You have frankly acknowledged dealing with clinical depression which led to your giving up your previous career as a writer and finding renewed passion in things you loved to do such as being outdoors and wild swimming. Can you elaborate a little bit about what motivated you to try photography? Was it solely therapeutic? A way to marry those twin passions and sharing it with others?
There was a mix of happenstance (a camera I bought for my son's stop-frame animation) and curiosity. Here was something new and when I was on Westminster Bridge one night, there were a ton of photographers with tripods doing long exposures to get car and bus light trails and Big Ben in one photo, it was a trigger for a new fascination. I had really burned out of the world of children's and YA books and schools performances but I knew very little about cameras. I did not expect my interest to lead me to where I am now. What did happen early on, especially being out on the Mynd or the Stiperstones, I got that general feeling of well-being which I did not have anymore from hours writing in front of the computer. No, it was not therapy but I can say it is part of what keeps me well today and I love the fact that there is always something new to learn and that I now have local adventures that are a joy to share both with audiences and on a larger stage with the national media.
“One cannot develop fully as a wildlife and landscape photographer without being drawn into deep concern about conservation issues”
You said four years ago if anyone told you you would be where you are now, you would say no way. What is the secret to your success? Is it really as easy as picking up a camera and practice, practice, practice? Or do you have to be interested in something anything to be able to capture it, recognise that something is worth a shot? Are there any parallels between choosing a shot and writing such as the desire to document?
It was unexpected, but no there is nothing as simple as picking up a camera and practicing - I tend in my life to really go for it and dedicate myself to the art I am involved with - it took me ten years as a children's writer before I started getting published and by the time I was done after 25 years, my wife and I had written well over 100 published books and been published in 17 countries.
What is the secret of my success? Working the shot, developing fieldcraft, learning from others with greater experience, huge research, and not giving up if I don't get the shot first time round. I have been working on a roosting dragonfly shot trying to get a black darter Dragonfly and the Milky Way in the same shot. It has taken me over two years to refine this method and I am still not happy though an early shot in this project was shortlisted for both “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” and “British Wildlife Photographer of the Year”. The writing has also taken a new direction as my poetry and lyrical nature work have also developed to work alongside the photos - I now feel this is the best writing I have ever done and much of it will go into my next book, The Hill and Vale of Home.
I am sure you get asked this a lot but can you tell me about living here in Shropshire, rural life and your photography? It certainly resonates with a wider audience and is plainly important to drawing attention to conservation issues, are these just a wonderful byproduct of your work or is it a primary motivating factor? In addition, is there anything that you have noticed particularly in terms of conservation issues that people who live locally may not be aware of?
My work has deepened my love of Shropshire and of course the hill country round where I live. I have no need to feel inadequate because I am not photographing snow leopards or lions as our local wildlife can be incredible, beautiful, unexpected and worth documenting.
Also, it is easy to be concerned about wildlife decline in Africa, and we all should be, but in Shropshire, curlews could be extinct in a few years. I have seen no lapwings at all this year, butterflies are down and the list goes on. One cannot develop fully as a wildlife and landscape photographer without being drawn into deep concern about conservation issues. I absolutely see my talks as having a role in raising awareness, through beauty and knowledge of what is happening in Shropshire and what we need to fight for.
Your iconic image for 2018 must be the super moon, so what gives? What is your special relationship with the sky?
That supermoon image was taken in 2016 and ended up on the front of the Times and four other national papers but I do love photographing the moon and got some lovely shots over Manstone rock this year which the Guardian used. There are similarities in chasing wildlife and the moon and I am using the same long lenses to bring the moon closer.
Finally, what else can we (your audience and fans) look forward to in terms of photography, talks and books in the near future?
I have had an incredible season with butterflies and dragonflies this year and this is an area I want to work on - I am also moving further towards calling myself an artist photographer, not in terms of changing my photos, but that I am only about getting a record shot of a species, but placing them in habitat and against the setting sun, rising moon - showing the awe inspiring backdrops to their small and perfectly formed roosting spots.