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BWPA judge Andrew Parkinson: the highs and lows of wildlife photography


Wildlife photographer Andrew Parkinson has, quite literally, scaled new heights to capture dramatic images of wildlife and previously unseen behaviours. This desire to succeed has earned him many prestigious accolades – and he’s also a judge at this year’s British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA)

Coot chasing another cootCoot in hot pursuit. © Andrew Parkinson A single gannet perched on exposed cliffs.Lone gannet among the precipitous cliffs. © Andrew Parkinson

You used to be a press photographer – what inspired you to change your focus to the natural world?

My dream was to be a wildlife photographer but I took a press job to introduce me to the photography business.

I enjoyed the steep learning curve but my heart was always with the natural world, so I eventually quit my job and headed north to Derbyshire with my wife.

You left your job in Cardiff to pursue your dreams – how did that decision affect you?

It was the best thing I ever did. My wife comes from Derbyshire and I just fell in love with the place. The countryside is teeming with wildlife, the people are all really friendly and they seem to have a genuine passion and enthusiasm for protecting what is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most beautiful areas.

I now have more image and project ideas for my local area than I can complete in the next 10 years!

View from the top of the cliff showing gannets over stormy seas.Gannet in flight. © Andrew Parkinson

What was your lasting impression of this year’s BWPA entries?

The breadth and depth of talent is always exceptional and it was difficult to cut the images down to just a few. There are always surprises and new species photographed in ingenious and innovative ways.

You spend months at a time studying your chosen species – what’s your most memorable portfolio of work?

I spent two summers working on a story for National Geographic magazine about the northern gannet, which was published last year. I camped for three months on the most northerly peninsula in the UK, on the northernmost tip of the Shetland Islands.

Every day I would abseil down a 90 metre cliff into the heart of a gannet colony. No photographer has ever worked there before. On occasion, ferocious gales rolled in from the North Atlantic, smashing into the crumbling cliffs and pummelling my little tent perched precariously on top. I had three tents destroyed while I was there! I cried tears of terror and then joy when the story was done.

A geat-crested grebe with a fish that it has just caught.Great-crested grebe with a fish. © Andrew Parkinson

How do you think photography and competitions like the BWPA can benefit conservation?

Whatever the rights and wrongs, it just seems that people care more about and connect better with nature they’re familiar with.

The BWPA is like a window for Britain’s wildlife – it reveals the beauty of the familiar as well as the wonder and surprise of the unfamiliar.

In your opinion, how can people learn to love and conserve wildlife – both on our doorsteps and further afield?

Competitions like the BWPA can educate and inspire people to learn more about Britain’s remarkable biodiversity and the environmental challenges that lay ahead of us. By empathising with other animals, we can transport ourselves into their lives to realise what difficulties they face. This can be a powerful tool to effect positive change.

I’d also encourage more people to go out and experience nature. Go for a walk, breathe the air, smell the flowers or listen to birdsong for a while. I guarantee you’ll feel better for it!

An adult heron taking off, appearing to walk along the water.Grey heron running on water. © Andrew Parkinson

What’s the most useful advice you have for budding photographers?

Have a genuine passion and always stick to your morals. Leave your camera at home sometimes – so you can sit and watch, free from the pressures of photography. You’ll start to notice the subtle nuances in behaviour.

Then, when you take your camera you’ll be more able to anticipate what’s about to happen.

Start working locally and discover your own sites to develop image ideas. That way you’ll build a unique and credible body of work.

What would you say to those people looking to enter next year’s BWPA?

Take some time to explore and let the image ideas come to you. Try to find perfect light and work out what species you can photograph in that light. The magic minutes can be cut down to magic seconds – the moment the sun appears above the horizon and the moment before it disappears.

Strive to improve and draw inspiration from previous BWPA entries – but try to produce something unique.

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