Northumberland Camera Club

This lion is named Red, one of three males of the Lemek pride, living in the Lemek conservancy in the Masai Mara. � Alan Hewitt (www.alanhewittphotography.co.uk).

Most photographers, as well as having an enthusiasm for creating art, show an equal concern for the environment. Northumberland-based photographer Alan Hewitt is no exception.

He has carved an internationally-known name for his wildlife photography. Alan had just returned from an expedition leading six photographers into the Masai Mara in Kenya, and I caught up with him for a chat in Spurreli’s, Amble.

Alan is a fervent Afrophile. His eyes light up as he talks about introducing clients to the sights and sounds of the continent, and he clearly loves sharing his experiences.

“I tell my clients what to expect, but when they see their first giraffe, or lion, or elephant, it’s really good for me too,” he said.

His Northumberland-based wildlife workshops are popular, though his clients for overseas visits come from all over the UK.

He said: “It’s a big ask for people to invest in their hobby the cost of a trip to Kenya or South Africa.”

The economy in the North East means that most of his clients venturing overseas don’t come from this area.

Like many professional photographers, I’ve noticed the prices of photographic gear rising because of the falling pound. The exchange rate is also pushing up the price of overseas travel, and Alan confirms this is a challenge.

Nevertheless, you can almost see the savannah flashing across his mind’s eye when he adds: “But, you forget about that once you get there.”

Alan has been a serious photographer for about 20 years. Self-taught, he bought a Fuji bridge camera to take photos of his children. He then began to wonder how photographers achieved certain results, like the misty effect on waterfalls. His inquisitiveness led him to improving his techniques.

“I was shooting landscapes and got frustrated waiting for the right light,” he said.

“I would see the birds, migratory geese and waders, and I’ve always been passionate about the environment so I started getting into wildlife photography instead. It’s very rare now that I do landscape photography.

“I then stepped up my game to change photography from being a hobby to a serious career.”

I asked Alan about his influences and he said that he regularly looks at the work of wildlife photographer Elliot Neep and South African photographer Morkel Erasmus.

We then talked about the skills needed for wildlife photography. Apart from a great deal of patience, accessibility is becoming harder.

“You just have to look at reports from the RSPB to see that biodiversity is shrinking,” said Alan.

“Gone are the days when you could walk 100 yards from your front door and see fieldfares, badgers, foxes and hares. On the other hand, big telephoto lenses, though still very expensive, are cheaper than they once were.”

I find Alan’s photographs compelling. He likes to capture images of animals interacting with their environment. He recently carried out a project documenting the effects of the recent drought on wildlife in South Africa and Zambia. He is also intrigued with the relationships between animals, how different species interact.

Finally, we talked about environmental issues, both here and in Africa. Alan works with African conservation groups and has been supporting the Lion Project in the Masai Mara, which gives him superb access to these amazing animals.

You can view Alan’s photography and book on one of his workshops at www.alanhewittphotography.co.uk

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