Winner in the ‘Wild Places’ category of last year’s BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award, Andy Biggs captures the unique beauty of the landscape and wildlife of the Serengeti like nobody else. His work’s emotional depth and his use of the light were seen all over the world when Banana Republic used 13 of his pictures as cornerstone of their ‘Urban Safari’ campaign.
Andy leads photographic safaris to Africa and the American Southwest, and recently launched ‘Gura Gear’, a business devoted to lightweight camera bags.
Photographer, adventurer, teacher, conservationist, businessman; if you had to choose only one word to describe yourself, which one would it be?
Teacher. I enjoy teaching and sharing everything I know about photography the most, especially when I am out on a safari. My business is mostly based on leading African photographic safaris for people who are interested in learning more about photography in a beautiful and relaxed setting.
When did you start taking pictures?
I bought my first ‘real’ camera in 2000, and I started earning an income from photography less than 2 years later. I was on a trip to East Africa with my wife in 2002 when I decided to turn my passion into my livelihood. I scribbled down a business plan while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and within a year I was leading photographic safaris to the Serengeti!
Is there any visual artist you feel inspired by?
I am inspired all of the time by other photographers, especially the late Ansel Adams. The complete control over the tonal values in his photography was extraordinary.
How did you tackle a big life change, going from being a software developer to a celebrated outdoor photographer?
I would not have been able to make the move from a day job to photography without the support of my wife and children. They are the ones who support my being gone for weeks at a time, and the hardship is mostly on their shoulders. From a professional development standpoint, I am much happier now that I am fulfilled with my career. There are new experiences and new challenges each day, and I look forward to getting back out on safari so much!
Have you ever found yourself in danger while looking for that perfect wildlife shot?
Not particularly, as we pay attention to any sign of danger. I try to be as responsible as I can to respect the personal space of my wildlife subjects, and this keeps both parties safe and stress-free.
Tell us about your photographic safaris and workshops.
I lead 6 photographic safaris in Africa each year, as well as a few other trips to other destinations such as Galapagos and Alaska. I spend time with my travelers to make sure that they are getting the instruction that they need, as well as the photographic opportunities to capture their own shots of a lifetime. I feel that my job has been accomplished when I see smiles on their faces, and also when they are going home with good memories and good photographs.
You are mixing your passion and your livelihood in a dream job. Is there anything you left behind with the 9-5 routine that you miss?
I certainly miss a paycheck every few weeks, but other than that I don’t miss a single thing!
What was the shot you are the most emotionally attached to, and why?
I suspect it is an aerial image of the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. We were flying along on a chartered plane and the dramatic sand dunes off to the side of our aircraft were showered in dappled light from the coastal fog. I just knew that the lighting would make for a great photograph. The image recently won the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year ‘Wild Places’ category.
Is there a particular photograph that is still eluding you?
I am on the lookout for a good photograph of silhouetted giraffes on the top of a ridge with a fading sun in the background.
Tell us about your ongoing love affair with the Serengeti. What strikes you the most about it?
I love the wide open spaces, as well as the umbrella acacia tress that dot the horizon. The Serengeti is a place like no other, and I enjoy capturing images with a sense of location and space, and I am best able to do this there.
Do you have any tips for a budding wildlife photographer?
Learn your camera equipment! There are so many buttons, dials and options with our equipment, and if you don’t know what they all do and why you may have an opportunity to miss great opportunities out in the field.
Between the Banana Republic campaign and the BBC award, 2008 was the year that put you on the map. Has your life changed?
Not at all. I am a working photographer, and I appreciated the spotlight for a short period. My business has not changed that much, really, but I have put more emphasis on my fine art print sales.
You recently won a prestigious prize and launched a business. What’s next for Andy Biggs?
My next step is to integrate my family life into my work life a little more than before. My wife and I have two young boys, and soon they will be old enough to begin joining me once or twice each year out on safari. This will be thrilling for me, as our boys don’t really understand what dad does for a living yet. When they get out on safari with me in my Land Rover, they will certainly understand much better.