August 1998. It was a nervous morning as Mark Hamblin and I sat in my kitchen drinking coffee like it was going out of fashion, awaiting the arrival of our first guest on our first photo tour in our first year of collaboration. We had no track record, no model on which to base the tour content and no idea how we would be received. By late afternoon the now familiar Wing-and-a-Prayer approach kicked in and somehow we seemed to pull it off.
Mark does his own thing these days, preferring day guiding to longer trips, but for Amanda and I, fast forward 15 years and around 150 tours to locations far and wide and our tour business is very different. So too is the wider industry. Back then you could count the number of specialist photo tour operators on half of one hand; now ‘the business’ is populated by pretty much every pro nature photographer I know; most delivering to a very high standard.
“A retrenchment to core activities” is how long-standing guest John Cumberland (you remember John from his Svalbard and Yellowstone blogs?) described our reduced portfolio of photo tours for 2015. John and I were chatting a few weeks back and it’s true we are doing fewer tours next year but “retrenchment” implies retreat and is only part of the story.
As if it were possible I hear you say, I’m getting more and more selfish as time goes on. I don’t mean in a material sense but I want to go back to being a photographer; a proper photographer. I want to produce images that genuinely excite me and to tell stories about issues that are personally important. I also want to work in a place that allows me more time; in my case that has to be at home in Scotland. Having tried to keep too many balls in the air for too long, I need to let one or two fall and run away. So yes we’re doing fewer tours but we’re not going into early retirement; we’re not about to go bankrupt (at least as far as I’m aware) and Amanda is not heading off into the sunset to meet the man of her dreams (she did that when we met 30 years ago. Ahem…)
Freed from the shackles of turnover targets, I’m actually very excited about our future tour programme. We’ve honed down to our favourite destinations and to those products we’d like to think we deliver well. I’m sorry to say therefore that you’re unlikely to see Africa, Asia or Antarctica popping up and we’re going to do our best to avoid the most heavily-visited ‘honeypot’ locations – there are plenty of operators doing that. Instead we’ll be focusing on a select number of tours that where possible, offer our guests something just a bit different.
1998 feels like just yesterday and if the next 15 years pass by as quickly – which they undoubtedly will – I need to make the most of my time: we all do. I hope that our slight change in emphasis will be viewed positively and that we can continue to enjoy the company of like-minded photographers for many years to come.
The angry sky offered little potential and the rain lashed both camera and bedraggled photographer. I’d been here before, many times. This is an unforgiving place; a place that just might but rarely does. And then in an instant, a chink of colour amidst the broiling cloudscape. And another. Within seconds the scene is a magical mix of mood and menace wearing a ballgown of fire. This is Scotland at its best.
Our 2015 tour programme will be open for bookings in early February.