Interview with Elliott Neep

As well as this interview produced for a major photography magazine, there is a recent (2018) podcast interview with Escape The Zoo, available here to download and listen. For more information on this podcast, read the blog post here.

When did you first become interested in wildlife photography?

I’ve been interested in wildlife since I was a very young child. I used to go fishing with my father in our own lake (an extremely overgrown boat yard in Harefield). Rather than focussing on the float, I was bewitched by dragonflies perching on my rod tip, the flash of blue from the kingfisher, the statuesque grey herons, and the large carp rising and gobbling down stranded insects. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve always had nature on my doorstep.

When I was 16, I developed ‘an eye’ for photography, but left it in an embryonic state until 2001, after being made redundant for the 2nd time before my 30th birthday. It was then I married a ‘natural eye for a shot’ with my keen interest in wildlife. Like many, my career started with macrophotography still-life fungi and flora, then beetles, butterflies and moths. Accessibility was the key to learning fast, moving on to park wildfowl and squirrels, progressing to park deer, then wild roe deer, urban foxes, woodland badgers, coastal otters, etc.

What is it about this genre of photography that excites you?

Being a wildlife photographer is quite literally a dream come true. I travel around the Earth, to wild lands and aim my lens at truly beautiful creatures and breath-taking scenes. It never grows old and it never gets dull, simply because it is always changing. The nature of wildlife is unpredictable and this in itself produces an addictive sense of anticipation, just like your mouth drools before the feast, so my heart races when ever I take that morning drive out onto the savannah, or through the gates into a tiger reserve.

For somebody that began his working life in a suit, this is the ultimate career in escapism. I know great wildlife imagery sparks emotions, delight, and wonder. As it should. It’s a window into another world that (most unfortunately) the vast majority will never see with their own eyes.

What do you hope to share with others through your images?

Since I began this career, I’ve only ever wanted to capture the beauty of nature. Even if it’s a tiny beetle, I’d want to make it look like a jewel so somebody somewhere would think “…isn’t that beautiful, what is it?” Maybe I’ve grown that little bit older, but I feel that I am now standing on the cusp, looking at the natural world with a different eye.

Perhaps, it’s my trepidation for what the future holds for our wildlife and wild lands. The constant fury and bitter anger I feel when I see the product of wildlife crime and trophy hunting. I’m turning away from the pretty portraits and looking to photograph something raw – images with intense drama, life and death survival.

Where has your work been published?

For a long time, the greatest percentage of my revenue came from stock agencies such as Getty Images and FLPA. For this reason, it’s generally impossible to work out where my images are published. The quarterly statements would only ever say “Newspaper” or “Calendar”. Over the ten years I’ve been photographing wildlife, I’ve had several front covers for magazines and books, double-spreads in the national press, and now I’m even part of Apple’s OS X software with the flamingo desktop wallpaper.

My wildlife photographs have been well covered by the photographic/wildlife media with interviews and feature portfolios in Practical Photography, BBC Wildlife, Wild Planet Photo, Digital Photographer, Digital Camera, etc. I have image representation via Getty Images™, FLPA, Solent News, W.E.N.N. Cover Images, etc.

What is about Africa that makes it a fantastic place for wildlife?

Africa IS Safari. This is the original home of wilderness adventures and it’s because of the wildlife – the sheer immensity and raw nature of the wildlife. It’s not a place of fluffy birds and seals, or timid little hedgerow critters. It is a land of the Lion Pride Vs the Hyena Pack, the fastest land animal, the biggest land animal, the largest movement of land animals on Earth – The Great Migration – with all its millions of stampeding hooves. If that wasn’t enough, you have the drama that unfolds in a vast open wilderness, with dust and storms, and with arguably the best ‘light’ on the planet.

What is your favourite animal to photograph?

If I really had to pick a favourite, I would unapologetically say “Tiger!” Yes, it’s an obvious choice, being so beautiful and charismatic. I can’t help the way I feel. When I see one (in the wild), something happens inside. It’s innate, somatic. However, there’s more to it than just beauty. They’re a figurehead. For me, they represent the battle between nature and human arrogance. With so few left and more poached daily for skins and so-called medicines, they are the lighthouse that warns us of an impending catastrophe. If we can’t save the tiger, what can we save!?

Stepping down off my soapbox now, the big cats are also my favourite collective subject. The range of imagery you can capture in a single day is just phenomenal. Bring a few cats together, like pride of lions or cheetah cubs and that range explodes with drama, action, emotion and surprising unpredictability.

What animal would you most like to photograph in the future?

Generally speaking, I focus on large mammals – big cats, polar bears and the megafauna of the savannah. I simply have an affinity with mammals – fur over feathers, if you like. Saying that, imperious-looking birds of prey, enigmatic owls, and jewel-like kingfishers and rollers, or massive flocks are stunning and there is always room for them in my portfolio. In the future, Lemurs, Wolves, Jaguar, and Mountain Lion are all high on my “Must Photograph…” bucket list.

Have you had any hair-raising experiences whilst photographing wildlife?

The most scared I have ever been in my entire life was in India whilst photographing wild Bengal Tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park. I was sitting on an elephant looking for a rather bad-tempered tigress that had disappeared in the tall pampas grasses of meadow. I know… What the hell!? We found her seemingly asleep. Then Jacqueline spotted something small crawling nearby – it was a tiny cub! They were only a couple of weeks old, with blue eyes and no teeth. She suckled them while we watched. It was the most emotional scene I have witnessed.

Then, without any notice, our elephant decided it was hungry and ripped up the grass from right underneath the tigress’ head! She span over and leapt out the grass roaring and snarling. Our elephant span around with fright and we nearly fell off the top. The tigress withheld from an outright attack, but sat back and roared in our faces. My heart was hammering so bad, I managed only one photo of her snarling face before I demanded to leave. I was ashamed that our presence had caused this stress – the mahout thought the whole scene was very amusing, but I felt sick.

What has been your most memorable experience?

I don’t deny I am exceptionally lucky to have this career and have literally travelled to both ends of the earth (well nearly). Highlights that really stand out are: Standing on the Ross Ice Shelf; Standing in Scott’s Hut; Watching tens of thousands of wildebeest cross the Mara River; Witnessing a mother gazelle fight two jackals to save her fawn; Having a young badger cub fall asleep against my leg in a beautiful beach forest; Seeing my first polar bear as it roamed over the ice in front of a colossal glacier. Still the most memorable is the Tigress encounter above – to watch such tiny tiger cubs and to be so enchanted, then so petrified, all in the space of a heartbeat.

What advice would you give someone trying to follow in your footsteps?

If you’re committed to a career in wildlife photography, then you must PRACTICE and PRACTICE and PRACTICE your skills. But practice does not mean waiting for your yearly safari, or the weekend workshop. Workshops may give you a few tips here and there, but they are useless if you don’t put those tips into constant practice. If you wish to make a career then you need constant practice so you know your equipment inside out, can operate in the dark, or without moving the camera away from your face.

You need to become as much of a naturalist as a photographer and learn as much as possible about your subjects. This is the only way to gain that extra insight in order to anticipate the action and behaviour for great wildlife photographs.

Enter competitions whenever possible. As random as the results can be, if you are an award winner, you stand more chance of registering on the radar of fellow photographers, picture researchers and image buyers. The Web scene and Social Network are a massive part of the photography industry so invest in a proper website (free of gimmicks and music) that serves the needs of image buyers, not friends and family (that’s what Facebook is for).

EXPLORE WITH ME

Photographic career began in 2002, freelancing as a commercial photographer. In 2005, I turned full-time 'wildlife pro', winning my first award and gaining agency contracts. Since then, I've travelled the world, photographing in the greatest wildlife hotspots.

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