You wouldn’t know it when looking through his images, but Harry Skeggs hasn’t always been a photographer. In fact his initial forays into photography, as a teenager travelling beyond Europe for the first time, left much to be desired.
“Back then I had no real interest in photography, and documented my travels with scientific candour.” Harry explains. “However I was acutely aware when I returned that the images I brought back as memories paled in comparison to the sights I had seen, that I had failed to capture anything of the impression those sights had made on me.”
It was this disappointment that made Harry determined to improve his photography skills, so he could capture images which more accurately conveyed his experiences. What started as a challenge swiftly became an addiction, and now he finds himself on the cusp of turning his passion into a full time career.
“I am an adventurer at heart, and I seek to pour this into my photography.”
Primarily a wildlife and travel photographer, he has been the recipient of a number of international awards, as well as featuring in prestigious publications such as National Geographic and BBC Wildlife. Until recently he has balanced part time photography with financial consulting services, but soon he’ll be working alongside various travel companies to lead photographic and wildlife tours around the globe. It’s an exciting time for Harry, who credits David Attenborough with inspiring his fascination with wildlife as a child.
“I am an adventurer at heart, and I seek to pour this into my photography,” he details. “From close ups of wild cats to swimming amongst tiger sharks, I am constantly excited by the thrill we can witness from our wild earth.”
Adventure and wildlife photography go hand in hand, and as a result Harry has visited some truly exotic, off-the-beaten-track destinations. “My ambition is to go to every country” he states. “I am about 65 down, so a lot of travelling to go!”.
Living in London offers few opportunities to indulge his passion for wildlife photography, so as a result he often finds himself jumping on a plane. But jetting around the globe for work is a pleasure, not a chore, and provides the perfect excuse to take the road less travelled.
“I love that feeling that I am still in a genuine wilderness, not a tourist trap couched as one.”
The life of a photographer isn’t without its hair-raising moments though. From a close-call whilst scuba diving in Borneo when his air tank cut out, to an unsettling night spent being pursued by an unknown predator in Tanzania, there have been a few slightly scary encounters – although not all as terrifying as they first seemed.
“I was staying in a rather isolated hut which was built round a tree. There were virtually no walls and it was completely open to the Savannah.” Harry recalls.
“In the middle of the night there was a horrible croaky roar and crashes around the roof. It was pitch black and I couldn’t see a thing, but I could hear soft footsteps padding around the hut, circling me. The silence would then be shattered by this horrible cracked roar rising up again. For some reason the attacker never made its move, and I spent the night trying anything to make it leave without risking my life.
“When I had survived to morning, I found that this blood curdling roar was in fact a giraffe with a cold. Because of their long necks and therefore long throats, they get very bad sore throats, and it had been eating the thatch to soothe it. Far from the long-toothed, bright-eyed predator my imagination had conjured up, the roar was just a bit of giraffe man flu.”
“We all have so much to experience outside of our bubbles, and there is still so much for each of us to explore.”
Despite the unpredictability of his subjects, and the risks of working in the wild, Harry’s remains passionate about wildlife photography – and travelling to wherever in the world his craft might take him.
“Animals which are commonplace in Madagascar appear altogether alien to a Londoner. These are a constant reminder that we are not only a tiny cog within our ecosystem, but also that we all have so much to experience outside of our bubbles, and that there is still so much for each of us to explore.”
When it comes to the technicalities of capturing that perfect shot, Nikon fan Harry always carries two cameras with different focal length lenses, as he often doesn’t have time to switch lenses before the moment is gone. Sensing when a photo opportunity is about to arise is another skill he has learned. By doing his research beforehand, or travelling with an experienced guide, he can understand an animal’s behaviour better, and therefore anticipate its next move. This, combined with a good dose of patience and flexibility, helps Harry capture his stunning shots.
“I am a very lucky person, as my friends will attest, but luck is rarely enough!”
From big cats to colourful chameleons, Harry’s portfolio is filled with beautiful photographs of some of the planet’s most fascinating animals. Whatever the subject, many of his images convey a real sense of humour, and he’s adept at capturing an animal’s unique personality on camera. He says he works hard to capture what he can of their personality, as “it is much easier for audiences to relate to a photo that shows an emotion they can understand”. Again, this requires patience.
“When you first arrive they are on edge, they don’t know what your presence means. Are you a threat or an innocent bystander. They stiffen up, if not fleeing altogether. As you stay with them they get comfortable and begin to revert to type, and it is then that their personality begins to shine through.”
This patience and dedication to capturing an authentic image shines through in Harry’s work, as does his love for the animals he photographs. Perhaps the main thing we see in his photographs though is passion – the enthusiasm and dedication of a man pursuing his dream.
“I really do urge everyone, as cliche as it is, to go out and pursue what it is that makes them happy.”
Capturing the king of the Arctic
“I was very struck by the loneliness of the Arctic and its inhabitants, eking out a difficult existence in a barren world of white. I wanted to convey this feeling in a shot, and of course this had to be the polar bear, the king of these lands.
“This shot came after a lot of cold hours on the deck of the icebreaker I was taking round the Svalbard archipelago. My main ambition was to see bears and this meant spending long hours in the icy wind, eyes peeled. Despite the apparently yellow fur, they disappear into the backdrop alarmingly quickly, earning their reputation by Eskimos as ‘shape shifters’.
“As the icy landscape reflected a lot of light, this allowed me to drop the aperture to my lens’ ‘sweet spot’, the aperture which gives the sharpest image, at f/11. Camera shake was a problem with very cold hands,so shutter speed needed to be fast enough to counteract. I bumped the ISO to get a shutter speed of at least 1/800 to ensure the image was as crisp as it could be.”
Harry’s top tip
“Shift your viewpoint. We are used to seeing the world through our own eyes, six feet above the ground. The photos that captivate audiences are ones that see things from a new perspective, and shed a new light on sights we are used to seeing every day. Get low, get high, get close! Change and experiment with the way we see objects and you will create really exciting results.”
Discover more of Harry’s incredible photography at skeggsphotography.com.
All images copyright Harry Skeggs.