On Friday 19th Nov we had a couple of guest speakers joining us live from South Africa via zoom. It was a joint event with RPS NI and Ards camera club. Our guest speakers for the evening where Jonathan and Angela Scott who would be known to many through the hugely popular TV series “Big Cat Diary”. The couple have however appeared another TV series and also written many books about their experiences with “the big cats”. They have also both won the “wildlife photographer of the year award” and they're the only couple ever to have won this award as individuals. This competition is judged from thousands of images submitted from many countries, so to win is quite an achievement.
Jonathan and Angela are award-winning wildlife photographers. Jonathan was born in London, England and Angela was born in Alexandria, Egypt. The pair met and married in 1992 in the Maasai Mara game reserve. Over the years they have made their name by documenting and photographing the lives of lions, cheetahs and leopards in the Masai Mara in Kenya. Therefore, quite aptly, they call themselves “The Big Cat People” which has more or less become a brand name for them. Jonathan explained that their Land Rover more or less becomes their home when they are out photographing 14 hours today for weeks on end.
Jonathan’s first encountered with a pride of lions, which are named the Marsh Pride, back in 1977, when he moved to Kenya. The lions are all individually known by Jonathan and Angela, who can tell them apart by their “whisker spot” markings on the lions' muzzle, which stay the same throughout the whole of the lions’ life. Jonathan then showed us a series of images and explained that although the photographs of lions and their cubs look like it's been taken close up, the photo has been taken with a very large lens and a good distance away, so as not to disturb them. Angela would also take photos on a slower shutter speed so as to create a sense of movement in her photos. She told us that she loved taking black and white photos and was always looking for that element when taking a photo. Jonathan shared with us that they would have about 6 camera bodies with them in the Land Rover and a keep a bag with big pockets close by, where they place a selection of lenses, so they can quickly access what type of lens would they need when they drive along and see a photo opportunity.
Along with the photos Jonathan and Angela passed on stories of how the pride interacted with each other and events between them that they had witnessed. Such an example would be a lioness called Kali that they photographed with one her clubs but later find all the cubs had been killed by these new male lions. Male lions tend to kill cubs that they haven't sired which is heartbreaking but it’s nature.
Next Jonathan and Angela showed us some photos where they have used the natural light to create a certain mood within their pictures, one being a lion roaring and because the light was at the far side of the lion, you could see the lions’ breath. We met a 14 year old lion called Clawed in the presentation photos, he was so named as he was all clawed up from all the battles he’d been through. He was a real warrior with piercing yellow eyes that looked right through you. Angela had seen the opportunity to intensify that look by cropping the photo in tight, which became a very powerful image that was used in a BBC wildlife magazine as a double spread. Jonathan had used this example to show us that when you take photos, you should ask yourself how can I use this photo to its full potential.
Jonathan greatest love amongst the big cats is the leopard but he explained in the 60’s and 70’s they estimated around 50,000 leopards were being killed the year. So, when Jonathan came to Africa in 1977 to look for leopards to photograph, he only briefly saw two run past his headlights, and that was going out every day for two years specifically to look for them. He eventually got his first photo of a leopard in 1983. It was a female they knew lived in the caves but was so shy which is probably why she survived the bad years. She had two cubs and one of the days she emerged from the cave he managed to capture her photo which he is very proud of. Jonathan and Angela also like photographing cheetahs. There is no action photo comparison to these big cats flat out running after prey at 60-70 mph. We were shown a photo of one of their favourite cheetahs called Honey and her little cub Toto, who sadly died.
The couple highlighted that from making a living from tv, books, safari tours, etc they are very passionate about making their photography count. They have seen how the Maasai Mara has changed so much over the time they’ve been there due to climate change; Jonathan clarified that there's no doubt that the fate of wildlife is completely in humans' hands. He talked about their new book “Secret nature 2 .. Reconnecting people to our planet” and from the ideas in that book they started a nonprofit organization called the sacred nature initiative and it's got a very simple message which is that the people have become in many cases, disconnected from nature.
Jonathan went on to say there are a lot of people who don't realize that we can’t survive without nature, wherever we live, even if half of the world’s population now live in built up cities. That is still a world created by technology, which itself is dependent on nature. So, Jonathan and Angela hope to take inspiring photos of the wildlife to try and educate people that Nature is vital for us all. They continued to show us a series of images of different wildlife in their environment, some of which were quite moving. The couple ended the presentation with a poignant message about how our actions as humans are affecting climate change and that in turn is having a dramatic effect on the wildlife and landscape even for the hardiest of animals.
BNDCC would like to thank Jonathan and Angela for such a fascinating, informative and stunning presentation. Along with a number of amazing photographs came a very important message that we should all heed. Nature is the heart of life, if we all made a bigger effort it would make a difference, but we have to do it now.