IT’S STRANGE but true that many of those considered to be amongst the best photographers in their chosen fields never initially envisaged a life behind the camera, but ultimately found themselves drawn in by their love of their subject and the urge to record what they were seeing for others to appreciate. What starts out as a hobby eventually, and inevitably, takes over completely, and the individual ends up with no choice but to dedicate their life to their passion.
This was certainly the way it worked out for rising wildlife professional Harry Skeggs, who had his eyes on a very different future when he set out to study for a bachelors and masters in Art History at Cambridge. Following graduation, he spent a year travelling around Brazil and the incredible wildlife he encountered there led to document what he was seeing.
“Up until then I’d considered photography as more of a medium for someone who couldn’t paint,” he recalls. “That all changed in Brazil but, when I returned, I was struck by how little my photos had managed to capture the essence of what I’d seen. That early failure fuelled an addiction to improve and, since then, it’s been a journey based around experimentation, making mistakes and learning to fix them. I also wanted to pour what I’d learned about fine art masters into the mix, and all of those things have come together to influence the approach I now take to wildlife photography.”
One of the first things Harry realised he had to do was to source a camera system that would grow with him and support him as he started to learn more about his freshly-adopted craft. Working with a fairly basic compact led to initial disappointment and so he decided to needed to move up a level and to look for something that offered him a little more in the way of potential.
“I had very little knowledge about cameras at that stage,” he admits, “but I liked the look of a Nikon D40 that was available on eBay and I paired this with a cheap third party 70-200mm. The D40 has no internal motor, while the lens couldn’t auto meter with the body but, knowing so little about photography, I thought this was how everyone had to take their pictures.
“This meant that I was working with an entirely manual focus and exposure set up, which was tough, but proved to be a fantastic foundation in the long run. Needless to say, when I eventually moved up to a Nikon D750 I was blown away by the way the camera could do these things for you and I was addicted all over again. Since then I’ve taken my Nikon gear to some of the harshest environments on earth, from the tundras of the poles to the murky depths of the oceans, and it has never let me down. The optical quality is unbeatable for me, and that’s the primary reason I would never change.”
Building the Business
Since those early days, Harry has gone on to establish himself as one of the most exciting young wildlife photographers in the country, with a stunning portfolio of images that take the accepted perception of wildlife photography on to another level. Tapping into his background in art, his work is holding a strong appeal to collectors, and selling work as fine art has given him a commercial avenue to explore, which is helping to support his growing career.
“I initially managed to get representation at a boutique gallery in London,” he says, “and, after a few shows, others approached me and my work is now being sold in Australia, the US, Europe and the rest of world. I’ve also recently signed with the Clarendon Fine Art Gallery in London, and I’m thrilled to be represented by world class fine art galleries around the globe.”
As Harry’s career has grown, he’s travelled to over 85 countries, across six WITHcontinents – he narrowly missed out on the seventh, Antarctica, last year only because of the ongoing pandemic – and he particularly loves the open savannahs of Kenya and Tanzania, and the incredible winding waterways of the swampy Okavango Delta in Botswana.
On the equipment front, these days Harry is using the Nikon D850 DSLR for his aquatic and long lens work, while he’s become a big fan of Nikon’s mirrorless Z System, using the Z 7 and Z 7 II for pretty much everything else he shoots. “Lens-wise I’m making great use of the wide prime Z lenses,” he says, “particularly the 35mm and 85mm, both f/1.8 optics I’m a big believer in needing to get close to your subject with your feet rather than relying on telephotos. This allows for a fantastic perspective, including the sweeping landscapes these animals call home. I’m a big fan of the new 70-200mm f/2.8 as well, which is a fantastic portrait lens that helps you to isolate the features of a subject.”
Despite all of the difficulties of travel last year, Harry was able to undertake an autumn trip to photograph the wild horses in the Camargue region of France using a pre-production Z 7 II, and he came back with a spectacular set of images. It confirmed for him the benefits of Nikon’s mirrorless system and, looking ahead, he envisages this will form the basis of his equipment set-up long term.
“The more I use the Z System cameras the more I fall in love with them,” says Harry. “The obvious benefit is their size and weight. Not only does this make travel easier, it also makes it possible to get into some really interesting new shooting perspectives, such as hanging out of a Jeep with the tilted screen to get a low angle.
“Once I’d got used to it, however, the digital viewfinder was the real game changer for me. I’m a big believer in the fact that the photographer has to be making artistic choices, rather than letting the camera do the thinking. Purely taking correctly exposed photos is not enough, I want to be able to play around with deliberately over and under-exposing shots and to explore depth of field options, and having a digital viewfinder gives you real-time feedback, rather than you having to shoot and review. This has massively improved how I can play with light in the field and that’s a huge step forward.”
So impressed has Harry been with the Z System that he’s now become part of Nikon’s #ZCreators scheme, something he’s thrilled about on every level. “My role is to promote the things I love about the Z range via such avenues as social media,” he says, “and I’m more than happy to share my feedback. I’m incredibly strict about what I promote, and only support products I truly believe in, which is the case with these cameras.
“I think it’s important for people to see professionals such as myself go through the journey of switching from DSLR cameras to mirrorless to see if that jump might be a good fit for them. There are so many benefits to using the Z range that aren’t immediately apparent, as well as myths too. Against that background I think honest feedback will really help photographers to decide what’s right for them.”
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