One of the best things about the Christmas period is vegging out in front of the television and catching up on the programmes you’ve been saving up for when you ‘get a moment’. For me, the list was expansive — and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that some of it will probably have to wait until next Christmas (it’s been a busy year for me!).
My Netflix marathon included the beautiful shot and incredibly inspiring docuseries; Tales by Light. Exploring the lives and work of renowned photographers, this series was originally made in partnership with National Geographic and Canon — and to say it is inspiring is an understatement.
Most gripping for me were the first two episodes of series 2, which featured ‘The Big Cat People‘; Angela and Jonathan Scott. Titled Sacred Nature, after the beautiful coffee table photography book the couple released last year, the episodes followed them through the Masaai Mara on their mission to photograph a female cheetah chasing down a kill. The episode also sees the pair revisiting the Marsh Pride from the famous Big Cat Week to photograph a relative of the poisoned lioness, Sienna, and Bella the leopard‘s granddaughter.
Watching the series has inspired me to pursue my interest in wildlife photography. Last year I attended a wildlife photography course at Woodbury Wetlands in London and each year I’m inspired by the incredible work on display at the Natural History Museum‘s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.
So it feels like time to reignite a forgotten love and consider storytelling through photography as well as words.
I’ve always enjoyed capturing the expressions of wild animals, such as these beautiful cheetahs I photographed in South Africa, and I hope to highlight the conservation issues that animals face by better utilising photography as a medium to inspire. Sadly we end 2017 with calls for cheetahs to be listed as an endangered species, with fewer than 7,100 remaining in the wild. When I look back over these pictures, the thought of losing these beautiful creatures makes me feel genuinely heartbroken.
Photography is such a powerful tool for documenting rare and surprising animal encounters. Perhaps, unexpectedly, one of the rarest wildlife finds I’ve ever photographed is this Southern African hedgehog, pictured at Shamwari Game Reserve on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Spotted on a night drive and lifted into the beams of the Land Rover headlights, this little hedgehog was the first of its species to be seen in the reserve in around 10 years! Very little is known about the creatures in the wild.
As Jonathan Scott acknowledges in Tales by Light; photography is about capturing the perfect moment and for him, that means knowing where to be, which can take years of getting to know the area and understanding the animals being photographed. Possibly my favourite take away point from the episode is Angela Scott‘s statement that “photography is an extraordinary art because you can see these moments that only you see and you just want to share them and say ‘look at this, isn’t it beautiful? This is the world we live in.”
Photography can also be a perfect way to highlight the difference between wild and captivity. Consider the fact that both the photo above and the one below show a bird sitting on a branch; but the use of light (soft sunlit silhouette compared with harsh spotlight in a aviary) help convey a sense of vast, open freedom compared with the impression of a shallow, flatter image to convey a sense of confinement.
Perhaps my favourite sequence of photos I’ve taken so far is the tale of this lonely elephant walking alongside the watering hole. To me the images represent a terrifying future — one where, if we do not act to secure a ban on the sale of ivory in the UK, we could see the last elephant of the species walks alone into extinction.
To end with good news, however, as 2017 ticked away, the historic Ivory Ban in China entered into force on the 31 December. All commercial sales and processing of elephant ivory are now illegal in China.
And as if to kickstart my motivation in learning more about wildlife photography, my photograph was picked up by BBC Earth and has received over 10,000 likes!
Happy new year and best blessings for 2018!
Learn more about photography for conservation:
- Discover Remembering Rhinos photo book
- Read Part 1 of my interview with Jonathan & Angela Scott about the Sacred Nature book
- Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 — My top picks
- Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 — My top picks
- What happened when I joined the Woodbury Wetlands wildlife photography day course
- How did photography change the UK’s reaction to Jumbo the elephant?
- View my wildlife photography