relevant sections of the images at the same scale are isolated and shown below for your inspection. If the Bruce object is indeed in the water, it is huge.

As a further confirmation of the scaling, eagle eyed readers may have noticed the two blobs to the far right of the Bruce image. These are most likely two buoys and by a fortunate coincidence, there is a buoy to the right of the boats. When the two pictures are scaled, the buoys in the two pictures are the same size. The shadows on the two Bruce buoys also suggests the photograph was taken around 2pm if we assume mid August as the date. In contrast, the lighter buoy in the boat picture suggests an evening setting.


One further consideration is the claim by some commentators that the photographer was not aware of anything unusual when the picture was taken. This is then used to reinforce the case that it was just an everyday object that was ignored at the time (such as a passing bird). However, the Nessletter reference above does not say that the Bruces were unaware of any object at the time. It merely says that when they developed the pictures, a head and neck image was visible.

That is why I would like to see the original source before commenting further. But, if we assume for the sake of argument that they were not aware of anything at the time, it is entirely possible that the photographer did catch a glimpse of something under the restrictions of the viewfinder but it had gone by the time she scanned the loch with the naked eye. Meanwhile, the other two persons may not have even been looking that way as Jennifer Bruce quickly snapped the castle.

Either way, the object, in my opinion, is not a bird. If it was the Loch Ness Monster, then evidently it surfaced for only a short time before submerging again. Flash sightings are not uncommon and the Monster is often been and gone before its audience even realises what is going on. From a Nessie perspective, this would appear to be the case here.

As for the morphology of the creature, the sinusoidal nature of the "neck" is not unusual either. The witness database certainly points to a neck (or whatever the appendage is) possessing a high degree of flexibility. Some witnesses also refer to something akin to musculature rippling or changing though it is unclear what is actually changing under that monstrous skin.

My views have already been published elsewhere on the supple and subtle nature of what is traditionally considered the head and neck of the Loch Ness Monster. This type of photograph only reinforces that view.


Since this is an object surfacing, one would expect some kind of concentric ripple to emanate from the centre where the object is located. Though the quality of the picture is poor and there are other waves moving up the loch and interfering, I think the ellipse caused by the object is visible as this hand drawn picture tries to demonstrate.

If that is the case, then the ellipse suggests an angle of viewing of 10 degrees and if the observer's eye level is three to four metres above the loch surface then that suggests the object is 17 to 22 metres away. However, this all depends on the accuracy of the ellipse and the elevation of the observer.

The radius of the ellipse is about 9 metres based on our 2 metre neck which suggests the ripple from surfacing has not been travelling very long which is consistent with the creature not being long visible. I would not know for sure how fast such a ripple travels on Loch Ness as it is dependent on the depth of the water at that point and how much force was applied to the water as the object surfaced.


So do I consider this a genuine picture of Nessie? Yes, I do. Do I consider explanations about birds inadequate? Yes, I do. Such explanations may have been suggested in good faith, but I fear there has been little in the way of critical analysis of such suggestions.

The internal evidence points away from basic birds towards something big and unidentifiable. There is only one thing big and unidentifiable in Loch Ness ... and we know what that is.


  1. GB I looked at the pic in inverted colours and it strongly resembles the sinuous outline of a bird with a flamingo like neck and a heron like beak.

    Or at least it does while one assumes it's a bird.

    In my case though I quickly began to have doubts.

    For instance the neck seems too thick for a bird unless we're talking something prehistoric because it seems too thick even for an ostrich.

    Then there's the way it sits in the water so submerged only its neck shows which usually only happens with birds as they surface whereas this particular bird seems to have no intentions of surfacing any further.

    Of course its possible as different parts of the loch rise and sink at different rates a peaking wave could obscure the creature behind it creating the optical illusion the creature concerned's lower in the water than it actually is not to mention the photographer could've simply withheld or failed to notice a moment later the bird was finally fully atop the water.

    Your data though suggesting it's dimensions're even larger than I thought make me wonder if we are indeed looking at an old fashioned serpent horn style Scandinavian type sea monster with a seahorse like head?

    1. Birds can show only their necks in the water. The point here is the neck is too thick or to put it another way, the head is too small compared to the neck for a typical bird configuration.

  2. Some species of aquatic snails have extendable syphons for extracting air from above the surface of the water.

    I wonder if here we are seeing something similar happening from an unknown and massive creature? Here is a video of an Apple Snail doing just that:

    1. Ted Holiday would love that one. A "neck" which siphons in air whilst distending those humps. Hmmm, interesting thought.

  3. GB wrote - "As hinted earlier, this is the other reason why this could not be a bird in the water as no bird at Loch Ness has a neck five feet long." But there is no reason to assume it is on the water - is is simply flying through the field of view at some distance intermediate between the water and the camera. I am working as a boat skipper from Temple Pier tomorrow and will try to take some comparison photographs, but my provisional guess is that the photo was taken from the small lay-by above the RNLI Station. I'd guess the elevation of eye-level above loch level to be around 10 metres. The alignment of the castle with the ridges beyond will make this an easy location to establish. DR

    1. Dick, the flying bird interpretation lacks credibility. It does not look like a bird, why persist with it?

  4. I don't think any bird (certainly not any bird in Scotland) could get its wings into that configuration at any point in flight. However, what other kind of animal (fish, reptile, amphibian or mammal) could manipulate its neck in that way (if neck is, indeed, what we're looking at)?

    1. It would not surprise me if we have a boneless structure here.

    2. I think I'd have to conclude that we're looking at a substantial aquatic object here rather than a bird in the water or in flight. My main qualification would be that we're looking at a head that sharpens into a bill. So what is this -- The Loch Ness Platypus?


  5. Hi GB,
    I managed to hike along the A82 without getting run over, and took some snaps from the lay-by above Temple Pier. It is pretty much overgrown but I managed to find a couple of peep-holes through the foliage.

    I attach one photo (sent via email) which I think matches the alignment of the castle with the background ridge and shoreline, showing clearly that JB was in that lay-by. If you go into Google Earth Street View you will find that the location is 57.336847 -4.444832, give or take a metre, and the ground elevation is 28 m a.s.l., making it about 12 metres above loch level. Add to that a normal persons eye-height, say 1.5 metres and you get a camera height of about 13.5 metres above loch level.

    Regards, Dick

  6. Motivated Adventurer28 June 2013 at 18:15

    In my non proffessional opinion, the "neck" looks out of focus. To me on my non hi-def computer screen the odject looks more blurry than the waves around it and it looks a little transparent. Assuming that it is out of focus, the object could be seen as just a little further than halfway to the water from the camera. The part that looks like a head on the object need not be part of it at all and instead be an oddly placed wave. Seeing it as a bird I see it not as directly side on but instead it is beginning a left bank. and the left wing as being the shiny spot on the bottom left or on not visible at all on the object.
    I do see what you pointed out as a ripple but this could be looking too hard for it and I thought it strange that the waves inside the ripple did not look affected by the object. But, then again, I don't take time to sit around to throw rocks and watch ripples these days.

  7. Really enjoy this site. If anything, at least it keeps the fable alive. Its good storytelling.

    I'm going to have to go with Mr Raynor's assessment of a bird caught in flight. The object doesn't look to me like its sits in the water. The density of the figure seems a bit too light for the hoped for object. By comparison, those small buoys off to the right that ARE sitting in the water, do show an image density (highlight and shadow areas) commensurate with the surroundings for the lighting conditions.

    As an aside, I read every book I could get my hands on back in the 60's and 70's nessie heyday. Of course I want there to be something there, but as much time went on, with the exception of a couple of 'gray area' sightings like the Dinsdale film, all photographic evidence appears to be hoaxes or misinterpretations.

    Oddly enough, though I live in the states, I do enjoy an active dream life and every once in a while I'm treated to a recurring scenario where I'm at Loch Ness (never actually been though) and they're always richly enjoyable. The last one I had several weeks back was a real doozie and was absolutely magnificent!


  8. I'll do a follow up article based on your feedback, chaps.

  9. The JB photo is clearly taken through a lens with a shorter focal length than the boat one - you can tell this because the central portion of the distant mountains appears bigger in the boat photo. I therefore don't think you can overlay the images and say they're the same distance, nor can you say the perspective is the same. Interesting attempt, flawed in my view.

  10. My tuppence worth. The object seems to me to be in the same focus as the waves around it,therefore it looks to me as if it's in the water. The object and it's surroundings are similarly slightly out of focus. The object appears to show lens blur (as it is not perfectly focused ),but not motion blur (from speed of movement). As a photographer, I am aware of bird photography and the shutter speed needed to capture a fast moving bird. Probably more than 1/1000th of a second. Myself and my partner photograph moving animals for a living, and as a hobby.
    The day seems fairly dull, and the photo seems to have been taken with a standard camera of that era. I'm not an expert in that tech, but I'm given to believing that most of these cameras had no auto focus, or no ability for the user to focus them. They used a small lens with a fairly small aperture to keep everything in focus. This would mean, especially on a dull day, that the amount of light captured by such a camera/lens would be insufficient to stop the motion of a quickly moving animal. Without extra information about camera/lens etc, it is hard to tell. But it's my best guess based on the information presented. To me it certainly does not appear to be a bird based on those thoughts. And if it's a fake, it's an excellent one.

    1. Thanks, perhaps I will do some comparison photos of gulls next time I am there. If that was a gull moving left to right, it was very close to land, which would make me wonder if it would actually be slowing down to land, thus discounting a fast gull idea.

    2. It would have been pretty close to the photographer also, as I imagine that those fixed lenses were reasonably wide (ie, 'zoomed out', to use a a cack handed term that most non photographers would understand, in order to capture plenty of the surroundings). Objects appear small, and small objects need to be pretty close to be visible in any meaningful way. This said, the closer a left to right moving object is to the camera, the higher it's relative motion is across the field of view. And the higher the shutter speed would need to be to stop motion. Given all the (guestemated) parameters of the camera, coupled with my own knowledge of photography of animals, I don't think it is a bird in flight. Neither does my partner, although she did think that the locals may have been up to no good to extend the tourist trade, but that's another story!
      I should try to get a light reading under the conditions that I see in the photo, but will probably need to wait to spring until those conditions exist.

  11. This is one of the more interesting photos -
    and because of the oval disturbance in the water around it,
    I firmly believe something sizeable is in that water.