Wildlife Photography and Skomer Island with Drew Buckley
Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Meet the Photographer‘. This time we’re chatting to proud Pembrokeshire resident and professional photographer Drew Buckley. If you’re already following Drew on his various social media feeds you’ll know that his work is incredibly diverse.
His landscape and nature photography is stunning, and as one of Skomer Island’s regular photography workshop leaders his catalogue of work on the beautiful Puffin is second to none. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing Drew’s story as much as we did.
Over to Drew!
How did you first get into photography?
My first introduction into photography was when I was a youngster. For as long as I can remember, both my brothers had 35mm film SLRs and I would gaze at them in wonderment. Especially my eldest brother’s Canon EOS 650 that had a motor drive of three frames per second. That is slow in today’s world, but this camera came out in the late eighties and opened up a whole new way of shooting action and sequences.
A few years later, after gazing through the Argos book at the latest compact cameras (ones with the biggest zooms always got my attention!), I chose a simple Pentax compact film camera for my fourteenth birthday. Four or so years later, with digital sensors coming into the fore, I progressed onto my first manual control ‘bridge’ camera with a whopping 3.2 megapixels! That probably started the learning process with learning the exposure triangle. It did me proud for a good number of years. I was shooting anything and everything, including many rally events, which I still love. Leaving college for my first job in 2005 as a 3D computer games artist, I bought my first digital SLR, the Canon EOS 30D in 2006.
Since then, I’ve moved through pretty much every body while turning full time professional in 2010.
Where’s your favourite location to shoot?
Pembrokeshire. No question.
I’m exceptionally lucky to live here and call this place my ‘office’. The diversity of this county is sublime. Tourists come from all over and spend lots of money to stay here for a few days holiday — and I get to experience it all year round. From the rugged and wild north coast, to the serene sandy bays in the south. It’s rich in history, castles and stunning wooded river valleys; not to mention the wildlife on the coast, it’s just the best! Couple that in with some tasty light, a camera in my hand and I’m a happy chap in any season.
What’s on your bucket list for 2018, in Wales and beyond?
It’s funny, I’ve never been that hung up on travelling to exotic places. I’ve always been much more interested in the UK and if pushed, northern Europe.
I love Scotland and now know it quite well, but there are still plenty of places to explore on the doorstep in Wales and the UK for me. Early in 2018 should see the launch of my third book, ‘Photographing South Wales’ published by FotoVUE. It has been my project for more than 3 years. I’ve been working on visiting locations and writing all the text to go with each viewpoint. FotoVUE are making some superb photo location and visitor guidebooks for an ever growing list of locations and I was privileged to be asked to cover my ‘patch’ back in 2014.
The journey over this time has made me fall even more in love with Wales and showcases the diversity South Wales offers throughout the year. I’ve tried to select a good variety of photographic subjects in this book. Whether you’re looking for coast or beach views, river valleys, upland rambles or castles, then the book will hopefully help and inspire others on their photographic journey through South Wales. As well as my South Wales book, I’m also working on many other publications to be released in 2018 and into 2019.
What do you shoot with?
I’ve grown up with Canon and that’s what I know and love.
I now shoot with a 5D Mark 4 for most of my photography needs and also a 1DX, for when fast action or birds in flight sequences are needed. I’ve built up an array of lenses over the years, super wide angles right through to telephoto and large primes for wildlife. I’m a big believer for getting things right in camera and as such always have used filtration and grad filters for my landscape photography. I’ve been using LEE Filters for many years now, who this year have started supporting me and my workshops.
Your advice for anyone wanting to get into landscape and wildlife photography?
First and foremost, appreciation of the outside world has to be there.
I can remember as a kid flicking through many Time Life, bird books and also the BBC Wildlife magazine wanting to see these wonderful views and species for myself. Photographing them was out of the question as back then it was an expensive hobby and it was only later on in my life that cameras were more affordable so the ability to ‘document’ what I saw was there.
Fundamentally though, there’s still an underlying and deeper respect of the subject. Outdoor photography is not an easy task. I’m sure any landscape and outdoor shooter will concur, the amount of times you come home without any decent shots outweighs the good days, so don’t expect it to be easy.
Yes, you can stick your tripod feet in the same holes as the last person to shoot the same composition as everyone else, but where’s the fun in that? A way of learning with what works compositionally… possibly. However, only doing this will never make you stand out from the crowd. Nor will it make you connect with the landscape or wildlife on a deeper level, shaping your shots to how you see it. Do remember though, any day outside is a good day, with or without the camera!
Which shot of Wales that you’ve taken are you most proud of? Why?
My last one.
I went for the easy answer there! Um, to pick just one is really tough, as there are too many in my honest opinion. Do I think they’re all perfect? No. I think all of my photos have fault somewhere and could be better, but the overall feeling with them or ‘capturing the moment’ follows through enough, so they’re keepers.
If I was pressed to pick one though, do I look at which picture was most successful in competitions, image sales or more on a personal level? There’s many that fit those briefs. Having discovered more of the Brecon Beacons in recent years (mainly for the book) has seen me scouring mountains at all hours, so I’m proud of those immensely due to the sheer effort involved in them. Up at a crazy hour, driving across the country and being on the summits for sunrise, so some of my Pen y Fan pictures are quite memorable in my view; especially in the snow!
However, I’ll always resort back to my original answer. Trying to better yourself, is a good way to work I feel. Progression, improvement, tweaking the approach, thinking every shot is different will make you into a better photographer. Believe, be enthused, pre-visualise and it may take two, five or ten attempts to get right; don’t give up.
Tell us about your relationship with Skomer Island and the work you do there.
Having this gem on my doorstep is another bonus. Throughout the spring and summer months, the island comes alive with wild flowers and seabirds; including our charismatic visitor, the Puffin. I must have been on Skomer island now well over a hundred times.
I’m one of the few commercially registered businesses to run photography workshops on the island through the year. Every spring and summer, I take clients over to the island and teach them photography techniques in one of the best locations. It’s a stunning place when the wild flowers are out, especially the bluebells that carpet the island in May.
Puffins are undoubtedly the stars of the show. I’ve taken hundreds of thousands of images of these colourful birds over the years, so have built up quite a unique and extensive library of photos of them throughout the season. Myself and another photographer run residential tours over on the island every year, with our 2018 tours selling out in 48 hours once again. It’s not until you stay on the island and experience the birds coming and going in the evening light, with hardly another soul around that you truly understand the magic.
We see your work cropping up in print quite regularly. Without giving away all of your secrets, what advice would you have for aspiring photographers looking to get published?
Yes, I’ve worked with most of the country’s lifestyle and photography magazines over the years now. I’ve been regularly featured, secured cover shots and been commissioned for photo shoots in titles such as BBC Countryfile, Outdoor Photography and The Great Outdoors as national media and newspapers.
My advice to someone who wants to be published is straight up, don’t do anything for free. Camera’s cost money, so does travelling to locations and also your time spent processing images. Even if it’s a hobby, don’t get fobbed off. If someone values your work, they’ll pay for it. Otherwise they’re just filling empty pages without much care, start as you mean to go on. For me however it’s my job, so while it’s amazing to see my work being used all over the place, fundamentally it needs to pay the mortgage and bills.
Does turning a hobby into a job and the need for it to earn money, make me enjoy photography less? No, quite the opposite. I’m in a very privileged position now after many years of slogging it out, starting from nothing, to now call this my job, and it makes me hungrier for more! It’s not an easy profession and work still doesn’t always fall into my lap. Be on it 24/7, be pro-active, constantly hustle for work and don’t let rejections affect you. With magazines you should think seasonally and at least one if not two or three issues ahead. So while everyone tucks into their Christmas dinner, I’ll probably be finishing off writing a feature on spring flowers.
Be ahead of the game, constantly shooting content as it’ll be useful this time next year.
Any tips on building an Instagram following?
I’m a relative newcomer to Instagram, I do like it though. It seems to reach a much more wider audience than the ever strangling Facebook Pages, that seems to dwindle in interactions all the time.
I find Instagram great in trying to reach new fans and clients for product sales or workshops. I try to keep my feed constantly updated with new work, new images and also varied content so followers hopefully start to enjoy it on their screens. I also share plenty of behind the scenes from photo shoots, new products, offers and also the latest publications where I have had work featured. Getting images shared seems to be the way forward to growing the following, so it’s great there are pages such as Discover Cymru which push out featured work to their followers. Diolch!
His book will be available for pre-order soon.