All things to everyone

How many times have I heard it. How many times have I said it myself: “You can’t do everything.” The trouble is I want to. In some ways I need to. But I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that I can’t. Something has to give.

I’ve had 4 great years with Wild Wonders of Europe and the project is far from done; but I am. Time, energy, passion, inclination – these are all finite resources which will only go so far, and with a half-finished book on my desktop (amongst many other things), WWE is one ask too far for the coming year. I wish my fellow directors every success in moving Wild Wonders forward in the manner it deserves.

Project photography is very demanding and when working with others, compromise is a pre-requisite. Perhaps that’s the next lesson I need to learn. Perhaps we all do.

The festive season beckons.

Has another year really passed by? A full 12 months? Are we really staring down the barrel of another bellyfull of ritualistic over-consumption? It would seem so.

I’ve had a tricky few days – snowed out from home (rather than snowed in); freezing diesel and ailing parents on my mind. Against this backdrop I set off today to use my camera – it sometimes seems like a real novelty! Gingerly picking my way down ice-laden Glenfeshie, I met a neighbour who stopped to pass the time of day. “Have you done it all?” she enquired. “Done it all?” I asked. “Christmas!” she beamed. I politely avoided a response but later, whilst standing behind my tripod trying to make the most of this wonderful scene, I reflected on what my neighbour meant by ‘it all’.

I’m 48 next month and if I live until 100, I’ll never understand modern Christmas. By ‘it all’ I hoped she meant giving thought to relaxation; reflecting on a prosperous and varied life and looking forward to spending time with those I don’t normally spend time with. But I don’t think she did mean that, and the queue outside Tesco’s car park tonight would suggest not either.

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.

Measuring success.

In this month’s Outdoor Photography magazine, Niall Benvie makes a fair and valid point that nature photographers shouldn’t measure ‘success’ simply by their financial performance. He pleads the case for recognition, legacy and the ‘value’ of experiences.

Whilst not claiming to be anything other than on the bottom rung of the success ladder, I have until recently overlooked the ‘value’ of time spent in the field. Moreover when that time is spent with family, close friends or appreciative tour guests.

Our recent photo-tour to Skye came at an inconvenient time for me. Having attended several major conferences and with notes made at innumerable 2020VISION meetings still piled high on my desk, the tour was something I could have done without. But do you know what? I worked with great buddy Mark Hamblin – something I’ve not done for a long time; the guests were superb company; the weather was good in the most part; we had a laugh and we visited some great locations. I even got some pleasant shots myself. Although I got paid for guiding the tour, the money is irrelevant: it’s a week that I’ll remember, along with many others, for a long, long time. Priceless.

Inspiration and exhaustion in equal measure.

I think it’s fair to say, I normally don’t do cities and I definitely don’t do London. Unless there’s good reason. Good reason this last weekend was the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards ceremony and the 2-day Wildphotos symposium – both inspiring and at the same time demanding.

I’m really pleased to have landed a place in this year’s competition, but I’m doubly pleased that my son Sam got a runner-up in his age category.

Following the celebrations (great to see so many photographers I’ve not seen for ages) and a few too many glasses of wine, it was onto Wildphotos where I took to the stage with my soapbox in hand. All seemed to pass off without major incident which is the first thing you hope for on such occasions. Thanks to everyone who came up to say hello and sorry it was all a bit manic.

A couple of images below – more on the Northshots Facebook page shortly.

BWPA holds a message

The results of this year’s British Wildlife Photographer of the Year have now been announced and attractive though the portfolio of images is, there is something more telling about the winning selection.  Generally the images fall into two categories:

1. Those shot at well-visited, easily accessible locations (including workshop sites).

2. Those shot close to the photographers home.

The former images rely on technical competence, creative interpretation but little fieldwork and preparation.  The latter rely on subject knowledge and a decent amount of groundwork in advance.

So does one approach hold more merit than the other?  Not necessarily unless your criteria is originality.  The winning image by Steve Young features a herring gull – not a species that would encourage many photographers to travel in search of.  It’s not my personal favourite but it is original, and as such surprises the viewer.  In an age where it takes something special to pull off that surprise, should we all be looking for herring gulls on our local patch?

The images of mine featured in the competition portfolio were all shot within 1km of my home.  That’s certainly telling me something.

Bears and more bears.

With tours to Finland and Alaska now completed, we’re already looking at bear options for next year. If we’re honest, we just can’t get enough of bears and judging from enquiry levels, neither can you!

We’ll more than likely be staging a bear (and wolf) tour to Finland, so if you’re interested, do drop us a line.

At a crossroads?

Niall Benvie’s blog is always a thought-provoking retreat (click here to read) and often allows me a cup of tea, a digestive and 5 mins. of escapism along an interesting road of parallel thinking.  In his latest post he discusses the ever-changing definition of ‘nature photography’.

The range of responses underlines our need to pigeon-hole this particular genre of imagery, something that both bemuses and frustrates me personally.

More and more photographers are thinking not about what they shoot and how they shoot it, but about what they DO with their images; how they package their product. I’m not convinced of the need to define nature photography, but of the need for it to work on behalf of its subjects. Let’s not get too hung up about what it is, let’s channel our energies into exposing our work to our audience. If in doing so we move them on an emotional level, I for one don’t care what we call it.

Extra Winter Wildlife anyone?

Our Winter Wildlife photo-tours are all now fully booked but there is a possibility that we’ll be adding a further winter tour.  Mountains & Moors will focus on the unique wildlife and landscapes of Scotland’s uplands – ptarmigan, mountain hare and red deer, as well as the spectacular landscapes of the Cairngorms and Inverpolly.

If you’re interested in booking a place, please do let us know as we’re presently gauging interest.

Dates are likely to be March 5-11 2011.

Individual or species?

This month’s Outdoor Photography magazine carries an interesting piece by Peter Moonlight on the number of photographers now visiting the Donna Nook grey seal colony in Lincolnshire – anecdotal evidence suggests upwards of 200 on a busy day. The site is managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and they are increasingly concerned about the impact of irresponsible photographers on pup abandonment.

So how do we define ‘irresponsible’? Every photographer I know that’s been to Donna Nook blames someone else and claims that their finely honed fieldcraft or professional status exempts them from being ‘irresponsible’. But if we define the term by the causing of disturbance – no matter how insignificant- then every photographer who visits, is ‘irresponsible’ whether they’re prepared to admit it or not. For the record, I am one of those implicated.

The ‘problem’ is not unique to Lincolnshire’s seals. Wherever there is an opportunity to get close to wildlife, it’s inevitable that a photographer/filmmaker will take that opportunity. The images find their way into the public domain and more photographers visit. Their images get seen and so on and so on. But I’m not sure we can have it both ways.

Even at a political level there is a mandate to encourage public engagement with nature. Those responsible for fulfilling that task often rely on imagery as a catalyst to cajole that engagement. That is exactly what has happened at Donna Nook – with tens of thousands of people now visiting the main seal colony each year; it’s a PR success story.

The irony of course is that the UK grey seal population has increased dramatically in recent decades – not because of over-zealous photographers but certainly in spite of them. Ditto Bass Rock’s gannets and Wales’ red kites.

I’m not condoning irresponsible photographers and for what it’s worth, I won’t be visiting Donna Nook until management changes, but we can’t expect to celebrate Britain’s wildlife through the medium of imagery and then reel at the consequences.