Andrew Parkinson is a professional wildlife photographer who lives on the fringes of Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park. He has travelled widely, but it is the wildlife and wild places of Britain that is his greatest passion and he spends the majority of the year travelling to some of the UK’s most remote areas.
His clients include National Geographic, BBC Wildlife Magazine and he has won awards in some of the world’s most prestigious photographic competitions including Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the British Wildlife Photography Awards. I asked Andrew five questions about being a wildlife photographer. Here are his answers.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
I was inspired by my uncle, the semi-professional wildlife photographer Rick Packwood. In particular, his slide shows from his travels through east Africa in the 70’s and 80’s revealed to me not only the staggering beauty and diversity of the natural world, but also the enormous impact that a beautifully composed image can have on a person. Such images can inspire and educate, and can communicate the struggles that our animal cousins endure on a daily basis in their quest for food and shelter.
Can you tell us about one of the most challenging photos you’ve taken and how you overcame the difficulties?
The most challenging photos that I’ve ever taken were my work on assignment for National Geographic magazine that saw me camping at the UK’s most northerly tip for three months. I would have to abseil down 90m cliffs every day to work with a remote colony of northern gannets that no photographer had ever worked with before. It was the relentless gales that were most challenging, sucking the air from my body and numbing my hands. I was routinely blown over by the surging 70mph winds, which was not ideal in the precipitous world in which I was living.
You recently photographed an English chalk stream for WWF – what was this experience like?
The experience of the chalk stream was wonderful but of course challenging, as wildlife photography always is. I constantly marvelled at the clarity of the water and I envied Charlotte Sams [an underwater photographer] her time spent in those pristine waters. It was also the wealth and diversity of the wildlife that struck me, and the uniqueness of the habitat – and that of course highlights the desperate need to conserve and protect these vital rivers.
What are your top tips for budding photographers with little equipment but bags of enthusiasm?
Be honest and work with absolute integrity: the welfare of your subject is paramount. To us it is simply an image, but to the subject it’s frequently a matter of life and death. Be passionate, seek to tell the subject’s story honestly and just enjoy the time spent watching – it is in these moments that the subtle aspects of their behaviour reveal themselves, as do the ideas for possible images. Obsess about the light and start to pay attention to how the fall of light matters, and its transformative effect. Even if you are not photographing, just go out exploring at dawn and dusk and just see how the early/late light bathes everything in the most stunning colour. Work locally as well: make your local patch your main area of work and build your skills with whatever you can find there – it’s affordable to get to, you can respond at a moment’s notice when the conditions are right, and you can work over an extensive period.
What are your top five tips for anyone taking photos of nature on their doorstep?
- Think about perspective: getting down to your subject’s eye level can have a transformative effect, creating intimacy in the image and throwing the background out of focus
- Get out early, stay out late – this is when the magic light occurs and anything photographed in this light will look so much more beautiful
- Just because a site might not be good on one day, don’t write it off. I’m still making new discoveries/images at places that I’ve been several hundred times. The more I visit, the more I learn
- Enjoy working with familiar subjects that are so often overlooked by photographers who are driven by species rather than by images. A beautifully lit image of a mallard beats a poorly lit osprey any day
- Make the best of whatever equipment you have. It’s more about vision and being in the right place than the technicalities of your equipment.
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