Peer to peer: Carlos Perez Naval meets Michael 'Nick' Nichols
28 January 2015 posted by: Rosie Pook, WPY Comms Officer
With WPY2015 now open for entries, we catch up with the competition's reigning champions. Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Michael 'Nick' Nichols, has some words of advice for our Young winner, nine-year-old Carlos Perez Naval.
Michael 'Nick' Nichols
Carlos Perez Naval
Carlos: How old were you when you started taking pictures, and why did you start?
Nick: As a child I knew nothing about wildlife and nature, and nothing about photography. All I knew was that I wanted to be creative and had a need to express myself. When I was 19, I took a beginners' course in photography that was being offered by my college art department, and from the instant I started using a camera, I knew that this would be my life. The immediacy of photography totally fitted who I was becoming, and from then on it never occurred to me that I would do anything else.
Carlos: Where is your favourite place to take photographs? And how can I find the best places and subjects?
Nick: The Virunga volcanoes in Rwanda were my first love as it was here that I first realised that I could be a voice for the wild and use my work to highlight conflicts between nature and man. The mountain gorillas there took my heart and never gave it back. Photography is a two-way street, Carlos; you must 'give as good as you get', you must channel the passion you feel about the world into your photography. If you can do that, you will make any subject special. What I mean by that is that it's not about the subjects - it's about you.
Carlos: How can I improve my photography?
Nick: Getting better is all about learning your craft and never being satisfied. I think that one of the most important things you can do is know the history of photography (not just nature photography). Grow from what I and others have done. It is not important that you know my name, or theirs, but if you know our images, you will not simply repeat our work, but build on what we have done. That way, you advance not only yourself, but the whole of nature photography
Carlos: Is it hard to become a professional wildlife photographer?
Nick: I think that this is the hardest it's ever been to make a living out of photography because many people expect images to be free, for example by finding them on the internet. But professional photography is still incredibly important. I want the world to see what is happening, so in some ways the internet can help spread the word. But we must be aware that these images, while 'free' in one sense, do incur a different kind of cost. Being a professional photographer implies that an individual has had some training, and done some thinking about the issues involved, and works according to a certain code of ethics. Professionals, for example, will always be transparent about exactly how they take their photographs. They will take responsibility for their actions and think about the wider implications both of their behaviour in the field and also of the work they produce. If the only photographs we see are those online taken by amateurs, there may be all kinds of unforeseen 'costs', like habitat destruction. We need to think about the repercussions of that.
So while it is difficult, we must stand our ground, Carlos; the documentation of the planet must be paid for, so professional nature photographers, if anything, are more important than ever.
Nick Nichols's grand-title-winning image, The last great picture
Carlos's image, Stinger in the sun, which earned him the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 title
Carlos: How has photography changed since you started out?
Nick: Technology has made it possible for your generation to do almost anything with a camera that you can dream up, Carlos. But this unlimited photographic potential also brings great responsibility. You must be honest about any image you make and proud to explain how you made it. Your subjects are not here for your benefit. It is your job to respect them, and to glorify and protect them with your images.
Carlos: Do you have any other advice for me?
Nick: Well, nature photography is not about adventure, it's not about travel, and it's not about glory or having your name known or getting attention. It's about having a mission. So my advice is for you to find a mission, great or small, with your camera, perhaps near your home in Spain. The world is overwhelmed with images, and if you can have a cause, this will give you personal strength, a sense of purpose and a professional edge. The rest of it (money, recognition, opportunities etc) might come your way incidentally, but you must be driven by the desire to get images that are new and surprising and that will make an impression. Photography can give your life meaning, but only if you look for it in the right place - and that's in the images themselves.
Carlos and Nick at the 2014 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards with presenters, Liz Bonnin and Frans Lanting
ABOUT CARLOS PEREZ NAVAL
Carlos is WPY's youngest ever grand-title winner. He has been taking photographs seriously for the past five years and has also won prizes in Spanish, Italian and French competitions. He loves nature, whatever and wherever it is, and spends as much time as possible photographing the plants and animals that live near his home in Spain.
ABOUT MICHAEL 'NICK' NICHOLS
Nick is a photographic artist and journalist who uses his skills to tell stories about environmental issues and our relationship with wildlife. His career, much of it with National Geographic, spans more than 35 years, and his work has been published in numerous books and magazines. The mass of accolades he has received reflects the international recognition and reputation he has earned.