Heather's Interview


Farnham, Surrey
Web site:

What is your background? I had no ambition to be a photographer, but from early childhood I had a passion for the natural world. My mother never knew what might be lurking in jam jars in my bedroom or casseroles in the kitchen! My goal was to study zoology at University. After graduating from Bristol, I took part in an Underwater Expedition in Norway. My father gave me my first camera for my twenty-first birthday, which I used to document marine life. Back at Bristol I began marine research and amassed pictures of sea anemones. I wrote an article on them for which I was paid what I then thought was the princely fee of £25! I continued to write articles and began giving talks on nature photography. Some years later Martin, my husband, encouraged me to write my first book – Nature Photography: Its Art and Techniques – which was published in 1972. Overnight my life changed. Suddenly photo magazines had discovered a nature photographer who could supply photo / text packages. The emphasis shifted from being a biologist who took pictures, to a wildlife photographer with a biological background. So began a wonderful voyage of discovery – not only of remote parts of the world, but also of an untapped artistic streak within a scientist's trained mind.

You are running popular photographic workshops. What is your main motivation for doing this? Actually 47 now! At first, writing was a chore, now I love it and I have a reputation for producing copy on time often at very short notice. I shall be forever grateful to an American writer I met on a whale watching trip in Mexico. She told me she never travelled without a pad and pen. When I realised the huge amount of downtime I was wasting at airports, in 'planes and on long trips getting to the prime Antarctic locations, I started to do the same. Now, virtually all my books and articles are drafted in the air or on the sea. I have a wonderful lady who converts my scribbles to readable text which I then edit. I don't take a laptop because I think faster than I can input and I prefer to carry more films. I also always carry a field notebook (there are now 163 stacked high on a wide shelf) in which I make notes about the local names, animal behaviour, the light, the weather – even the smells. All this helps to jog my memory when I come to write text and captions. For me, writing and photography are like a symbiotic relationship – one fuels the other.

Is there one of your jobs you like most? Maybe you’ll say they are all complementary, but try to pick one. Exposing film. I still get the same buzz when I see the results of a shoot as I did when the first yellow box dropped through the letter box all those years ago.

Your Work:

Lots of people regard you as a master of wildlife photography. Do you feel motivated to do more and better, or are you scared of disappointing? I wouldn't still be working as a wildlife photographer if I was not motivated to do more. I have always taken pictures which excite me. I rarely take on commissions – an exception was one from the British Council in Delhi, to document the biodiversity of the Himalayas in one month!

Because you mainly shoot wildlife images, did you have to acquire new virtues such as: patience? humility? Or something else? Patience yes. Determination Awe at when I see an incredibly beautiful broad canvas in a remote location for the first time. Probably because I am a biologist, humility does not come into my equation. Martin summed me up when he spoke on camera to a Japanese TV crew making a documentary about me, by saying 'She has a dogged determination to get a job done. Nothing will divert her and manyana (tomorrow) does not exist in her vocabulary'.

Your stock library and your web-site are called: “Natural Visions”. Yes, I renamed my stock library Natural Visions to coincide with the publication in 2000 of my book Natural Visions and the launch of my website. It embraces my current way of working with the natural world – shooting conventional film and creating digital impressions.

Is it satisfying to have a large quantity of good quality photographs on your web-site? What do you hope they will achieve? I think it essential to have a good presence on the web nowadays. Otherwise no-one will take you seriously. It also means that anyone can view my work 24/7 anywhere in the world. A web presence not only broadens my audience, but also helps to expand my client base.

Along your photographic career, did you go through different phases, different styles? There is no question my approach to wildlife photography has evolved over the years. Remember I began as a marine biologist using a camera to record what I found. This documentary approach is fine for illustrating textbooks, field guides (an early shot of mating barnacles is still one of my best sellers) but as wildlife photography became more and more popular I knew it was time to change gear and try other approaches. I gradually broadened my scope, so I am now prepared to tackle anything of any size, anywhere in the world – from a water flea to a whale. Essentially, I still strive to encapsulate the atmosphere of a place or the nuance of an animal's behaviour within a single frame. How I do this will depend on the size of the natural canvas, shooting anything from a panorama to dissecting a portion with a 500mm lens or longer.

What changes would you make in your method of work, if any? Hard to say. Who knows what is round the corner? I suspect my basic formula of researching a location to be sure I am in the right place at the right time will continue as will my delight at unexpectedly experiencing magical lighting.

As we said, the category “Wildlife” is your first choice. What would be your second? Plants are my second great passion – I have just begun to shoot still life of flowers. It is a huge challenge to select the receptacle, lighting and backdrop which best compliments the flower.

The great thing about this way of working is that wind and rain are no longer a problem!

How does it feel to suddenly have to photograph a human being? I rarely take people, but when I do they are a piece of cake compared to wildlife. By talking to them you can get them to change their position or their facial expression, with wildlife you have to rely on chance and luck.

Your Gear:

Your equipment? Nikons plus loads of lenses – anything from 20mm–500mm, including 3 macro lenses. Hasselblads (for flowers, trees and still life). I love the Hasselblad panoramic camera because it is so small it fits in a handbag. Plus, of course, my trusty Benbo tripod!

Black/White or colour? What do you prefer? As colour plays such an important part in the natural world – it can be used to attract a mate, to warn an animal is harmful or to aid it to blend in with the background – I work exclusively in colour and have done for two decades.

Do you prefer up close and dangerous or do you like longer focal length lenses? When you have a family you tend to be more circumspect about taking risks, so I don't lie prone in the path of a stampeding elephant! I do take environmental pictures but I love long, fast lenses which make the animal 'pop' from the backdrop.

When faced with a huge herd of elephant streaming past on either side of your jeep against a setting sun, I instinctively reached for a wide angle. As the last animals approached, I opted for a 500mm lens to get a tight crop of the elephant using its foot to dig out a trailing plant.

Do you print your own pictures? I last used my darkroom over 20 years ago. Now I am making digital prints using Fine Art paper and Lyson longlife inks. All the prints for my exhibition Natural Visions were made in house and the great thing about this is once you have the correct profile and saved your final edit, you can replicate the image precisely time and time again with the same media.

Do you use a digital camera? If yes why, or why not? I have a Nikon Coolpix 990 for taking shots to illustrate news items on my website. I do not yet use a digital camera for my serious work, because it eats batteries which would be a problem in a remote location without a continuous electricity supply. After fielding many queries about digital manipulation I was adamant I was a purist and would not be going down this lane. But when my son Giles, began to do digital work I realised what a creative tool it could be. I was being an ostrich by turning my back, so I began playing with digital images of flowers to create digital art images. As I predicted, the reaction was split down the middle. The traditionalists were horrified I had strayed from the conventional path; yet other people were fascinated and excited enough to want to give it a go themselves.

Anyone who knows me will vouch that so far as my wildlife shots go I am a purist – no digital cloning of animals for me. But when people kept asking me about digital work, I thought I would try my hand at creating floral images which blurred the boundaries between reality and art. This is one of my efforts – which generates a distinct love or hate response, nothing in-between!

Your Pictures:

What was your first step in photography? Documenting marine life (see beginning).

What is your favourite picture? Can you tell us the little story to go with it? Difficult, because it changes over the years. My favourite bird picture of all time was taken years ago in the Masai Mara. The storks are feeding on the locusts and crickets fleeing from the fire. The heat haze rendered the behaviour as an impressionistic scene.

Fiery impression   (Storks + fire)

What is the strangest thing you had to shoot? A CD cover at London Zoo Aquarium. The art director wanted to mix marine and freshwater fish and could not comprehend that if he did this half the fish would inevitably die!

Do you like to show your pictures? Certainly the images which excite me.

Do you think you have a fair opinion of other photographer’s work? I hope so, although I truthfully don't comprehend some modern work.

Do you keep all your photographs even the junk? No. I do tight edits from each trip. As I reshoot species on the latest filmstock, I bin shots taken on old filmstock.

Your biggest disappointment in photography? In 1972 I returned from my first long haul trip after I turned freelance. This was to the Galapagos. As the UK Kodak processing lab. was on strike, I had to send all the films to Rotterdam. Every frame of 63 rolls had a nick in the emulsion. They tried to blame the camera, but this did not wash as I had used three cameras, including a Nikonos underwater. Because the damage was in the same place in each frame, I worked out it had to be caused in the mounting. This was reluctantly admitted. I did get the films replaced, but not my expenses for a return trip to the Galapagos. I chucked most of the frames, but now they could so easily be 'repaired' on a computer.

What is your favourite “ingredient “ for a good photo? Simplicity.

Do you have a secret little trick to make your photo always so stunning. You can answer just Yes or No! I work hard to check the background is uncluttered – persistently using the depth of field preview button.

I made four trips to China specifically to photograph pandas for a book. Since pandas can spend some 12-18 hours a day feeding, the odds of getting them doing something else is slim. This was a lucky grab shot taken in winter.

Your Inspiration:

Are you just suddenly inspired? Or do you plan a project? Both. often I am moved to stop the car suddenly because the light is so stunning, but I have to do a huge amount of research before I travel half way across the world. This is where having reliable contacts on the spot is so useful and now it is possible to communicate via email, it speeds up communication .

Who is your Favourite photographer: Eliot Porter (his book Galapagos: The Flow of Wildness inspired me to visit the Galapagos.

What are your Favourite subjects Water and life in water

What are your Favourite spots Botswana and Antarctica

What is your Favourite mood Capturing wildlife bathed in a magical first light at dawn.

Considering that wildlife means the world and everything in it, do you find this exciting or overwhelming? Exciting, because the world really is my oyster.

Are you perpetually out and about shooting in the wild? In total I work abroad half of the year, plus some time on location in the UK . The rest of the time is spent editing films, captioning and selling ideas for articles and books.

Do you think wildlife is accessible in the same way for everybody? Is it just a question of how we view the life around us? Do you feel differently to other people about the squirrel in your garden or the robin in your hedge? Potentially, but not everyone sees this potential! The art of fieldcraft – such as knowing when and where an animal may appear, how it might behave – is crucial to getting a memorable wildlife picture.

Your View On:

What do you think of Contemporary Art Photography. Parson's eggish – good in parts.

How does it feel to be recognised and honoured for your work world-wide? It helps to refuel my energy and inspire me to do more.

Can you describe yourself in 3 words? Enthusiastic, Confident, Indefatigable

What would your advice be to a beginner in photography? Set yourself realistic targets and never give up until you achieve them.

Your Dream:

What is your dream as a photographer? To discover a new species and be the first person to photograph it!

We chose some shots for our viewers. Tell us a little bit more about these shots.

Trees may not be such popular subjects as wildlife, but I love finding unique specimens. This ancient oak, although bereft of the leafy canopy, still overpowered all other surrounding trees.

Having taken thousands of pictures of penguins, I am always looking for new ways to depict them. The shadows made this image, holding the straggly group together.

Once every four years a dominant sockeye salmon run occurs in Canada, when the rivers turn red. I chose a slow shutter speed to blur the fiery bodies battling their way upstream against the current.

This space is not a question. It’s your “Free Speech Space”. Go on! You can say whatever you like! I know I was extremely lucky to make a career switch at a time when a wildlife photographer was regarded as a novel species. Today, it is much tougher to establish yourself as a freelance, although anyone with talent, guts and determination will get there.


To Pre-Order "Natural Visions" Click This Link  Natural Visions

To Buy Other Heather Angel Books Click This Link  Heather Angel's Book Catalogue

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May 2014
Roger Voller


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