‘I love the solitude; just me, the wildlife and my camera.’
The Secret Life of the Cairngorms
By Andy Howard
Published by Sandstone Press
What came first, your love of nature or photography?
My love for nature started at about the age of five when my parents gave me the AA Book of British Birds. It has the edition with a tawny owl on the cover, which I remember vividly. I spent hour upon hour soaking up the images of birds.
Do you remember when you first picked up a camera? Did your ‘eye’ come naturally?
My early attempts were with a Kodak box brownie. The results were not special, but the experience gave birth to my present passion for photography. On my sixteenth birthday I progressed to a Minolta SLR, and my first wildlife camera, a Canon, on my eighteenth.
How and when did you make your hobby into a profession?
With a leap of faith! I’d been working in Retail and catering for twenty eight years and, by that time, had enough. It was time for a major change in my working life. I formulated a business plan, ran it by some friends, who were also business advisors, and off Lindsay and I went. In the first year I had to combine my new profession with consultancy work and even worked as a’ mystery shopper’ to make ends meet. Luckily, things took off in year two.
Do you have any easy tips for capturing perfect moments?
The first and most important is follow your heart. No one succeeds without a passion for the subject. Secondly, my best images are pre-planned, sometimes months, even years, in advance. Thirdly, know your subject, the more you work with a species the more predictable its behaviour will become. Utilise this knowledge! Lastly, master the technical aspects of digital photography. Do all this and your creative juices will start to flow. Remember that photography is an art form.
Your first book The Secret Life of the Mountain Hare had a great reception. How long did it take to put that book together?
The images took approximately seven years to capture, and the process of getting the book onto the shelves took ten months from the first meeting with Sandstone Press.
Your latest book widens out to include more Highland wildlife. How often are you roaming the Cairngorms with your camera?
It seems that the busier I get both in my roles as a guide and author, the less time I have to capture new images. It’s now six months since I was in the Cairngorms. Another good reason for my attention being elsewhere is that I am now working on my third book, which takes me to the beautiful islands of Mull and Shetland.
The Cairngorms feel like an endless subject for a photographer. How did you whittle your images down?
I’ve learned to take fewer photographs, and be more frugal with my shutter release button. This helps. I find that after a day in the field there is likely to be only one or two images that make the cut. All others get filed on a hard drive, often never to see the light-of-day again.
Do you have any ‘bucket list’ places you’d like to take your camera?
Lindsay and I fell in love with Canada a few years ago and have so far returned twice. I’d love to go to Antarctica, St. Georgia and Svalbard, but would prefer not to be surrounded by hundreds of other wildlife watchers and photographers. That’s one of the many reasons I love Shetland. Through three weeks there in September I didn’t see another photographer. I love the solitude; just me, the wildlife and my camera.
What are you looking forward to this festive season?
Time with my family. For the first time in many years we’re making the journey south of the border to be with my mother in the Cotswolds, where a few mince pies may be consumed.
The Secret Life of the Cairngorms by Andy Howard is published by Sandstone Press, priced £24.99