Even a cursory glance at Martin Harvey’s website reveals an astonishing breadth of subjects, from conservation shots to wild animals and aerial shoots to stunning landscape panoramas. His work has appeared in many publications, including National Geographic, and his extensive portfolio also includes video.
Martin has been a professional photographer for more than twenty years, and got into the business by accident. “I was working in national parks in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and one of the things I did was talk to the public about what we were doing in the park,” he explains. “I started taking pictures to illustrate our work. Then I started making money selling my pictures. Soon, I was making more money from this. I also found photography more stimulating than some of the conservation work I was doing, like checking fence lines and looking for poachers.”
Although Martin started out as a wildlife professional photographer, he soon embraced other genres, such as landscape and travel. “The American photographer Art Wolfe was an inspiration,” he says. “He’s a generalist who’s very good at what he does.” There are pros and cons to being a generalist, adds Martin: “Some people will think, ‘he’s a generalist, when I want a specialist,’ but others will look at your portfolio and will want to work with you on several different projects. It also opens up a wider range of markets. So, it cuts both ways.”
Martin’s main clients used to include many conservation organisations, but these days, it tends to be clients who are going on safari and are looking for a photographer who can help them plan their trip - and capture it on still and video.
For Martin, the most monumental change in the business has been the shift from film to digital photography, a move he welcomes: “It’s no longer a case of taking a roll of film and processing it.” But what about those photographers who insist that film trumps digital when it comes to image quality? “People who are holding on to film are kind of deluded!” is his verdict. But he admits that digital has also made life more challenging for the professional photographer: “Digital has made taking photographs a whole lot easier, which means that many more people are taking wildlife photographs. Twenty years ago, there were perhaps three professional wildlife photographers in South Africa; today, there are around a hundred, and the market hasn’t increased, so more people are getting a smaller slice of the pie.”
Another change has been the decline of the print industry: “Bookshops are closing; magazine racks are getting smaller and smaller. But there are new opportunities opening up in e-books and e-magazines.” Martin also thinks video brings new opportunities for photographers: “Most consumers are young people. My kids don’t read books; they look at iPhones and iPads - and they want to see video images on the screens. My advice to any photographer would be to learn how to shoot video, it will prepare you for the future where the moving image will be supreme – there are lots of film schools that can help you learn.”
When it comes to discussing wildlife photography, Martin is reluctant to talkup the hazards of the job: “I know some wildlife photographers wear the exotic diseases they’ve caught like a badge of honour,” he says. “Touch wood the worst thing that happened to me on a wildlife shoot was getting an upset stomach. The most dangerous part of a shoot is getting there, whether by plane or car. Driving on third world roads is the most hazardous part of the trip. It’s like comparing the number of people who get eaten by a shark with the number that are killed on the road driving to the beach.”
Martin likes to pack as much kit as he can for a wildlife shoot, but says that airlines are getting stricter on the amount of luggage photographers can take on board before being hit by baggage surcharges. No such restrictions occur when Martin is on an aerial shoot. “I confess that I don’t like flying, but I do love aerial photography!” he says, “Because you see things in a new way.”
Many of us might imagine that photographing a rampaging bull elephant was harder work than a simple landscape, but Martin disagrees: “Landscape is harder work than wildlife photography. With wildlife, a significant part is what luck throws at you, but landscape is all about planning and composition – it’s about going to the right place, at the right time of the year, at the right time of the day, looking at the weather and most importantly composing the picture. It’s a lot of hard work.” But what about using Photoshop to change an image? “A lot of picture buyers and clients don’t want images to be Photoshopped. My personal feeling is that it’s unethical to do that with a landscape or wildlife photograph, although I have no problem in using Photoshop on a “glamour type” portrait shot.”
Martin also takes shots of indigenous people. “It’s very easy to exploit them and take pictures that are undignified, which is all wrong,” he says. “You’ve got to go in there and negotiate a fee – I don’t believe in taking pictures of people for nothing – put them at ease, make them feel comfortable and create a bond of trust. I don’t have the extrovert personality to do this, so I take along my wife, who has.”
Looking ahead, Martin says: “I’m optimistic about the future. My advice is: embrace change – don’t fight it, because you can’t stop it. I’ve always said that if I won the lottery, the only things I would do differently would be to employ people to do the donkey work, like editing. Oh, and I’d travel in FIRST CLASS so I can get back my sense of humour, which I lost in economy. But other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s the best job in the world.”www.wildimagesonline.com