One of the questions I’m often asked by people who follow me on social media is do I still do wildlife photography. Pre-covid I was lucky enough to go on trips where I could photograph pelicans, puffins, bears, white horses and even humpback whales. Obviously all these involved some element of travel and covid restrictions pretty much put paid to those kind of trips. Now travel is becoming easier and with less restrictions then surely they’ll be new wildlife shots to enjoy? Sorry but probably not!
That’s not to say I’ve not done any kind of wildlife photography since covid and that I won’t do anything more localised in the future. In 2021 I did a couple of sessions at Sean Weekly’s new low level Red Kite & Buzzard Hide at Gigrin Farm plus spent a fun hour or two photographing squirrels whilst on holiday in Monmouth. The latter was just a bit of fun whilst the former resulted in a few OK shots but the birds weren’t playing ball on both visits and so I may try another day, especially as the hide isn’t too far away from Llanelli. I’ll also still drop in at Llanelli WWT from time to time if I’m feeling that way inclined.
However my days of wildlife travel holidays are probably going to be on the backburner. I did seriously contemplate heading to Greece in 2023 with Wildlife Worldwide for another session of Dalmatian Pelican photography but couldn’t convince myself that I really wanted to do it. The trip would have been great and I know it also involved a few people I’d met before. So why not go for it? Costs kind of play a part in the decision as these kind of trips are never cheap. Once you’ve added travel to the airport, flights etc you can quickly come out with some serious costs. And those costs double if your partner wants to come with you and enjoy the experience. And I’ve enjoyed my photo trips more when my other half has been there too. However you’re then talking the kind of costs where you start to consider whether there’s better trips and destinations out there.
For example a photography company are currently advertising a Zimanga trip at £4249 per person. That’s without flights and includes 7 nights in South Africa. Now Zimanga is an awesome place to visit and the kind of place you want to share with a partner (if you like that kind of thing). Add some flights and you’re potentially talking £10,000+. That can buy you a lot of holiday in other places for a lot longer than just 7 nights. Yes I love taking photos but I guess I want a little more experience and holiday for my money. I’d like to get to know the area I’m visiting and do a bit of sight-seeing. Of course that’s not always possible – for example if you’re on a private reserve but hopefully you get the idea.
When it comes to a photography holiday it does seem that for the most a company is taking you to an established location (e.g. Zimanga) and then charging you extra for their guidance/presence and perhaps taxiing you to places. In some ways that’s good and many people like the safety net this provides as well as the companionship of fellow photographers. There’s nothing wrong with it and it has it’s place. Personally and this is from experience – unless the guide is worth being with – then I’d be happier not travelling with a guide and simply getting an itinery of where I should be and when. My view is that if a location is aimed at photographers then the people running the place will have more of the much needed knowledge should you require help. If you’re considering booking a trip to a destination, maybe just do a little research first to discover if you can book direct and what they offer. You may save a few pounds!
Having a good attentive guide makes a huge difference to any photography workshop, weekend or holiday. I strongly recommend Dawn2Dusk Photography and their landscape trips. For wildlife then Sean Weekly is brilliant in helping guests as is Kevin Morgan. Both now work with Wildlife Worldwide so they’re probably a decent company to start with. I have to say that I haven’t travelled with that company but my interactions with them have always been good. I have travelled with NaturesLens in the past but definitely won’t do so again. In brief I lost faith in the owners having gone to Alaska with them and therefore decided that I’d rather spend my money elsewhere. Their trips are good and they are worth considering if you like wildlife photo holidays. Maybe just review who’s leading before paying your money. There’s nothing worse than being on a holiday of a lifetime with people who maybe unknowingly are acting in a way as to try and ruin it.
So cost, wanting to enjoy the travel experiences with my partner – rather than as a solo traveller – and choice of company are just a few of the reasons why I’m less inclined towards wildlife photography at the moment. From a photography perspective I’m also not quite sure I’d enjoy it as much. Most certainly I disliked the way the fox was treated in The Netherlands and that made me very uncomfortable. I also think it’ll be hard to beat the experiences of photographing bears and whales in Alaska or visiting Zimanga. I don’t really want to head back to places I’ve already been either because I’m not sure what that would achieve. I may add a few better shots but on the other hand I may not. The time and costs could be used for doing something new – not the same thing. Secondly I don’t find it that challenging. With sports I have 90 minutes to “tell the story of the match” whereas photographing a bird landing on a stick from the “comfort” of a hide seems less of a challenge.
That’s not to dismiss bird on sticks or hide photography. Just at this moment in time it’s not a place I want to be. Even slightly set-up images such as pelicans at Lake Kerkini (where they’re fed fish to come closer to the shore and boats) or horses in Carmague (where they’re driven towards you to get the iconic shots) don’t quite grab me so much these days. Seeing animals in the wild – perhaps not even being focused on photography – feels like a better experience. Although at the same time I just can’t get excited about heading to Skomer to take another bunch of puffin images. I guess the reaction I get from the sports images is also an influence. There’s something quite gratifying at capturing a piece of action that gets a reaction from those that viewed it. This week I was told my shots are helping raise the profile of the clubs involved and that feels good. It feels like my photography can make a small difference and that is very satisfying to know.
Fortunately I do still have quite a lot of unprocessed shots from various shots to wade through so I’ll still be adding some wildlife images. Maybe even reworking a couple of older ones as I get to grips with Capture One’s capabilities. And the phrase never say never is there. If the right wildlife photography trip crops up or there’s an urge to get away for a short break then I may get tempted. Occasionally I see photos from the likes of Sean and Kevin and think “yeah that’d be cool to do” so the desire hasn’t totally gone away. I do fancy visiting Costa Rica, Norway, Canada and Kenya for photography but I want to do them as part of a proper holiday and not just photos. So in those cases I may just omit the middle man and source photography destinations, guides and workshops myself.