...a wildlife photographer
Adrian Hepworth(BSc 1991) is a freelance wildlife photographer based in Costa Rica. In 2002 he won the Animal Behaviour: All Other Animals category of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. His book on the national parks of Costa Rica will be published in early 2007.
My uncle gave me an old Zenith camera when I was 14 and I set about enthusiastically photographing my sports trophies, the neighbours’ rabbit and fake UFOs I stuck on my bedroom window. Photography remained one of my hobbies during university; I’d snap friends and family with a red, plastic instamatic.
I enjoyed zoology, though I was hopeless at dissections and was always the last out of the lab. I knew that after I graduated I wanted to travel, and I wanted to apply my interests in biology to some kind of outdoor work. So I took a year’s working holiday in Australia, and that’s where I began to take my photography seriously.
After Australia I worked in a shoe shop in London, saved up for a TEFL course, a new camera (EOS 100) and a one-way ticket to Costa Rica, where I taught English for years and photographed in the national parks in my spare time. My first photos were terrible and I had to wait months to see them because I posted them to the UK for developing. In 1996 I sold my first slide to a book publisher in San José and felt I had graduated again.
A lot of my time is spent marketing myself and my work, which means plenty of not-very-exciting computer time at home, but this allows me plenty of time with my wife and son. My trips to a park can be a few days or a couple of weeks, sleeping in ranger stations, and I choose a location specifically for the wildlife it offers.
The main ‘down’ of the job is that it is hard to make ends meet for many years if you don’t have a well-paid ‘first’ job. The ‘ups’ are adventure and learning in the largest office in the world. There are a few times when I’ve been in danger, or at least when man and beast have surprised each other. I have come within inches of stepping on large vipers, retreated briskly up a tree from wild peccaries and been alone and eye to eye with a jaguar on a beach at 20 paces.
If you want to make it in wildlife photography, you need passion and patience to wait for the photo that nobody else has got. You also need to have a separate source of income to finance your wildlife photography. It can be anything that pays well, but must support you and your expensive hobby in the country you choose to live in for (possibly) many years. Work hard, then play hard.