Scottish Nature Photography Festival

When I first started taking pictures I drew inspiration from lots of other photographers. In fact, I still do and there’s nothing like seeing the images of those you admire and aspire to emulate, projected large on a screen. Especially when the photographer is there to tell you how, and more importantly, why, he/she took the image. What better way then to spend an early autumnal day than at the Scottish Nature Photography Festival?

Image: Nick Cobbing.

This event, initiated by Niall Benvie over 20 years ago, is held at Battleby, just north of Perth in a purpose-built, state-of-the-art auditorium. It’s a one-day event and features some of the most active and inspiring photographers at work today. They will show their fantastic images and tell the stories behind them. Marcus McAdam and Mark Hamblin from Scotland; Nick Cobbing from England; Edwin Kats from The Netherlands and Sven Zacek from Estonia – a wealth of talent and experience all under one roof. And this year, we’re featuring a brilliant young photographer – Bertie Gregory, who at 19, has a bright future in front of him.

Alongside the speakers there will be book signings, trade and conservation stands and the chance to network with like-minded enthusiasts – always a great way to pick up on the latest gossip in the nature photography world.

Image: Mark Hamblin.

Image: Marcus McAdam.

All in all then, it’s a great day out and I’d go as far to say that if you don’t enjoy it…well, you will, so no need for rash promises that I’ll later regret!

Make a date in your diary – September 14th & 15th (programme repeated on both days). Tickets are £49-50 including lunch and refreshments.  Book your tickets here.

Image: Edwin Kats.


Empty diaries!

Many thanks for the valuable feedback on photo books – it helps to focus the mind when respected colleagues offer an informed view. So here’s another one and again, I have to concede this is another ‘fishing trip’ for different perspectives (as I seem to have lost mine completely!)

Thank to geography as much as anything, I’ve never been a regular speaker on the camera club or natural history group circuit. Most places are just a long way from where I live. But I know plenty of photographers who ‘speak’ regularly and seemingly at least, are happy with whatever fee they can negotiate. My experience is that most smaller clubs simply cannot afford to pay what I would consider to be an appropriate fee. So what is an ‘appropriate’ fee for a speaking commission?

Let’s assume the talk has to be assembled – or at least tailored and tweaked from a previous presentation. That’s one day taken care of. It has to be rehearsed or at least test-run – another half day. In my case almost everywhere involves a decent drive and by the time travel and delivery is factored in, that’s another day gone. So we’re looking at two days minimum already. Projector (£2,000), laptop (£1200), speaker system (£800) and for me, external AV help (thanks John) – these all have to be accounted for too. And this doesn’t even touch on the years of investment gathering the images/stories which the audience wants to see and hear.

All of a sudden the £75, or £100, or arguably even £500 that the average ‘club’ is able to offer, just doesn’t stack up. Like most photographers, I do some talks for free. They might be good causes, organisations I support or one-off events where, for whatever reason, you want to show your images (we’re all show-offs at heart). Increasingly however, I’m struggling to justify the time against the fee. I’m also increasingly annoyed with myself for ‘apologising’ for quoting a figure which I’ve come to know will shock the enquirer; I feel somehow that I should offer a discount, or at the very least, an explanation. Why?

Photographers, like most in the wider field of ‘wildlife’ or conservation, are under-valued – always have been. That’s something that I accept to a degree, but I don’t accept that my time (along with a decent amount of experience) is any less valuable simply because I choose work that others might consider to be simply ‘fun’.

So back to the question: how much should we charge? To be honest I’m not entirely sure but for what it’s worth, here’s what I do.

My standard fee is £650 + vat + travel. I reduce that to £350 ++ for ‘charities’ and/or good causes and if I’m pushed (which invariably I am), I’ll agree to £250++. I have little idea of how this compares with others (I hope you’ll tell me) but irrespective of how accomplished a speaker and/or photographer you are, the time investment alone makes this a good deal by anyone’s standards.

So is my diary full of speaking engagements? Well no, to be frank. But it’s not empty either and that suits me fine. Some organisations – mainly outwith the traditional ‘conservation’ sector – are happy to pay a realistic fee and where that is the case, I’m delighted to take the booking. I recently delivered a talk and was offered a ‘standard’ fee of £1500. For me that was very much the exception but proves nevertheless, that an audience exists and is willing to pay realistically. It really isn’t about the money; it’s about being valued and there’s a BIG difference.

Against the backdrop of falling sales across almost all sectors in this business, my view is that we shouldn’t buckle on this front. There are some fantastic speakers, images and stories out there just waiting to be told. Anyone who attended Wildphotos recently will I’m sure, attest to that. I’m not suggesting a militant uprising by the hard-line mavericks of our small industry, but I am suggesting that if we continue to under-value ourselves, we can’t blame our potential customers for doing the same.


New Frontiers in Steyning.

I’ll be heading south over the weekend ending up in Steyning (which I believe is just a stone’s throw from Brighton) on Monday evening to deliver what they worryingly refer to as the ‘Key Lecture’ (no pressure then!).

If you live in the area and to be brutally frank, even if you don’t, you could do worse than get yourself along to Steyning Camera Club for around 7.30pm. Tickets are £6 and that’s probably less than you’d spend on electricity if you stayed in to watch double Coronation Street with a cup of tea in between episodes (although rest assured I’ll be recording it).

You can buy tickets here and below is a poster telling you all about it, but in essence it’s me showing lots of pictures and talking…alot. Some of it might even make sense. It’s a long way from home for me so do come along and say hello.


Andy Rouse at the O2?

A couple of decades ago, the spiritual home of stand-up comedy was arguably the working mens clubs of the industrial north. Sure a few of the top artists made it to TV spots but the thought of Michael McIntyre, John Bishop or Lee Evans filling an arena, historically the preserve of headline music acts, was at best, far-fetched. Stand-up comedy has broken new ground, broken new records and broken new audiences. The same needs to be done for nature.

Spring/Autumnwatch goes some way towards bridging the gap between science and a mainstream audience, but does it reach beyond Middle-class, Middle age, Middle England? Possibly yes, but it’s a two-dimensional platform.

The other night I finally got around to going to an Andy Rouse talk in Warrington. By a quirk of fate I was passing through (no disrespect to Warrington but this is not an everyday occurrence). The hall was packed and encouragingly, a generous splattering of young couples were present – the sort that might go and see Michael McIntyre at the O2. Now I’ve know Andy a fair few years but I’d never seen him speak in this context, so I was intrigued, not so much by the show he put on, but by the reaction of the audience to his rather ‘non-conformist’ style. I’ve got to say I winced a tad at some aspects of his approach, but the crowd were taken along, not on an evening of natural history, but on an evening of entertainment. Yes entertainment. Even nature-lovers like to be entertained!

I dare say the real purists would have recoiled at the occasional sexual innuendo and the anthropomorphic interpretation of some of his images, but the purists are not the ones who need convincing. Andy entertained first and educated as a consequence; it’s much more difficult to pull that off the other way around and my hat goes off to him for that.

Whether you agree with the Rouse approach or not, there is no question over his passion, drive and photographic ability. Factor in that rare resource amongst nature photographers, humour, and it’s an entertaining combination. I’m not sure he’s ready for the O2 just yet but I’m sure someone once said that to Michael McIntyre. I for one, would like to see more Andy Rouse’s sticking their head above that very serious and often painfully tedious parapet, that is traditional nature photography. Andy has fun and so does his audience. Job done.


Penrith and Edinburgh talks confirmed.

We’ve got 2 new dates for the New Frontiers talk, so if you fancy listening to me prattling on about nature photography, travel, people, purpose and life in general, do pop along and say hello. If you don’t like the sound of any of that, you can just watch the pictures.

April 9th: Rheged Centre, Penrith, Cumbria.(1945hrs). Book here

This event is being held in conjunction with the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

April 15th: Reid Concert Hall, Bristol Square, Edinburgh.(1900hrs). Book here


New Frontiers

OK if you don’t take kindly to unashamed promotion, you better stop reading this post right now.

We’re now offering our (updated) New Frontiers AV show for dates late 2011/early 2012. Now, I don’t talk much about cameras or biology or conservation. I do talk quite a bit about me though: well not just me but all of us, and our changing relationship with the natural world – nothing heavy, just stuff to get you thinking. And I tell you a bit about my life over the last 15 years – again, nothing overly indulgent, just what I’ve been up to and how my experiences have shaped my thoughts and attitudes. Oh and there’s a few images thrown in for good measure – some of them quite good I think. And music too. And video. And some funny timelapse stuff. And questions for me to answer along with questions for you to answer.

All in all it’s a visual journey, one which I’d be pleased and humbled to take you on. For dates, availability, fees and a full size pdf of the flyer below, please mail: [email protected]

What do they say? f8 and be there? I’ve never understood that but hope that a few of us can get together and carry the journey forward. And perhaps cross a few New Frontiers in the process.


New Frontiers talks.

Just a quick reminder of the upcoming dates/locations for the New Frontiers talk – I’d certainly like to see as many folk there as possible – I’m sure the organisers would too!

15th: Dundee Photographic Society, St. Pauls Church Hall, Nethergate, Dundee, 1930hrs.

25th: Swavesey Camera Club, Swavesey Village Colleage, Swavesey, Cambs. 1939hrs.

26th: North Staffs.RSPB Group, Wade Hall, North Staffs Conference CEntre, Hartshill, Stoke. 1930hrs.

28th: Wirral Photographic Association, Vauxhall Sports Club, Rivacre Rd., Ellesmere Port. 1330hrs.


New Frontiers.

I’ll be delivering the first of a series of AV shows, entitled NEW FRONTIERS on September 3, which I’ve just realised is the evening before The Scottish Nature Photography Fair in Perth. So if you’re travelling north to SNPF, why not drop by?

The host is the Renfrewshire RSPB Group (a very friendly bunch) and the venue is The MacMasters Centre, Donaldson Drive, Renfrew (just off J26 of M8). Start time 7.30pm.

Just drop us an e-mail if you need any more details.