Today, I have the pleasure of presenting an interview that comes from Berkshire in South East England. Nikki Humphrey is a talented Wildlife Photographer, who travels extensively around the globe to photograph a diverse array of wildlife. Through her travels and unique approach to photography, Nikki has the ability to capture and convey her passion for wildlife and the natural world.
Thank you, Nikki, for spending the time to share your experiences with us and thank you so much for all your thoughtful responses. Your body of work is truly inspiring.
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I’m a wildlife photographer and a waitress, only one of those pays my bills and allows me to do the other, and only one of them feeds my soul.
Where do you call home?
I live in the beautiful English countryside, in Berkshire, which is West of London. I’ve tried city living but it’s not for me, being able to see wildlife around my area is the best thing about where I live.
After browsing through your website, I see that you have built up an extensive collection of wonderful photography. When did you first become interested in photography and how long have you been involved with it?
I started taking photographs when I was in my teens because my mum hated doing it when we were on holiday or with family. When I saw some of the results (especially things like views, sunsets and wildlife) I decided I liked it and studied it at A level because it was something I enjoyed and I wanted something to offset the subjects I enjoyed less.
Elephant at Sunset in Botswana
Are you formally-taught or self-taught?
Both. I studied Photography at University and started out with black and white film, building the basics of photographic knowledge. Those three years I mostly focused on Landscape photography, after university, I joined the workforce and began to save money. A 2-month overland tour of Africa in 2010 renewed my love of wildlife and my love of photography and I came home with 13,000 photos to record my adventure. From then I knew I needed to get better at wildlife photography and set about learning, I have spent hours photographing the common species near my home; ducks, swans, deer etc, I’ve upgraded pieces of kit as and when I could and I’ve saved my money and traveled parts of the world finding wildlife I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to see.
A Jaguar in Brazil’s Pantanal
A Grey Whale’s Eye in San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, California
Are you satisfied with your choice of getting involved with this industry? Is there anything else you would rather be doing?
I really cannot imagine doing anything else, so that is certainly a testament to it being the right choice for me to try and pursue. Doing whatever I can to keep doing it. There is so much in the world I want to see, experience and photograph so I can’t stop now.
When shooting subjects, what do you find most challenging?
I think it must be finding a new way, your own way to photograph subjects that have been photographed by many other people and sometimes people I consider to be much better than myself. Finding your own style and your own way of seeing the world is the only way to stand out.
Oxpeckers climbing a Giraffe’s neck in Botswana
What would you say your most remarkable wildlife encounter has been?
Oh goodness, there have been so many that stand out in my mind. From my favourite leopard in the world, to being eye to eye with a Bottlenose Dolphin as it swam alongside the boat I was on, from my first Tiger all the way to stroking a Grey Whale. The one moment that stands out most was a moment I didn’t have a camera for, whilst mobile camping on a photographic trip to Botswana, a huge bull elephant decided to come for lunch. He wandered around the unfenced campsite, completely unconcerned about the humans sitting and eating lunch, all he wanted were the Acacia pods that had fallen from the trees surrounding us. Only 1 of 12 of us had a camera but the experience was heart-pounding-ly amazing and etched into my mind!
The beauty of a Bull Elephant in Botswana’s Kwai Region
(This was another day but could’ve been the same elephant that came for lunch in camp, I spoke about in my favourite encounter.)
Location and weather conditions seem to be a crucial aspect to a successful photograph. How do you handle these unpredictable factors?
Knowledge and observation are your best ways to choose locations in your local area, having said that, I spend a lot of time on safari when you rely on your safari guides to get you to the best locations so you are reliant on their expert knowledge of their local area. I like to think I’m a ‘go with the flow’ kind of photographer, I like to see what you have to work with, in terms of subject, light, weather or place and make the best I can of it.
Weather can be a help and hindrance, if you’re out and about and it turns to rain, it can add another element to your shot. Wind can mean you can sneak up closer to your subject if you are downwind, but it does make them more nervous and suspicious so if you’re upwind they will run away quicker.
On the other hand, strong sunlight isn’t a good thing either, it is a harsh light creating hard contrast and dark areas which can be tricky to deal with.
Wild Dog in Moremi, Botswana
What is your favorite part of heading out to a new location?
I travel a lot because there is so much wildlife in the world I still want to see and I have to keep revisiting the ones I’ve fallen in love with. My favourite part is the uncertainty of what you will find and how well you will do photographically when you find it, the possibilities are endless and that is truly exciting.
Share with us your favorite image and why.
Choosing one favourite image is hard because it changes on an almost daily basis, depending on which images I am processing. I have some that are my favourites because of where they were taken or which animal it is. They may not be the best photograph but to me they mean so much. I have to divorce myself from that emotional attachment to find the ones that are the best photographs.
Who is the most inspirational photographer in your life?
I don’t think there has ever been just one inspirational photographer, there are so many photographers I admire and have followed for years. So, I take my inspiration from a number of photographers and photographs, every day I see images on social media, in books, in magazines that inspire me to get out there and photograph as well as make me dream about what I want to see and do next.
I am also lucky enough to count some really amazing wildlife photographers as my friends and their day to day work, as well as their award-winning photographs inspire me to be better than I am, they have taught me to question myself in certain ways in order to work out how I can improve my own work. To never be satisfied with what I have done and always look to improving myself.
When I started photographing wildlife I really thought I was taking amazing photographs, now I look back with a sort of horror, I’m proud of the journey I’ve had but I was not good back then. These days I can be proud of an image I’ve taken, love it even, but also see where I can improve it, how I would do it again and in my opinion, that is the key to keep moving forward and getting better.
Do you have any tips for new photographers who want to take better wildlife photographs?
Being out and about with wildlife, watching behavior and beginning to understand what you are interested in will help in creating better photographs but keep photographing. Evaluate what you do and see how you can improve it, try new things, try the classic photographic rules and then break them to see why they work, how they work and what works when you purposefully leave those rules behind.
A Dalmatian Pelican from Lake Kerkini in Greece
What has been the best source of information along your photography journey (workshop, online forums, classroom, mentor, etc)?
In my early days of wildlife, the group I joined on Facebook was invaluable as were the friends I still have today from that group, we encouraged and supported each other and even as we’ve split into different genres, have improved so much. I’ve learned so much from other photographers, the photography tours and holidays I’ve been on have all added to my knowledge, learning new ideas and techniques from other participants and the leaders of those trips.
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What is your favorite lens?
I shoot with Canon, I use a 7D Mark II and pair it with my Canon 100-400mm Mark II Lens. It’s a perfect pairing for me, it’s light enough I can carry it around and I love the versatility of a zoom lens. I can shoot a close up then twist the zoom and take an environment shot too.
What is in your camera bag?
The Canon 7D mark II and my Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens, my second body, the original Canon 7D which I pair with my Canon 24-105mm Lens for wider angle shots. A Canon 10-18mm lens which is so good for super wide angles. I also carry a Panasonic Lumix TZ100 to take ‘snaps’ of where I’ve been, people I’ve met but also for the video capabilities. It’s a handy little camera to carry with me.
What is your favorite photography accessory?
I don’t think I really have one, I’m not the most technically minded photographer, I love my equipment and think it’s more important, for me, to be able to use what I have properly than to have all the latest gadgets and accessories.
What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet?
I guess one day I would love to have one of the prime lenses, a Canon 400mm or a Canon 500mm for the clarity of the lens and the low aperture. One day!
How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
I use Adobe Lightroom and I honestly could not live without it now. It’s crucial to my process, from storing all my images, to processing and exporting them ready to use, it is the most useful piece of software for me. It allows me to organise, keyword and store every photograph I take. I recently lost my Lightroom catalogue (back it up somewhere other than just your hard drive people!) but I took it as an opportunity to go through all my old photos, delete the ‘rubbish’, ruthlessly organise and keyword all my photographs finally. I now have a semblance of order in my catalogue.
Lion cubs in Kenya’s Maasai Mara
(This is an example of working with what you get, really dull grey light, late in the evening. I pushed the ISO to 12800 and purposefully used the noise to make a strong image.)
A Leopard cub in Kenya’s Maasai Mara
Was there a point in your journey when you started to feel really good about your work? If so, what did it feel like to get past that “tipping point?”
Am I past it? I suffer from self-doubt a lot, which in some ways is good because it makes me question why a photograph works and how I can improve on it. It also means I can love the photos I take because of what they are or what the experience was but doubt whether it’s a ‘good’ photograph. At the beginning, I definitely thought I was better than I was but now I know I am better. I think to question how good I am and critique myself isn’t necessarily a bad thing and makes me work so much harder!
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
I don’t think I do, everything has brought me to this point where I’m pretty happy with where I am and what I’ve seen. I don’t think I’ve had any unpleasant experiences, I’ve had challenges but I think you try to use those to grow as a person and as a photographer.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I wish sometimes I’d made more of experiences and opportunities but as I said, it’s made me who I am.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years? Do you see yourself as a photographer many years down the road?
I have absolutely no idea. I know I will still be photographing because I can’t not do it, I like my life right now, which is a lot more than some people have. I work to save my money to visit the places and wildlife I want to see, the world is a big place and there is a lot I still want to see and do. Life is short and I’ve learned you never know what will happen tomorrow so go and do what you want to do now.