365 days later and 2016 is a year which started with disappointment up a mountain in Spain and ended with elation in a cinema in Antwerp! It’s a year I look back on with very fond memories. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the animals I’ve photographed and the experiences I’ve found myself in.
To get the ball rolling on some of my highlights, I’ll briefly take a nod to the many ‘if only’ moments and photos, that found themselves in the big trashcan in the sky, with something that was spectacularly anticlimactic. Barely a few days into January I found myself at the top of the aforementioned mountain in Spain, sat in a small hide setup for lynx. A stunningly beautiful cat living in a stunningly beautiful part of the world. Having only two days was always going to put success in the hands of lady luck and after we had our two 10 hour sessions, I came away with just one single photo, of a robin.
Nature 1 – Richard 0
Wildlife photography is anything but easy and a hugely frustrating genre because animals don’t care if you flew half way round the world to see them or not. No matter how many times during the year I find myself feeling frustrated that I haven’t captured the image I’m after, looking back at the images that did work always reminds me to embrace the failures so I can treasure the successes all the more.
Moving swiftly on, between January and March, various workshop guiding duties with others saw me visit Greece and Africa twice, neither of which disappointed. Greece’s dalmatian pelicans put on as good a show as ever with plenty of the typical etherial images on offer, alongside which I opted to capture some dark and moody portraits to contrast against the clean white ones.
Africa always offers something memorable with every visit and my first trip most certainly didn’t fail with an opportunity to get up close and personal with a pack of endangered wild dogs, in Laikipia. The main highlight however, being a visit to the Ol Pejeta conservancy to meet Ringo, the abandoned southern white rhino. With the temperament of an excited puppy combined with the weight of a small car he made for an incredibly endearing character to be around and seeing how much the rhino sanctuary loved and looked after him, was truly heartwarming. Sadly, there wasn’t a happy ending for Ringo as he died later in the summer. He formed a soft spot in the hearts of all who had the privilege to meet him and so there are plans in place to ensure his memory lives on through 2017 and beyond.
If you read my 2015 year in review, you’ll note I mentioned I’d be talking at the Photography Show in Birmingham this year on the Nikon stand (if you happened to swing by and caught one of my talks, thanks for listening). The year built further on that relationship with Nikon when they asked if I’d like to join their Ambassador team. Needless to say it was the easiest ‘yes’ I’ve ever given and regardless of what the future brings, it will remain a career highlight for me. They’re a lovely team of people to work with and never seem to tire of my random and obscure technical questions. I also had some fun testing out the D5 (review) and D500 (review) which were released this year.
Once the Photography Show was over it was back to Africa for another workshop (more information on upcoming safaris and workshops can be found here).
Spring and summer saw lots of interest in the ProHides Little Owl hide. ProHides is a company founded by my friend and fellow photographer Elliott Neep and I came onboard to assist behind the scenes when required. With the aid of some camera traps we spent the early spring months monitoring activity around the abandoned farm house the owls had chosen to nest in, before removing the cameras and opening up the hide outside to eager photographers. It was an excellent season and for me, the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see one right through from adults nesting to chicks fledging. The summer of course also saw the customary trip to Skomer, which was as enjoyable as ever. It’s a sensational location and one that I love to be immersed in.
Again referenced in my previous 2015 year in review, the Remembering Elephants coffee table book project was released to an eager public in September 2016. As one of the contributing photographers I spent a very enjoyable week attending the exhibition opening at The Pall Mall Gallery and fund-raising auction at the Royal Geographic Society. The entire project was for a very good cause, with all proceeds from the (now sold out) book and exhibition going straight back into elephant conservation via the Born Free Foundation.
Sri Lanka and Cape Sounio, Greece, were also on the agenda. Although technically labelled as ‘holidays’ I tried my best to hijack both with my 400mm coming to Sri Lanka, although having little success. Cape Sounio was a trickier prospect but actually more rewarding. This was picked (not by me) because there was little wildlife in the area, or anything for that fact. It was chosen for one simply reason. Seclusion and the ability to fully switch off. I packed a 14-24 with the idea of maybe doing some star trail stuff and it turned out to be wise decision. By a complete stroke of luck, the day before we began the journey home a note was slide under our rooms door to inform us the hotel was hosting a loggerhead sea turtle release in conjunction with the Archelon Sea Turtle Protection Society. And so I found myself laying on the beach at the waters edge, watching the first gentle waves of the aegean sea lap over ‘Olivia’, before she quickly and gracefully swam away to a background soundtrack of the cheering crowd of adults and children alike. Magical stuff.
I didn’t do a huge amount of work in my garden this year although it continues to humble and amaze me how my Back Garden Safari project continues to capture peoples imagination even now. This year 4 of the 5 images I had awarded across the British Wildlife Photography Awards, Asferico International Nature Competition and Nature Talks, were from the ongoing series.
With the end of the year fast approaching, in November I found myself swapping camera’s for prints and frames as I put on a week long exhibition and accompanying talk, in collaboration with the WWF-UK, at their headquarters, the Living Planet Centre.
With the WWF exhibition barely over, early December signalled the end of my talks with the final two of the year. The first at Nikon School in London, which is always a great venue to attend as it’s very intimate with only 20 seats, allowing for a really nice engagement with the audience. Later that week I then found myself on the Eurostar heading towards Antwerp for the Lowlands Photo Festival. In only its third year this weekend long event is already the largest festival of its type in Europe so to be invited to talk was a huge honour. By hiring out one of the largest screens at a cinema complex, the event allows for over 650 people to attend each day. Those who do are treated to a visual feast as the screen is 27 meters wide and fed by a state of the art laser projector. With both days all but sold out it was a great atmosphere with stunning imagery showcased. My talk was flanked on the Sunday afternoon by the exceptionally talented Jasper Doest and the unrivalled creativity of Bence Máté as we closed the weekends presentations. I can’t imagine I’ll ever find myself in front of such a large screen and audience again, making for a very memorable way to end the year.
And that about wraps it up! It’s always hard to select just a few images to sum the year up in these types of posts. So, whilst there are some purposefully not on display for one reason or another, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ones that are. More importantly than that, thank you to everyone who has attended a workshop or talk with me, picked up a magazine to read something I’ve written or simply taken the time to Like, Comment or Share something from one of my social media channels. Similarly, thank you everyone who has purchased prints (from the new photo library I built this year) or a copy of my ebook. Your continued support is something I never take for granted.
I look forward to seeing where 2017 takes me next. The people, places, animals and even the missed opportunities that my love of photography and wildlife will lead me to encounter, experience and write about 365 days from now.
If you want to know about future workshops and events, please feel free to sign up to my newsletter. For now however, I simply wish you a very happy new year.