Close your eyes for a second and envision the life of a wildlife photographer. No, seriously. Really close your eyes and imagine it… 1, 2, 3—-
Let me guess, you saw yourself frolicking with lions, walking with elephants, winning lots of awards and of course, the absolute prestige of it all.
In life’s FAQs, this is by far and away the most popular question I’m asked. It’s fair enough though, the everyday of a wildlife photographer can seem so detached from the ‘norm’… but is it really?
It’s likely you’ve found your favourite wildlife photographers on social media, whether that be Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or the latest platform. From the viewer’s perspective, you’re seeing epic images of cheetah hunts, elephants wading through huge rivers, and brown bears fishing. In reality though, you’re not only seeing a portfolio (of sorts) but more so a projection.
This projection is the life wildlife photographers want you to believe they lead. In 2018, truth couldn’t be further away.
While we’d all love to spend 90% of our time in the field, in a world so dominated by brand and marketing, a huge chunk is now plonked behind a desk. Editing, finding the next project, sorting e-mails, working on presentations, you name it. The industry is so incredibly competitive that your brand is now nearly as – if not equally – important as your end product: the images.
The pressure is immense. There’s very few ‘purist’ wildlife photographers left; we’ve all had to adapt and evolve, with a particular focus on understanding content marketing, becoming an ‘influencer’ on social media, and finding a niché to sit apart from your competitors.
That last point – competitors – is probably the worst part of all. Now, more than ever, the industry is incredibly selfish. Peers and colleagues no longer exist, with photographers afraid to share contacts, locations, and skills. With that in mind, it can be an incredibly lonely industry.
Then of course, the actual shoots themselves. From the beginning – regardless of your days and weeks spent planning – so many variables are against you. Will the conditions play ball? Can you find the species you want to photograph? Will they collaborate and behave how you’d dreamt? Will they all come together at once? Are you quick enough to adapt in-camera for all these variables?
Naturally, the phrase ‘you make do with what you’re given’ rings true. The true thrill (and secret) to being a wildlife photographer is the unpredictability of it all. By embracing it, you can better accept – and indeed, learn from – your failures and mistakes.
There’s no doubt that we wildlife photographers have an incredible ‘job’. In fact, it’s not really a job for the majority of us, it’s often a lifelong dream come true. Speaking for myself, I’m eternally appreciative for the opportunities I’ve had/have and take nothing for granted.
With the right mindset, the positives can far outweigh the negatives. That said, there are plenty reasons why more people aren’t wildlife photographers: the pressures and demands act as a sieve, naturally filtering away the dreamers from the believers… and long may that continue, so I can keep photographing in some of the world’s most amazing places.