At the beginning of 2015 I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote "2015 Photographic Plans". I then wrote a series of goals for the year in front of me. I filed this away and then came back to it a few weeks later. I then looked at it again and asked myself "which of these goals support my photographic journey?". Any goals that didn't, I scrubbed them off the list. Why did I write such a plan in the first place?
I think it is really important to have focus. I also think it is really important to have some goals in mind that you want to aim for as a photographer. By setting goals, I think we set a course, a path, a journey. And for me that journey is the most important thing, irrespective of whether I actually achieve the goal(s). If I hadn't of sat and wrote down a list of goals, I think I would have lost focus, even become complacent with my own photographic journey. And as a result I probably wouldn't have learnt as much as I did this year, and certainly my photography wouldn't have progressed as much as it did.
The last thing I am going to do is list my goals and review them on this blog! But I do want to share a number of my highlights. I actually broke my goals into a number of categories: 1) Craft 2) Presence/Exposure 3) Competitions 4) Gear. So what were the highlights?
Without doubt this years highlight was the photographic safari to Amboseli and Tsuavo in Kenya with Andrew Beck (Wild Eye). Not only was this an incredible destination, but this was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time in my own photographic journey. I'd made strides in my photography during my trips to South Africa in the previous couple of years, but I had started to produce the same types of images. I needed a completely new "canvas" and some critical insights into my shooting. Kenya and Andrew provided that. The wide open landscapes of Amboseli meant I got my first real test of shooting at longer focal lengths (upto 600mm). I was able to start composing the sorts of 'wildscapes' I'd longed to shoot and alongside a photographer who's work I admire. Being among like minded photographers was also a very inspiring aspect of the experience and to see how different photographers approach the same scene. This single experience helped me raise my game. I came back with incredible images, incredible memories and an immense amount of enthusiasm and motivation to continue my photographic journey.
Literally "our home" in Kenya - these photographic vehicles were where we shot the majority of our images whilst in the reserves.
This was an interesting category to write goals around. As photographers we are surrounded by social media and the sharing of images on a daily basis. I had to ask myself a simple question when planing 2015. What should my presence be? Not all exposure is good exposure. Social Media comes with many pitfalls. But I recognise that having a presence online is very important, especially if you want your work to get noticed, but also benchmark where your work is, to see if your craft and your photographic vision is evolving.
I had to remind myself that there will always be photographers better than you and there will be photographers who are not so good as you, but the importance is not to be "the best", but to create images that represents your vision. So with that in mind, in 2015 I decided that I wanted my Facebook page and Website to be focused on sharing my experiences, my learnings and my vision of wildlife photography. If someone were to ask me to describe my photography I'd give a simple answer "I'm an accidental wildlife photographer". I never set out with the intention of shooting wildlife. I fell into this genre by accident and by circumstance. And I'm glad I did, because I have a passion and a love for it. But if you were to ask me what my perception of wildlife photograph was before I started practicing it, I would have said that it was a realm of intimidating photographers with long lenses and attitudes. That is the perception the genre had. Now I'm practicing it...well yes there are egos...but there are some incredible pro's out there who are open, approachable and supportive. I've been lucky enough this year to engage with quite a few of them. The ones I admire the most are the ones who recognise how and when its appropriate to give a helping hand for the good of the genre overall...and do not feel threatened by that. And to that end, the content I produce I hope benefits the community, whether you read this as a beginner or a pro, I hope the content I create helps to some degree.
This year I've written 30 blogs with a total of over 3500 views. On this website. I've written two guest blogs for Wild Eye in South Africa. I've written an article for Africa Geographic. However, I still maintain I am a small fish in this domain! To all of you that have read one of my blogs or articles, and who have; agreed, disagreed, commented, engaged, been inspired to responded with your own content as a result of me provoking a thought, or got something/anything from it....THANK YOU.
An article I wrote which was publish in Africa Geographic focusing on hide photography at Jaci's Lodges in Madikwe, South Africa.
Was there a highlight in 2015? My only goal was to go through the experience for the first time of submitting to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award along with >40,000 other entries. For me it was nothing more than a punt. But I wanted to go through the experience of selecting my images and see if I learnt something from that. Indeed, my own selection process taught me a lot. The process of self reflection of your own images can be a very positive experience and at the end of the day it isn't worth getting too caught up in the whole competition thing. For me it was a way to review some incredible sightings and ask myself a) do I think them worthy to submit? and b) would I have shot the image any differently knowing what I know now? Two insightful questions to reflect on, on your own photographic journey.
This image wasn't a submission, but the process of submitting made me look at my work through a critical eye. It helped me challenge myself in creating images going forward and to not be scared of conforming to what people perceived as a "good" wildlife image by trying new and different things.
Cameras are tools and they will always be superseded by new technology, that is inevitable. But there comes a time when you have to be honest and ask yourself if your creative vision is being restricted by the camera in your hand. I never ever thought that by buying a better camera I would take better pictures. But I did realise my old and trusty 7D was not up to the job on African safari's. After my trip to Sabi Sands in November 2014 I had overly noisy images of incredible wild dog sightings that pretty much cemented my decision. It was time to step up to full frame. In January 2015 I wrote "Buy a 5Dmkiii"....3 months later at The Photography Show at the NEC, UK, I bought one. I got an incredible deal and I've never looked back. In Kenya, I shot 80% of my images on that camera, with the 7D being relegated to some wide angle landscapes. In November the 5Dmkiii had to go for repair and I spent 3 weeks shooting with the 7D. Going back to it reinforced what a good decision it was to upgrade to the 5Dmkiii. I have the camera now that is realising my creative vision and giving me extended shooting on morning and evening game drives in low light. I have confidence in that camera to deliver and I have confidence in using it. All I need now is Canon to create the same stills camera with 4K on it for under $3000 and I will be happy. However, knowing Canon, I doubt very much that will happen any time soon. Maybe when 6K video becomes main stream in 10 years time!!!
Some handheld landscape work with my 5Dmkiii and 16-35mm f2.8 lens in Madiwke, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Justin Glanvill.
Things I didn't plan for...
So those were the highlights of my 2015 and my photographic goals. There were some I missed out on. I wanted to visit Texel in the Netherlands over spring to shoot birds, I wanted to get to Donna Nook in the UK in November to shoot seals, I wanted to get back to the UK to shoot the annual deer rut - alas none of those things happened. However those things I missed out on, were replaced through circumstances with other things. In spring I spent a day at the British Wildlife Centre shooting a range of different British Wildlife. In October I had the opportunity to return to South Africa to do some hide photography within the Madikwe Game Reserve. One of the highlights on that trip was to meet and spend time with probably my favourite landscape photographer, Mark Dumbleton. His work continues to be an inspiration and to spend an evening shooting astro landscapes along side him was a priviledge. And in November I've spent a couple of weeks locally shooting birds and getting some incredible winter images I really wasn't expecting. And in October I was published in Wild Planet Photo Magazine, this was my first publication and something that is a milestone for me. Not long after that, I had an article published in Africa Geographic Magazine.
My first publication was an image from Amboseli, Kenya, published in the November edition of Wild Planet Photo Magazine.
What will 2016 bring?
Well I have yet to get my blank piece of paper and start writing anything! But I will. There are some things already cooking which I am very excited about but I cannot share the details of just yet! But I will of course be blogging about them when the time is right. What I can say is that as well as returning to Africa, I would like to focus on more local wildlife especially shooting birds from hides. I am in the process of starting to organise some hide sessions for 2016 and that will be a very new experience for me. I've always maintained bird photography is technically challenging and so I am very keen to get into that domain much more.
Notably mentions for 2015...
Now, it is important for me to recognise some people who have played a part in my photographic journey this year. I want to give a shout out and thank you to the following, in no particular order;
Andrew Beck - thank you so much for all your guidance and inspiration. Without doubt our time in Kenya was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and everything I learn will be a platform for me going forward. Sincere thanks Andrew.
Mark Dumbleton - a pleasure and honour to shoot a long side you sir. I hope one day our paths will cross again, minus the blue cheese, but with the same amount of mirth and humour.
Justin Glanvill - Justin, what can I say? It's your fault hey. 3 years ago I fell into all this thanks in part to you. You continue to be a huge supporter and inspiration despite not having any photographs worthy yourself ;-) Thanks mate!
Jaci & Jan Van Heteren - Jaci, Jan - sincere thanks for your entrusting the Terrapin Hide to my video camera. It's was a huge pleasure to be a small part of such an exciting platform.
Christophe Gillot - many thanks Christophe for listening, and giving your insights as a pro. Your help locally has been invaluable. Whilst we shoot in different domains, you remain an inspiration.
To all who liked or commented on any photo I posted on Facebook or Instagram this year...sincerest thanks. I know your feeds are flooded with content and so for you to take the time and engage with what I do, I truly appreciate that you appreciate :-)
In the coming weeks I am going to take a break and go off line. Have a great holiday season wherever you are in the World, and see you 2016 side.