My big break

David Ti­pling has spe­cialised in bird pho­tog­ra­phy for more than 30 years. He is the au­thor or com­mis­sioned pho­tog­ra­pher of more than 40 books. In 2002, he won a cov­eted Euro­pean Na­ture Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year award. To see more of David’s im­ages visit ww

NPhoto - - Photo Contents - Keith Wil­son

David Ti­pling de­scribes how a lan­guid leop­ard helped to kick­start his ca­reer

As one of Europe’s most widely pub­lished bird pho­tog­ra­phers, David Ti­pling has trav­elled the world to cap­ture every­thing from birds of par­adise to pen­guins in bliz­zards. But on his first over­seas photo ex­cur­sion, more than 30 years ago, it was not an im­age of an ex­otic bird that was to be the turn­ing point in his fledg­ling ca­reer, but an en­counter with a big cat.

“I was on sa­fari in Kenya, on my first big trip abroad,” he re­calls. “There were six or seven of us, and we were in the Sam­buru Na­tional Re­serve. Our guide, Dave Richards, who has since be­come a good friend, knew of this leop­ard that was fa­mous for get­ting up onto this beau­ti­ful dead tree.”

Richards found the leop­ard on an early morn­ing game drive and the tour party fol­lowed it from afar. “The leop­ard just climbed up the tree and sat look­ing at us as though it was in an arm­chair,” says David, who took this shot with a 300mm f/4 tele­photo on a Nikon FE2 loaded with Ko­dachrome 64 slide film.

Upon re­turn­ing home, he sub­mit­ted the pic­ture to Planet Earth Pic­ture Li­brary, went back to his day job at a lo­cal branch of NatWest Bank, and heard noth­ing more. He con­tin­ues: “Then, about six months to a year after that, Planet Earth took a deal with The Tele­graph Colour Li­brary, who were pro­duc­ing a cat­a­logue, and the pic­ture was in­cluded on the leop­ards page.”

For the young au­di­tor, hav­ing one of his im­ages printed in a ma­jor pic­ture li­brary cat­a­logue proved piv­otal to ful­fill­ing his as­pi­ra­tions. “In those days they’d print nearly 400,000 of th­ese cat­a­logues and if your pic­ture was in, it had a much greater chance of being used by pic­ture buyers.”

The break­through

To say David’s leop­ard proved pop­u­lar would be an un­der­state­ment: “I started earn­ing more from that one pic­ture than I was get­ting ev­ery month from my job,” he re­calls. “I can re­mem­ber my bank salary then was £270 to £280 a month after tax, and I was of­ten mak­ing be­tween £300 and £600 a month from this leop­ard pic­ture! “I’d al­ways taken trips and hol­i­days for pho­tog­ra­phy, but this was the first one that made me any money.”

More sig­nif­i­cant than the change in for­tune, though, was the change in his self-be­lief: “I’d wanted to be a pho­tog­ra­pher since I was a teenager, but that pic­ture gave me the con­fi­dence to re­alise that one day I could re­alise my dream.” How­ever, it wasn’t un­til 1992 that David made the break for good, and quit his bank job to be­come a full-time pho­tog­ra­pher. At around the same time, he joined the Tony Stone pic­ture li­brary, and he went on to have many more of his im­ages in­cluded in its cat­a­logues. “The money I made from those pictures al­lowed me to travel and shoot the stuff I re­ally wanted to shoot. Iron­i­cally, I didn’t re­peat the suc­cess of the leop­ard shot with an in­di­vid­ual im­age un­til I went and did em­peror pen­guins in the late ’90s. Those were the days.”

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