QT with Wilsy…and Tracey

Wilson running along path

QT standing for Question Time, of course. Not with dullard politicians boring the pants off everyone about Brexit though.

Oh no, mine is much better.

Mine is with the very wonderful Dr Tracey Rich, who – as you can see – has taken even more photographs of me!

That’s just off the ‘fab-o-meter’ scale, ain’t it?!

Without further ado, let’s get stuck in.

What’s your background?

I was born and brought up in the English countryside in the south west, we moved about a lot but mostly covering Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight so it was inevitable that I would be influenced by this. I went on to do a PhD in Zoology specialising in behavioural ecology and I’m still mad for science.

I’ve worked as a professional photographer now for 18 years, 10 years solely wildlife around the world, and I’ve also worked on projects for numerous wildlife conservation organisations in both research and communications.

I love to travel and have been fortunate to have travelled far and wide with my photographic work from jungle to desert, arctic to antarctic. I live in Wiltshire in a small village at the moment with two crazy cocker spaniels, Moo and Nora. 

Wilson in profile

There might be a squirrel over there…

When did you take up photography and why?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t immersed in nature and taking photos, there wasn’t really a time when I took up photography because it’s always been there, mostly due to my Dad who has been a mad keen amateur photographer all his life. We joke in the family that it’s in our genes as my great grandfather was one of the very first aerial photographers for the fledgling RAF, or Royal Flying Corps as it was known at the time. Staggeringly, he was shooting images on glass plates hanging out of a biplane as bombs were dropping in WW1! Amazing. 

What subjects do you prefer to photograph?

Animals, animals, animals…birds and plants. However, I love colour and form too – so travel is something that is always inspirational – cultures, interesting faces, buildings, seeing things through a new perspective.

Wildlife is my absolute fave – an excuse to indulge and immerse myself in a world unknown, to read and communicate the behaviour of animals who can’t talk back but clearly do talk if only you are prepared to learn the lingo and to listen.

My training in zoology helps this of course and to take the time to watch, listen and learn about the natural world is my idea of heaven. It often raises new questions about animals and only by watching can we learn from them. I like the unpredictable nature of animals and the challenge of having to work hard to make a good shot happen.

Wilson lying in bluebells

…or there might be a squirrel over there

How much do you edit your images?

Hardly at all. To be honest, life is too short to be sat in front of a computer. I’m old school I guess (I started in the film days) and the joy of photography comes from the set up and moment of capture, not post processing in front of a screen.

It is so easy to create what you want nowadays without actually having the skill and ability to capture it on camera. It sort of misses the point for me. It’s all about working with what is in front of you and getting the best from it. Likewise I hate setting things up, my wildlife photography background necessitates that you work the shot with whatever you get privileged to experience – you can’t tell a tiger to turn its head one way or other, or politely as a polar bear to just do that again! I’m glad that wildlife is my main thing and that the high and sometimes purist standards of wildlife photography mean that I ethically find it almost impossible to manipulate my images.

Many pet and animal photographers use flash, drop in presets, backgrounds, clone out leashes and even people, I couldn’t do that (there is nothing wrong with this by the way, so long as you are happy doing so and are honest that you have done it). Personally I don’t think it shows massive photographic skill to do this and I want to get it right for me as I hit that shutter button – if it’s not pretty much spot on out of the camera, it’s in the bin. I am a stickler for that.

In wildlife photography, it is an absolute no-no to manipulate images and it is something that just stays with you – I’m glad it does, for me photography is not just about making money, in fact it’s rarely about that. I do it for the love of animals, creating memories and meeting wonderful animal lovers wherever that might be.

Walking in bluebells with mum

Talking of editing images…who told mum she could get in on my act?!

Why did you decide to photograph dogs?

I’ve always photographed dogs but I suppose took it a little more seriously in recent years since I realised that the images I have of my first cockers, Muppet and Damson, are all I actually have of them now and they are incredibly precious to me. Muppet once graced the cover of a national magazine back in 2001 and since then it was natural to photograph another personal love I suppose.

To be able to capture the essence of a family member in a photograph means so much to me now they are not here, I wanted to make sure that other people can have that too. Something to remind you of the way their fur falls, the silly little faces they pull or just the way they look and stand. All the little things that mean so much but are hard to recall over time. I love dogs, always have and often the bond we have with them is as strong as that, if not stronger than, with other humans, friends and family alike. It’s special, unique and to be treasured for the rest of your life. We are so lucky to share our time with other creatures that can really show us the meaning of living and unconditional love (apart from the love of gravy bones that is!).

What makes a good dog photo?

Photography is totally subjective, like any form of art. I do feel strongly that dog photography has to be of the highest quality possible. There are often animal images I see out there which are by professional photographers which aren’t even technically correct, wonky horizons, no focus on the eyes, just not quite in focus at all, lots of set up shots that look like commercials where the dog is clearly unhappy and uncomfortable at wearing a top hat and so on – they all look great on your phone but they would not stand up to scrutiny of printers, editors and the like.

The standard of photography that gets published/sold has certainly dropped and that’s sad. Clients, editors and publishers should demand the best and photographers should only give that. For portraits the images have to convey the character of the animal and perhaps its relationship with its owner too or the environment it is photographed in.

Wilson sitting

One word – poser

Do you do ‘formal’ portraiture or mainly outdoorsy-type images?

Both, obviously with my outdoorsy background I’m happiest out of doors and love to work with the light that you are presented with at any one time but I also do portraits indoors, and if at all possible using natural light. This isn’t because I can’t use flash/lighting, I just don’t like the look much really. It’s great for people, for skin tones but I’m not sure it lends much to animals – we don’t really view them that way and I’m not one for falsehoods as you can tell.

I can’t stand for instance the high-key (white background) style of studio photoshoot of the 1990s – it’s dated, it’s unimaginative and for animals, it does nothing to help create those details that are all important. Subtle lighting can be achieved with light indoors by windows and doorways, maybe a reflector, and this tends to be more natural – it’s personal preference, I like it like that. You don’t need a fancy set up to get great atmospheric shots, you just need to work hard and to work with what you get given in terms of lighting and subject.

Any tips for photographing dogs?

Yes, get the focus on the eyes! Crucial for any animal photography. Delete anything that is out of focus and forget it. Don’t keep images ‘just because’. It’s no use saying: “Well, it’d be such a nice picture if is wasn’t for…” Keep playing around.

Wilson's floppy ear

Get the focus on the eyes (and the floppy ear)

What equipment do you use?

I have a professional Canon set up. As photographic equipment is just so crazily expensive, you usually end up in one camp or with one brand purely because it’s too costly to change. Cameras are outdated or superceded as often as they hit the shelves nowadays but it’s not the kit that takes the picture. It’s you. You can take the same image no matter what lens you’re looking through, or screen you are looking at – it’s about what come about of the heart and the head, that makes the image, not the kit. You could own an F1 racing car but it doesn’t mean you’ll win a Grand Prix now does it?

What type of commissions will you consider taking on?

Oh my word, what a question…any. I love pushing boundaries of what I can do and would love love love to do some more books. I’ve always got loads of ideas for projects. I’d be really up for that. Likewise, I’d love to be able to join an expedition somewhere crazy and document it – I love a good challenge. I’d consider anything, whether I say yes to it would be another matter. One thing I really would like to do is to be involved with a charitable cause and to put my photography to good use in an artistic and fundraising way at the same time. I’m open to offers!

Bluebells and ferns

Springtime is just the best month

Where has your work been published?

I’ve written several books and edited some too, and been published worldwide in magazines, national newspapers etc. I have agents who sell my work all over for everything but I rarely get to know where and when. It is sometimes a surprise to see your work in a magazine or even on a billboard – that has happened in the past!

You must have some good tales to tell…

Here’s a goody – have you ever had any hairy moments when photographing animals? Err, yes! One that springs to mind is a very near miss with a rhino mother. She had a baby who we (my partner and I, and our guide) had been walking with on foot in Swaziland for a few days, getting great shots. Then baby decided that it wanted to investigate us a bit more – they are quite precocious when they are little – bad news for us as this came swiftly followed by half a ton of mother at some speed.

My guide yelled at us: “****ing run!” Which they did. For some reason I didn’t, my thought was that if I ran I would give her a target because she was already too close. There was no tree to climb so I had to stand my ground (it was either that or I was frozen rigid to the spot! But weirdly I don’t remember feeling fear).

So I stayed put and luckily, just as she was about to hook me on the end of her horn I managed to grab it with both hands and swing it to the side. At the same time baby veered of in the same direction – phew! I can tell you that the fear did kick in when I was made to walk with her the next day though – I had distinctly sweaty palms!

Wilson on a log

Having a breather

Well! As you can see Tracey is not only a fabulous photographer but a genuinely lovely person too. I’ve been photographed by her twice now – and will do again, mum wants those Solent shots at some point.

The photos in this post were taken at Micheldever Wood in Hampshire. Mum had mentioned to Tracey on our last photoshoot back in autumn 2017 (in the same location) that she’d like to get some images of me in the bluebells.

Tracey got in touch a few weeks ago and it was just as well she did – it’s been a short bluebell season this year because of the changeable (i.e. rubbish) weather. We timed it to perfection – it was a beautiful morning and these quintessentially English flowers were looking perfect. As was I.

You can find out more about Tracey and how to book your own shoot on her website, as my Twitter chum Ruth Jeffery did with her lovely working cocker spaniel Monty. He was photographed the day before our session in late April, after Ruth read this post.

Don’t worry that the bluebells have gone over now – Tracey can work her magic at any time of the year and you can follow her on Instagram to get your daily fix.

4 Comments

  1. May 17, 2018 / 09:00

    I can’t even describe how much I love these photos! Incredible. Each one clearly shows how much of a rascal you are. Also, that story about the rhino? Wow, just, wow.

    • Wilson
      Author
      May 17, 2018 / 17:21

      Rascal? What d’ya mean?! Oh yeah…

  2. Emma Kelsall
    May 17, 2018 / 09:28

    Fabulous blog and photos Wilson! Really interesting, even to a non-dog owner!

    • Wilson
      Author
      May 17, 2018 / 17:20

      Why thank you, kind lady!

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