Danny Green on his wildlife year, new talent and new tricks
© Danny Green
After braving temperatures as low as -34˚C in Canada and completing a hectic schedule of expeditions around the world, award-winning wildlife photographer and Canon Explorer Danny Green has found inspiration closer to home, and has seen a new role – as mentor – bringing him closer to younger photographers. CPN writer Mark Alexander finds out more...
After six months on the road completing 15 trips to some of the world’s most extreme environments, you would expect the multiple award-winning wildlife photographer Danny Green to be putting his feet up. But he isn’t.
Next year’s line-up of trips include expeditions to Japan, Greece, Yellowstone Park and Alaska in the USA and Scandinavia with raptors, wolverines and Grizzlies filling Green’s viewfinder as he searches for that special, unique perspective that catapults an image from mediocrity to perfection.
“No subject has been completed,” he says resolutely. “Never make the assumption that you can’t do anything differently because something has been photographed to death. There is always a different image to be had.”
He illustrates his point by recalling a key project that made it to the final edit of his sell-out book ‘The Long Journey North’. “I did a project on photographing puffins, which are one of the most photographed birds in the world,” he explains. “I looked over the images that were out there and noticed how similar they were – a classic pose of a puffin with a nice background with sand eels in its beak. But there were no pictures of puffins underground where they spend most of their time on land, or hardly any pictures of puffins in the water where they spend 95 percent of their lives. You can look at something that has been photographed really well and use it to your advantage by shooting it in a completely different way.”
Green’s resolve to finding a new perspective is beautifully illustrated in his book, which he describes as a “visual exploration” of the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Northern Europe. It showcases his fascination with the natural world that was instilled in him from an early age by his grandfather during family rambles. It continues today with his understanding of wildlife giving Green an important head start to achieving new and original viewpoints.
The frozen north...
Back in his Leicestershire home, Green has just returned from a trip to the wintry wastelands of Churchill in northern Canada where local knowledge once again proved decisive. “There are no roads to Churchill,” Green explains. “It’s one of the remotest outposts in Canada. The only way to get there is to fly or go by boat during the summer. There is a train but it takes 46 hours from Winnipeg.”
Churchill may be remote by human standards but it is a magnet for polar bears which congregate there during October and November awaiting the arrival of the first ice over the Hudson Bay and access to the their preferred aquatic prey. Timing his trip to coincide with this frozen spectacle, Green once again found himself shooting during the onslaught of winter.
“I remember photographing an arctic fox with its beautiful white winter coat and the temperature gauge was reading -34°C. That was absolutely freezing,” he recalls. “It is really difficult to work in those temperatures, but not necessarily while you’re shooting but more after the event. If you’ve been out all day and go back to your accommodation, the temperature shift is amazing. If you’re not careful you can get problems with condensation inside the camera and in the lenses. You have to bring your kit in gradually; ideally putting it first into a cold vehicle, then into your bag, then into a porch and eventually into the house.”
It is a tedious process that might not spring to mind when the warmth of an open fire awaits, but as Green suggests, taking your time can be a worthwhile practice. “It is also a great advert for Canon because the equipment still works even in these conditions,” he says. “In all my years of using Canon gear, I can honestly say the build quality and general performance is tremendous.”
Green has been a Canon user for 23 years. His first camera was the then top-of-the-range T90 multi-mode SLR with built-in motor drive, along with a 70-300mm lens. Within six months of this acquisition, his wildlife tendencies kicked in and he had swapped the lens for a 500mm f/4.5, but kept the camera body. “As soon as I started getting good results with the camera, photography became my burning ambition. I didn’t know where to start or how to get in, but within a couple of years I was selling images to magazines and was getting paid for something I really enjoyed, which I thought that was amazing.”
Fast forward to 2013 and inside Green’s kit bag, there are still a plethora of Canon logos but the technology is almost unrecognisable. Sitting alongside his full frame 18 megapixel EOS-1D X and backup EOS-1D Mark IV DSLRs sit his EF500mm f/4L IS II, EF300mm f/2.8L IS II and EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lenses. “Now is a good time to be a photographer because the equipment really is up to the job,” he says.
His long-standing love of Canon products was formalised when Green became a Canon Explorer in 2012. “It came out of the blue,” he recalls, “but when I got the email, I was over the moon. I have been using Canon for more than two decades and never switched. I am loyal to the brand because there have been so many incredible technical advances and the equipment has never let me down.”
His new Explorer status coincided with another well-earned accolade, which also made 2013 a notable year for the wildlife shooter. As one of 20 photographers involved in the 2020VISION nature multimedia project, Green was asked to contribute to an inspirational collection of stories detailing the UK’s ecosystems and their significance in modern life. As passionate about the wild as he as about wildlife, he took the project on with gusto.
“The underlining message was about conservation and how beautiful our country is and how we need to protect the wildlife we have. There’s nothing more powerful than images to tell that story,” he says. “It brought home to me how fascinating the wildlife in Britain is and that made me think about photographing more in the UK.”
Joining the likes of acclaimed landscape photographer Joe Cornish and fellow wildlife lensman Andy Rouse, Green was given the responsibility of capturing the red deer rut at a local country park in Leicestershire. Not only did this mean a good night’s sleep in his own bed, but it also meant Green was able to advise young photographers such as Tom Hughes on the shoot as part of the 2020VISION’s mentoring programme.
“It was great to help bring in a new generation of photographers,” he says excitedly. “It showed that we have some really good talent in the UK, and that was probably the great message of this project – it was an image-led initiative which not only lent itself to showcasing the work of the professionals but also the new, up-and-coming photographers who are producing some amazing images as well. It was fantastic.”
A young talent speaks...
Tom Hughes was one of the members of the 2020VISION project, and has recently switched to Canon and totally embraced the equipment with some stunning results. With mentors like Danny Green at his disposal, he was suitably upbeat when asked to comment on his involvement.
“My main inspirations today are people like Danny,” Hughes revealed. “He creates amazing visuals and certainly inspires me to achieve more in my photography. It is not just nature photographers that inspire me though. Photographers like Jimmy Chin and Tim Kemple (two great mountaineering photographers) also create amazing adventure images. I am looking to explore this side of photography much more. I hope that I can be an inspiration to the younger generation and offer them advice and motivate them to go on their own adventures.”
Speaking about the 2020VISION project, Hughes commented: “It has certainly been one of the best experiences I have had in my photography career. It really opened my eyes to how photography and the visual media can send a message to viewers,” he advised. “The Young Champions represent the new generation. We got to work alongside some of the best professional photographers in the world, like Danny, and we created stunning images and stories. But for me it was more about communicating my experiences of the project with friends, family and my local community,” he reflected.
“I think that the project has helped me by making me look how my images can create a visual story with viewers. My images have improved vastly since being a part of the project. I spend time thinking about my subject instead of rushing and not getting a shot that others would enjoy. My main aim in my photography is for people to gain interest, not just in the image itself but also in the story behind it. I aim to inspire people with my visuals and hopefully encourage them to get out and see it for themselves. I think visual media is a great tool to get people in the great outdoors.”
On his own relationship with Canon, Hughes said: “This year I made the decision to move to Canon equipment. My favourite kit has to be the EOS-1D X and [EOS] 5D Mark III DSLRs. Both perform at a very high standard and have never let me down. For wildlife work I find the EOS-1D X to be the one for me. Its fast autofocus and 12fps can guarantee you’ll catch any moving subject. The 5D Mark III is a fantastic landscape camera, with its high 22.3 megapixel count it is certainly excellent for capturing landscapes at the highest detail. Both cameras have a very impressive ISO range and this was the main thing that attracted me to Canon – the ISO range and its low noise qualities. I have shot images at up to ISO 8000 and the noise is virtually non-existent.”
“I only use Canon EF lenses and I have a few favourites: the EF500mm f/4L is perfect for moving subjects or close portraits. I use this mainly for wildlife but I could see myself easily using it for occasional landscapes. For a lot of my landscape work I use the EF24-105mm f/4, as its easily adaptable to most situations with its focal length range.”
Plans, plans, plans...
It might have been a busy year for Tom Hughes but it’s been an even busier one for Danny Green. Rather than warming his feet by the fireside, though, he is already planning his schedule. Not for next year, though, but for 2015! “I work a good 18 months to two years in advance,” he says plainly. “Because I run a tour company that specialises in taking photographers to some of the most remote parts of the world, I have to plan these trips well in advance. I already know where I am going in 2014 and exactly what I’ll be doing.”
“Next year always brings with it new challenges and after the success of the book there might well be another one in the pipeline for 2014. I was amazed at how successful that project was for me, and being able to pass on my advice to young photographers too with the 2020VISION project was just as rewarding. There’s certainly no rest for the wicked!”
“But I’ve nothing to complain about,” he concludes. “I’m certainly looking forward to a brief rest over Christmas. The camera is never far away, mind, and I'll probably check it into CPS for a service and update the firmware, so it's all ready and fit for another year of photography. As for what I want for Christmas? Hopefully Santa will bring me some new thermals – I’m going to need them...”
Biography: Danny Green
© Danny Green
Danny Green is a multiple award-winning wildlife photographer, based in the UK. He became interested in nature from a young age and has been photographing the natural world for over 20 years, originally with Canon film cameras and now with DSLRs. His approach to photographing nature is a long process and he can spend months, if not years, working on subjects and projects.