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© Jonathan and Angela Scott
© Jonathan & Angela Scott
Jonathan and Angela Scott are multi award-winning wildlife photographers based in Kenya. They are the only couple to have won, individually, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. They write, illustrate, teach and are TV presenters, most famously known for the ‘Big Cat Diary’ series for BBC television.
They have also written numerous bestselling books including Jonathan’s ‘The Marsh Lions’ (1982) and their co-authored, ‘Antarctica: Exploring a Fragile Eden’. Their book, ‘Stars of Big Cat Diary’, was published in 2009.
Jonathan grew up on a farm in Sussex, England, and his first love has always been wildlife. He’s been taking pictures with Canon cameras since the mid-1970s. Angela was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and spent her childhood in Tanzania. They met in 1990, married two years later, and have a son and daughter.
Jonathan and Angela Scott delivered a series of wildlife seminars at Photokina 2010 and their film project 'Lions: The Truth' was broadcast by the BBC in 2011. So far in 2012 Jonathan and Angela have been working in Africa, India, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Also in 2012, as part of their ongoing commitment to conservation issues, they launched the initiative 'Leopard Guardians' to encourage good practice in the tourism industry with regard to predators, and to raise awareness about leopards.
"I was a lazy photographer. I was sitting in 'the Garden of Eden' and there weren't that many photographers around...I just wanted to get out there in the bush - Africa was the 'wild west' to me...I'd seen the big stuff on television and that's what I wanted; that's what gave me the adrenaline rush."
Jonathan Scott's honest description of his early years in Africa, 15 years or so before he met his wife Angela in 1990, contrasts sharply with his more measured and complicated response to making a living as the wildlife photographer living in Kenya in 2009. "Now I have the right cameras and lenses, and the understanding, and more of a vision of what I'm trying to capture, and I've learnt a lot from Angie, who is more of an instinctive and creative photographer," he says.
Jonathan Scott is a broadcaster, illustrator, writer and teacher, but he primarily sees himself as a wildlife photographer. His journey as a photographer started in earnest in 1974, a couple of years after completing a degree in Zoology from Queen's University, Belfast, in Northern Ireland. He travelled overland from London to South Africa, followed by two years in Botswana, and has lived in Kenya since 1977.
In those early years Jonathan acted as a guide and naturalist for visitors to the Mara River Camp just outside the northern boundary of the Masai Mara National Game Reserve. He gradually got to know the best places to look for wildlife, particularly the big cats that had always fascinated him, and spent time refining his skills as a wildlife illustrator. He always loved to sketch and over the years has successfully published limited edition prints of his pen and ink drawings.
Jonathan's first book, 'A Souvenir Guide to African Birds', was published in 1981, but it was his next book, 'The Marsh Lions', produced the following year and co-authored with journalist Brian Jackman, that was a big turning point. It is an intimate portrait of the life of an African pride, introducing many of the other animal 'characters' that would feature in his later books - leopards, wild dogs and the wildebeest migration. One of his photos even nudged the glamour models off the front cover of The Sunday Times Magazine and the book became a bestseller.
'The Marsh Lions' was also seen by one of his great inspirations, Mitsuaki Iwago, the Japanese wildlife photographer and cameraman. Jonathan later became friends with Iwago when they presented 'Africa Watch', a series of live television programmes from the Masai Mara in Kenya in 1989. "Iwago is intuitive," says Jonathan. "He gets inside the head of his subject. He is less interested in recording behaviour than in capturing the intimate character of his subject. Watching him photographing was like watching a ballet dancer. He floated around his subject - the camera was part of him."
When he asked Iwago for advice he was told to, "be more adventurous". "I knew what he meant," admits Jonathan, "but even at the time of my next book, 'The Leopard's Tale', in 1985, I was still approaching photography as a naturalist, a biologist. I hung back. I kept my distance because I didn't want to disturb (the leopards). What Iwago meant was 'get close up and personal'. It posed a dilemma for me (about disturbing the natural habitat of the animals) but he was right - I needed to 'see more adventurously'. I wasn't using wideangle lenses or ultra telephoto lenses or low angles and, crucially, I knew nothing about light. I just used to get the sun behind me and pretty much 'point and shoot'. Now I know what I'm doing, but it's taken me a long time."
The late Hugo van Lawick, former husband of the famous primatologist Jane Goodall, was also an early influence. "Hugo was incredible at capturing action - and that was in the days when you had to focus for yourself! But more than this he understood light," says Jonathan. "He loved back light and side light - a real pioneer in the wildlife photography field."
Jonathan and Angela have also taken inspiration from photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and the work of the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. "Salgado's black and white images are similar in some ways to Cartier-Bresson's - the compositions are perfect, such symmetry. He captures the humanness of his subjects - their dignity, even when in the most horrifying of situations. There is compassion and mood, and his use of light is superb," explains Jonathan.
Another hero is the photographer Steve McCurry, who has done a lot of work in India - a place the Scotts also love to photograph. "Steve works with short lenses - he likes to be up close and in the thick of it, yet his images never seem intrusive; they draw you in and make you marvel at our world," says Jonathan.
But Jonathan's greatest inspiration is his wife Angela. They met in 1990 and were married two years later. He knew that he'd met a kindred spirit; someone who shared his love of Africa's wild places and love of art and photography.
Angela was born in Alexandria, Egypt and spent her childhood in Tanzania, developing an affinity for the sea that has never left her, recalling happy days beachcombing along the Indian Ocean coastline with her brother David at Dar es Salaam. Together the Scotts have proved to be a prolific partnership, working on their delicate pen and ink drawings, collecting material for their books and travelling around the world as wildlife and travel photographers. By the end of 2009 alone this year they will have travelled from their home near Nairobi to the Arctic, Antarctic, India, Oman, UK and USA.
Over the years, in a changing business landscape, they have learnt that to survive doing what they do they would need to have many strings to their bows. The days of agencies taking many thousands of a photographer's images to cover all their requests are gone. "In those days you might average a dollar a year for each image on file, so if you had tens of thousands of images you were doing OK. Now things are a lot more competitive and agencies are more selective and will cherry pick images", admits Jonathan.
He adds: "There used to be quite a few pro and semi-pro photographers who were funding their own travel and trying to make it work. Now I think it's only the real hardcore of photographers at the top of their game who are making a really good living as wildlife photographers, and I imagine even they won't be able to choose purely the assignments they want and just take pictures. At times they'll be leading workshops and trips overseas to help to fund their own work and get themselves to exotic locations for a look round. Nothing wrong with doing that, but to be really creative you need to have time and to be alone, or in my case, with Angie."
One of the main strings to their bows has been presenting TV programmes, and is, in fact, how most people will know the Scotts; especially viewers of the BBC's 'Big Cat Diary'. Jonathan has been involved in numerous TV productions since 'Ambush at Masai Mara' and 'Nature Watch' in the 1980s to 'Wild Things' in the 1990s and 'The Diary' series; the latter has now been running for 12 years. They have co-authored more than 10 books since the mid-1990s, including 'Antarctica: Exploring a Fragile Eden' in 2007 and plan to publish 'Stars of Big Cat Diary' in 2009, a look behind the scenes at the popular wildlife series.
The Scotts go to enormous lengths in their work and, coupled with their profound knowledge of the animal kingdom, have captured some of the most memorable wildlife images. Between 1986 and 1988 Jonathan spent months at a time living in the Serengeti, often sleeping in his car so that he could follow the great wildebeest migration on its annual journey between the southern Serengeti's short grass plains and the dry season refuge in the Masai Mara. During this period he wrote two books, 'The Great Migration' and 'Painted Wolves: Wild Dogs Of The Serengeti-Mara'; and in 1987 was judged the overall winner in the Prudential Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award for his photograph of a wild dog catching a wildebeest.
In 2002 a stunning photograph taken by Angela showing an elephant family drinking in the Luangwa River, Zambia (with a grey heron in attendance), was chosen as the overall winner of the British Gas Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award from more than 18,000 images submitted from 60 countries. This made Jonathan and Angela the only couple ever to have won this competition as individuals.
Jonathan has used Canon cameras for 35 years, and believes that this has helped him to achieve success. "Once I realised what a unique position I was in, working in a place like the Masai Mara, I knew that I was wasting an amazing opportunity by not using the best colour film (Kodachrome 64 at that time in the 1970s and 1980s) and the best lenses. I saved every penny I earned to buy better equipment and good film stock. If you want to make a living out of photography then you have to compete with the best by using the best."
The Scotts say that fast lenses have been an enormous help and that Canon revolutionised wildlife and sports photography when it started to use fluorite; the crystal that's used in some Canon lenses in place of more conventional glass elements. "I bought one of the first lenses to use it, a 300mm f/2.8," says Jonathan. "My first Canon EF had the shutter priority system, which I loved. At that time having a pretty much automatic camera was very useful. Wildlife photography is all about being prepared and being quick - you have to think fast and have split second reactions to capture fast moving subjects."
He adds that autofocus was also a big step forward: "Auto Servo is brilliant when you have a cheetah sprinting towards you, but often when I am in One Shot autofocus mode I tweak the focus manually - that is a great feature to be able to do that, especially with portraits." Image Stabilization also made a huge difference: "We cannot believe how effective this is. We were taking portraits of people in India in low light with the EF200mm f/2L IS USM at speeds of 1/50sec or 1/40sec hand held and they were pin sharp!"
Angela's favourite piece of kit it is her EF500mm f/4L IS USM lens. She loves the intimate images that it allows her to capture: "It is so sharp, with wonderful colour balance, and being image stabilized is important too, plus it is relatively light for a telephoto of this magnification." Now that they have the EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM they say they have had to completely redefine their ideas of 'sharpness'. "This lens is second to none," they say, "even wide open at f/5.6."
Jonathan says he always loved the old EF20-35mm f/2.8L USM, but now uses the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. "You need to be close to your subject to make it work best," he says. "A lot of wildlife photographers go for the big lenses first and sometimes miss a stunning shot with the wideangle. For a zoom lens it is incredibly sharp. By working as a team Angie and I can cover most of the options using a variety of lenses."
Despite all of their success and high profile achievements, the Scotts remain modest and their motivation remains constant: "To share our wonder and awe at the beauty and uniqueness of our world - its people, wild places and wild animals. To make a difference - to help people understand conservation issues and what we risk losing. To inspire the younger generation to pick up a camera and to travel - for them to explore the infinite possibilities of their mind and their world, and the endless joy they can have from photography."
What do you think about the Ambassadors Programme?
"We think it is a brilliant initiative. Professionals are fortunate to be able to photograph as a way of life - they often visit remote areas or spend long periods following their subjects, be they wildlife or people, and by creating Ambassadors, Canon is helping professionals to share their work with an even wider audience. The programme benefits the photographers and the public - it lets people see what can be achieved with the latest equipment and allows the public access to professionals at special events."
Why do you think the Ambassadors Programme is important?
"Photography opens our eyes to our world - it allows us to see in a new and exciting way, to record events as they happen and share it with millions of people. More and more people own a camera, a digital camera, and the digital format is a new way of life. It offers endless possibilities and the Ambassadors Programme focuses on the work of some of the world's top photographers and helps to support their efforts by providing them with the very latest products.
The Ambassadors Programme is an inspiration to all photographers - something to aspire to and to work towards - just like the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards; that and the Ambassadors Programme have made a huge difference to our life as photographers. We are incredibly proud to have been chosen to play this role and take it very seriously. It is a huge responsibility but one that we know will make us better photographers. In fact, it has acted as a major transition for us - we want to take our photography to a new level."
What got you started in photography?
"For Angie it has been a lifetime's passion. As a child she made her own little darkroom tucked away beneath the stairs of her parents' house. She loved the hands-on process of making black and white images. Both of us are artistic; both of us love to draw. I also experimented with black and white photography at school but didn't take photography seriously until I was preparing to travel overland from London to Johannesburg in 1974 - a trip that took nearly four months and covered around 6,000 miles. I wanted to record my journey and after much research reading the photo magazines and talking to people I bought a Canon EF body. What swayed my decision was that this was the very latest camera with an automatic system - it was shutter priority, and Angie and I still prefer shooting in this mode to this day. I was young and the camera was expensive. I can still remember holding that first real camera having bought it and thinking what a beautiful product it was - it just felt so good in my hands. I hardly had any money left to buy a lens. I bought a Tamron 80-250mm zoom with an adapter to link it to the automatic system of the Canon camera. Big mistake - the lens and camera did not sync. I had some contact sheets developed when we got to Nairobi and there was nothing there - the images were all black. That was a very good lesson for me - buy the prime lenses for your system and invest in really good glass. The lenses are the 'eyes' of the camera and your most important purchase."
What does photography mean to you?
"Both Angie and I are very visual people. Photography has become our life - it is how we see the world, and a way to interpret it and share it with other people. Wherever we look we see images and photographic opportunities. Photography allows us to express our feelings about our world - rather than just recording what we see we want our images to make a statement. Sometimes we fail - but that is the challenge. We are both fascinated by the natural world - by wildlife and wild places and by people. We love to travel and bring our favourite moments back with us."
What kind of photographer do you consider yourself to be?
"We are wildlife photographers with a special interest in travel and photographing indigenous people - the local people."
What would you advise someone who is just coming into the business?
"Buy the best equipment you can afford - the best lenses are the most important thing. Look at other people's work - examine it, figure out what the photographer wanted to achieve and how they did it: how much was technical and how much was a unique or imaginative way of seeing. Don't just photograph what you are most interested in - learn to be as versatile as possible. Photograph friends' weddings, your family, your workmates, buildings and architecture, wildlife and travel. Learn how your equipment functions so that it becomes a part of you - an extension of your hand and mind. Never be satisfied with what you have achieved. Visualise images you want to take, plan them and then make them happen. Learn as much about your subject as you can. Learn to understand exposure - it is vital - don't just think 'I can fix that later in PhotoShop. Persevere - learn how to market and sell your images. You have to be a 'business person' as well as a photographer to survive in a very competitive field. But you can always make photography your hobby. Nobody can take that away from you."