Wildlife Photography at a glance
Under £15k a year. The actual income from wildlife photography is not huge, but the perks are (think fully funded trips to take promotional photos)!
40 hours a week
5/5 - excellent
Super flexible with part time, full time, can fit hours in around other things and work from home
Lots! My favourite places to photograph wildlife are in Africa and Central America!
Time spent behind the camera - there is no substitute for experience in photography.
Communication - telling people the story behind your photos, teaching groups
Creativity, determination, patience, eye for detail
What were your first career steps and how did that work out?
I started out in a farm animal internship at Bristol University, where I had to hit the ground running! I developed my interest in camelid medicine and surgery here, and gained a great grounding in farm animal practice. Whilst working at Langford, I bought my first DSLR, and started taking more and more wildlife photos. After my internship I moved to Wiltshire, and continued with farm practice (and exotics work!), building up the camelid and sheep side of the business, and doing some zoo work at weekends (because who doesn't want to blood-sample a tiger in their free time?!).
So how did you decide to become a wildlife photgrapher?
Whilst I was working full-time in practice, most of my spare money was going to funding wildlife-spotting holidays or camera equipment to use on them! I realised I loved wildlife and nature photography, and I wanted to see if I could make this one of my professions, so I decided to set up my photography business alongside my vet job.
What did you need to do to get into this career path?
All I really had to do to become a wildlife photographer was take the jump and decide to invest in making it a business. I was taking the photos anyway, and any holiday I went on was a photography trip for me (other people ski on a skiing holiday, I tried to clamber up behind a ski lift in my boots because there was a snow finch perched on the building!). I have no photography qualifications, I have just tried to build up my skill level by learning whilst doing, and analysing the photos of other photographers I admire.
Really think about your photography as a business proposition before taking the leap - how are you planning for it to make money? If you want it to work as a business, you can't just take nice photos and hope - who is going to buy them? What for? And what do you want to get out of it?
Were there any barriers to entry and how did you overcome them?
There were barriers to becoming a wildlife photographer - I was surprised to find when I started exhibiting my work at craft fairs that people didn't believe I was the photographer, and would often ask my husband where he had taken a particular shot. People also thought I was too young to be a photographer - they assumed my work had less value than if I had been a 50 year old man.
The biggest barrier for me though was the vulnerability of opening my work up to the judgement of others - I love my photos, I have worked hard on them, and hearing criticism on them, whether from the general public or expert judges in competitions, is still difficult. I have to constantly remind myself that photography, like any art, is hugely subjective, and that just because one person doesn't like one photo, it doesn't mean it is without merit. Also having learned to accept constructive criticism on my photos I have been able to improve my photography.
What are the best bits about your current role and are there any downsides?
The best bit about my current role is I get to go to beautiful places in the world and take photos of the wildlife that I love, and that now I am helping to run wildlife photography tours, I get to teach others to do the same. I also get to continue my vet work as a locum, and I love the flexibility and different challenges this throws up.
The downsides are the time spent away from home (both with photography and locum work), which means I spend less time with my husband and my cat than I would like! I sometimes worry that as a locum I will not be able to advance and improve any more as a vet, and may need to think about taking a permanent job. Then there is just the sheer hard work of running a business, and organising myself to get everything done - but I have a very low boredom threshold, so this is less of a downside than it could be!
Could you give us an overview of a typical day/tasks?
I don't really have a typical day - it is one of the reasons I love my two careers! I could be doing the standard consults and ops in small animal practice, I could be doing a Herd Health Plan for a private alpaca client, I could be at home editing photos and doing social media for my photography (and drinking more tea than can possibly be healthy!), or I could be in the tropics getting up before dawn to photograph hummingbirds in the first morning light (hint: these days are the absolute best days!).
What sort of person would thrive in this career path?
Someone who is flexible and adaptable, who doesn't mind hard work and who has a creative side as well as a scientific brain and a business head!
What advice would you give to someone becoming a wildlife photographer?
Really think about your photography as a business proposition before taking the leap - how are you planning for it to make money? If you want it to work as a business, you can't just take nice photos and hope - who is going to buy them? What for? And what do you want to get out of it? If it's just money don't bother - I know veterinary work doesn't pay as well as other professions, but wildlife photography is no better! It can make a profitable business, but you really have to love it to make it worth it.