Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography?
When I was about 15 years old, I lived in Boston. Unfortunately, not the colourful, vibrant city in the United States but the quiet market town in Lincolnshire, England – historically linked to its American namesake but a place best known for its Dutch-like landscape and the agricultural prowess of its inhabitants. What I am trying to say is, I grew up in a part of England that required much of one’s imagination.
At school one day, I was asked to select my preferred employer for a 2-week work placement. The options weren’t good. Potato planting, bulb cleaning or strawberry picking were three of the more attractive options, as I recall. Seeing my inner turmoil, in a way only dads can, my father asked me what I wanted to do for a career. Without hesitation I replied, “I want to be a photojournalist”.
From where that statement came, I have no idea. Not a clue. I mean, I remember wanting to be (at various stages and in no particular order) a fireman, a policeman, a jet pilot, a train driver, a ski jumper and, of all things, an accountant … but a photojournalist? That was a new one. Even so, at my father’s behest and with the blessing of a somewhat perplexed headmaster, I began my first ever assignment.
How did you develop your style in photography?
While I was on an assignment, about a year after I turned professional, I had a light bulb moment. I was in Tanzania photographing the annual wildebeest migration, as it passed across the Grumeti River. It was a slow day and photographic opportunities were few and far between. I don’t know if you’ve ever paid a lot of attention to wildebeest but they’re not Africa’s most alluring creatures. African’s describe them as, “The animal God created out of the leftover parts of other animals”. Don’t get me wrong, I like wildebeest but they don’t do much. Their day consists of walking in a wide circle eating grass. And that’s about it. Two days into a three-week long project, I was struggling for ideas. How do you continually photograph what amounts to a large brown antelope grazing in a big brown field?
And then it struck me. I started to think about migration and what it really is. Migration is the movement of animals from point A to point B. Movement. Migration is movement and that not wildebeest was the real story. I started to make photographs that captured the story of the migration – wildebeest moving, individually, in a line, in large herds. Suddenly, my photography had purpose and it has been guided by the light from that bulb ever since. We’re not just photographers we’re storytellers. In place of a pen we have a camera but irrespective of the tool our aim is the same: to amuse, emote, inform, educate, and entertain. I believe that inside all of us is a story that is aching to be told, tales that make photography a unique and intensely personal experience.
Why did you choose Fujifilm cameras?
For the past couple of years, I have been advocating that the next major shift in camera design will be the exit of the mirror. The mirror is perhaps the single most-limiting factor in an SLR camera, which is rather surprising given that it has been the mainstay of camera design for nearly 80 years.
First of all, the mirror causes cameras to be far bigger and heavier than necessary. Secondly, to accommodate the mirror, the lens needs to be pushed further forward, increasing the distance between the rear lens element and the sensor (or film) plane, which diminishes the quality of the light transmitted by the lens.
Thirdly, the mirror slapping up against the chamber introduces vibration that, when combined with relatively slow shutter speeds, softens edge detail, reducing image quality further. This is particularly true when using ultra-high resolution DSLR cameras. Finally, mirrors are noisy. The constant slap-slap-slap cuts through the silence of dawn and dusk, echoing across open savannahs and bouncing off woodland trees, startling anxious wildlife into panic.
So, when Fuji announced the launch of the X-T1 mirror-less camera, I was intrigued enough to contact Fujifilm UK. My main question to Fuji was: Is the X-T1 up to the rigors of professional wildlife photography? They answered my question with a question: loaning me an X-T1 body and a couple of lenses they said, “You tell us!” I’ve been using the X-T1 ever since and my investment in Fujifilm products continues to grow.
Do you have a photographic philosophy you live by?
For me, a photograph begins with a caption. That may sound a little back-to-front but if you think about it, really it isn’t. For example, imagine trying to build a house with no architectural drawings. Where would you start? How would you even know what materials you needed? Nobody would approach house building this way, yet the idea that fully formed, well-composed photographs just happen seems to be accepted as the exception to the rule. It’s not. Photographs are designed and crafting an image begins with having something interesting you want to say.
Knowing what to say comes from knowing your subject. The better you know your subject, the more stories you have to tell. I became a wildlife photographer because I’m fascinated by the natural world. How it works, how it fits together and how everything is connected. I often find myself intrigued by inane questions like, “Why are zebras black-and-white striped when they live in a yellow savannah?”
It’s by asking questions and finding answers that I’m able to hit upon new ideas for images, find ways of making interesting photographs of ordinary subjects or different ways to photograph the same subject over and over. It’s how I learn about the natural world and develop a better understanding of wildlife and nature and, to some extent, my part in it all. And knowing yourself, how you feel about things and how things move you is as important a part of the process as the technical aspects of photography.
Key inspirations – What & who inspires you?
Perhaps intriguingly, I’m more inspired by people and events outside of photography. In photographic circles, I admire the work of Michael Nichols, particularly, and, in the very early days, I learned a lot of the basics from Art Wolfe. However, today, science (especially quantum mechanics) and extraordinary people and thinkers, such as astronaut Chris Hadfield, author Yuval Noah Harari and physicist Brian Cox inspire me.
Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us?
There are so many thoughts, ideas and techniques that have led me to where I am that it’s hard to narrow them down to a few. So, instead, how about I offer Fujifilm readers a completely free e-book titled Nature Photography: Insider Secrets. To get a free copy simply click on this link: Top Wildlife Tips
What’s next for you?
I’m on an amazing personal journey of discovery, looking at how creativity through photography can inspire how we live, as individuals and within communities and society as a whole. It’s a story that I want to share with the world and I’m currently talking to Fujifilm about how we can make that happen. Watch this space!
Categories: X-Photographer Spotlight