Top tips for becoming a wildlife photographer

Roe doe in wheat

I know, I know, it’s been a while….(this now is my trade mark intro to all blog posts:))

I am currently taking some time out enjoying being a full time dad to a beautiful baby boy. Joshie is now 10 months old and we adore him. Don’t worry though, I am still keeping my hand in, continuing to work away quietly on a couple of projects in the background.

The reason for this blog post? I get contacted from time to time by aspiring photographers asking for advice on how to become a wildlife photographer. After a number of recent tweets from my followers on the subject, I thought I would gather my thoughts together and share them with you. Here goes:

  • The best advice I can give any aspiring photographer is to create images of subjects you love and inspire you. Success will follow. It’s true that the most successful people are those that love what they do.
  •  The starting point for any aspiring wildlife photographer of course is a passion for wildlife. Hopefully that’s a given right? It’s worth re stating though as sometimes in the competitive works of wildlife photography inevitably there’s a tendency to lose sight of that. Me, I’ve always loved animals. My dad is a bird watcher and former editor of the Hampshire bird report. Some of my earliest memories are of being taken by my dad to Norfolk’s east coast to see the spectacle of the waders coming in to roost. It’s been wonderful to continue to share with him that connection with nature through my work many years later.
  • Ask yourself what sort of wildlife you are passionate about? My passion is the wildlife and wildernesses of the British Isles and far North. For others it is the romance and wonder of the wildlife of the African planes.
  •  Once you’ve decided where your passion and focus lies then the fun really begins. Take the time to build up a body of work.
  •  Be prepared for a lot of hard work. The portfolio on my website represents over five years’ graft and a lot of sacrifice. I am very lucky to have the support of a loving family. Without them I couldn’t have done it.
  •  I would recommend working on a project basis. Try to focus on a particular species. Rushing around trying to photograph everything will just dilute your work. If you look at my British portfolio, the barn owls and grouse both done over a number of months. I am now working on a project on Roe deer for which I’m thinking years rather than months to properly tell the story of the natural history of this fascinating shy, magical native species.
  • Did I say stories? Telling stories is where wildlife photography is currently at. Over the last seven years that I’ve attended the wildlife photography symposium, Wild photos its a consistent thread that has run thorough the inspiring presentations given by successful wildlife photographers and magazine editors.
  • Its good to be inspired. It’s important to draw inspiration from other photographers. The work of the top European photographers such as Vincent Munier, Stefano Unterthiner and Jari Peltomaki I find hugely influential on my own meagre efforts.
  • Find a mentor if you can. I was very lucky to be mentored by leading British wildlife photographer and National Geographic contributor Danny Green, someone whose work I have always really admired. I am so grateful to Dan for his warmth and generosity in sharing his knowledge with me over the years. He remains the first person I go to when I have new work to show and whose opinion I value most.
  • Whilst looking to others for inspiration, search for your own voice. That takes time to develop. Be patient. For the last couple of years I’ve been pretty much working on stories of my own which has been a wonderful adventure and challenging myself to try new techniques to help tell that story. Earlier this year I started using camera trap techniques. It’s been a steep learning curve but finally I am starting to get some decent results.
  • Remain grounded at all times. Even with success, there’s always room for improvement. I am probably my own worst critic. It’s a healthy attitude I think, driving me on to make me a better photographer. Like any creative field, wildlife photography is an artistic journey. Which is what makes it so much fun.
  • To become a good wildlife photographer you should spend as much time with your subject in the field as possible. As the saying goes, the more time spent in the field the luckier you become. I’m always at my happiest when out with nature also, reconnecting with the natural world. It’s good for the soul.
  • Whilst it’s important to promote your work, try to resist the temptation to do so prematurely. Wait until you have something to really show for your efforts. Too many aspiring photographers make the mistake of going about things the wrong way. A whirlwind of activity on social media but very few decent images to speak of. Young RSPCA Photographer of the year, Owen Hearn is a great example of a young photographer getting it the right way round. He is already taking some stunning images that seasoned pros would be happy with and he is still only in his teens!
  • Learn to process your images properly. I can’t emphasise the importance of this enough. This is very much an art in its own right. It’s very easy to spoil a good image in the processing. I always try to make sure the image looks exactly like it did on the screen on the back of the camera when I took it. All my work is processed in Lightroom. I don’t like sitting in front of the computer. If it takes me more than a couple of minutes to process an image then something is not right with it.
  • Value your work. Never give it away. Ever. You’ll be approached by publications that tell you that regrettably they don’t have a budget, but it’ll be good for you profile, blah blah blah. It’s exploitative nonsense. The same publications are being sold commercially. Your work sells the publisher’s magazine. Make sure you are being treated fairly and receive a fair rate. That said there are a lot of decent magazines out there that respect their photographers and treat them properly.

So there we are,  just a few of my thoughts based on my experience. I hope they are helpful.

For anyone, interested I am thinking of running a limited number of one to one wildlife photography workshops aimed at both beginners and also anyone looking to take their photography to the next level. If you are interested then get in touch with me at mail@julescoxphotography.co.uk

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