Becoming a Photographer Part 2: The Grass is Greener

by Will Clarkson

Loch Lomond in the mist, on the drive north to photograph ptarmiganI am 20 metres from the top of the mountain, with 15kg on my back. I am unfit and it hurts. Why on earth am I doing this? Why am I punishing myself up this enormous hill to photograph something that is already heavily photographed? What can I possibly bring to the table that someone out there has not already brought? Why on earth did I leave my salaried job two months ago in the midst of a recession? Am I really making a good decision? Should I jack this climb in, walk back to the glen floor and head back to London, beg for my job back? How on earth can I earn a living from photography? Why am I growing this ridiculous moustache (because it is awesome is why, but I am in doubting-myself mode)? Worst of all, who on earth, in his right mind, chooses an over-saturated job (freelance photography), and then decides he likes the most over-saturated medium (wildlife)? I should stop this venture before it is too late to go back to the safer jobs.

I don't only photograph wildlife; I split my time equally between various jobs in London and nature. For some people, starting up on their own is a natural thing. The self-discipline and drive is innate, the bad days accepted and forgiven and the good days exploited and profited from in equal measure. New contacts and potential business partners are developed and used until the best possible outcome has come. Risk comes naturally to these people. They are the explorers of old, the people who seem to land on their feet no matter how far they have fallen.

I envy them. I am most definitely not one of these people. They probably revel in their risks. I have spent a great deal of time in the first month after leaving my previous job wondering what to do, paralysed by fear, not reveling in the risk. It is fear of failure most of all, after all it is not often that someone actually follows their passion. It is pretty terrifying - if you fail at something that you are not too fussed about, you're subsequently not too fussed about the fall from grace. At least this is how I see it, anyway. Now that I am trying to do something I think I might be good at, I am scared. What if it falls flat on its' face? The nurtured hobby that provides self-esteem could be undermined forever by a large failure. Will I ever get a job again, considering the financial climate? I think not. Naturally, I'm a pessimist about my return prospects. I don't look forward to speaking to my old boss, him no doubt taking great pleasure in re-interviewing me. He is a little envious of my new life, but my grass looks very green from his side of the fence (I know, I sat there for four years). He doesn't know what it is like over here. It is way too scary. 

About a month after leaving, I had a particularly slow and wasted week. I was going insane with boredom. I realise that for the first time ever I am my own boss.

I grew bored of myself. I grew bored of waiting. Sod it. I am going to do something. Anything. So I went to the Peak District on a whim, and sat on a foggy moor photographing red grouse. I am good at red grouse, so this is a good start, somewhere confident. I was on a fresh high. I went to Leicestershire and failed to photograph brown hares. I got pheasants in abundance, but they are not exciting. Another failure, in my book. 

The ever-present pheasant

The ever-elusive brown hare

The following week I went to Scotland, in search of ptarmigan. For those of you that don't know, these are from the grouse family and live on top of Scottish mountains (for the most part anyway, they are all over the world and like cold rocky places). I waited for two days for the weather to be good enough. The third day brings what I need, so I set off up the hill, a fresh positive frame of mind forms.  

So…I am 20 metres from the top, the moment at which I am questioning myself. Time for a rest. I turn and sit on the slope, not a sound around me and not a peep from the ptarmigan yet, I’ve not even seen a red deer yet but I can hear a young stag in the distance roaring – the older stags have stopped by now. As I turn the view behind me of the glen opens up, it is magnificent, the river (burn?) snakes along from far up the glen to my right, out to a loch in the distance, nearly on the horizon. I look up and stop and stare, transfixed. There is a vast shadow. Just above eye level, about 5 metres away, is a fully-grown male golden eagle, all 6 feet of wingspan, hovering motionless and staring at me, inspecting me. I don't bother getting the camera out of my bag, I know he will be gone in a few seconds, much too quickly for me to get set up. A huge smile appears on my face, this is excellent. This is why I want to do stuff like this, all the worries evaporate, he hovers motionless for another few seconds, still watching me, then starts to slide on the wind to another side of the mountain, and eventually out of sight. Later on, I find the ptarmigan, I didn't take particularly good photographs of them, but I don't care. I can come back. 

I sent the story to my old boss, and I sent him a photo of where the eagle would be had I photographed it. The grass on my side is way greener.

PtarmiganPtarmigan in flight