about

Andrew Forsyth Photographer

Andrew Forsyth, The Wildlife Photographer

summary

I am a freelance wildlife photographer based in Sussex. Between 1997 and 2012 I was employed as Chief Photographer for the RSPCA, covering a variety of assignments including evidence gathering, fundraising, PR, editorial and advertising activities. Now I work on varied commissions and photograph wildlife both at home and in various locations around the world. Some of my images are showcased in the galleries on this website. Most are available both for commercial licensing and as signed limited-edition prints.

biography

  • Specialisations: urban wildlife (esp monkeys), animal welfare issues (UK) and southern African wildlife
  • Education: University of Westminster, Honours Degree Photography, Film & Video
  • Awards: two-time finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition (2009 & 2014)
  • 15 years employed as Chief Photographer for the RSPCA
  • Equipment: Canon 5Dmk3 & 7Dmk2, 500mm f4 lens, 100-400mm lens, 28-105mm lens, 17-35mm lens, 35mm f1.4 lens
  • Stock images: available directly from Andrew or via FLPA Images

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Andrew Forsyth, Wildlife Photographer in Brighton

career in detail

I can remember the moment I fell in love with photography. When I was 15 my dad gave me his old Rolleicord twin lens camera complete with a set of filters and a hand held light meter. Despite using it for his travels around the world it was still in immaculate condition. Having never used a manual camera I had a stab at working out the correct exposure for a few portraits. Once I’d used all twelve frames on the roll of black and white film I took it to the local Camera Exchange, a second-hand dealer in Cheltenham to be processed and printed. In those days you had to wait a week for the results to come back so the next weekend I hopped on the bus, collected the slim packet of prints from the assistant and opened them there and then.

The results were, to be honest, nothing short of miraculous. By that I mean there were perhaps three or four photos in which the exposure was in the right area, the subjects were sharp(ish) and some semblance of composition was discernible. I was hooked.

The guys in the shop latched onto my excitement and we chatted for ages about types of film, the range of cameras, lenses and weird and wonderful accessories that I could invest my pocket money in. Before long I was a regular customer, fully fluent in photo-speak and printing my images at home using Czech-made darkroom equipment. I traded my way up through various budget camera makes and models, now boosted by the income from my Saturday job, until I had a perfectly respectable range of gear.

I photographed a wide range of social documentary issues, from street scenes in Welsh mining villages to the solstice celebrations of Druids and New Age travellers at Stonehenge. I had a strong sense of what I wanted to say with my photography but lacked a clear path towards turning this into a career. Encouraged by my teachers I applied to do an art college foundation course and although I dabbled with other art forms I continued to centre my studies on photography. After a year of shop work (giving me money to travel more widely and build up a portfolio) I moved to Harrow to do a Degree in photography, film and video at the University of Westminster. The course was highly theoretical (taking technical competence as a given), involving much debate about culture and the role of photographers as agents of social change. It was right up my street.

After graduating I moved to Brighton, a place I’d visited often as a student. Soon after I got my first serious job as a picture researcher working for the Mirror newspaper group’s commercial archive. I learnt much about the business of photography and had my first picture published; a shot of the Stonehenge festival in Vox music magazine. I was delighted they’d used it, but gutted they’d spelt my name wrong. Within a year I’d been appointed as manager and helped move the business into the fledgling digital age.

In early 1997 I took a chance on a job at the RSPCA that combined managing their commercial photo library with occasional work as a photographer. As part of my induction I shadowed an animal welfare inspector for the day. This involved gathering grisly evidence on a farm where the owner had sold a large plot of land and, now with good money in the bank, he could no longer be bothered to get the feed out of the shed for his starving dairy herd. I’ll spare the details, but suffice to say I’d never seen (or imagined) anything like it. It proved to be as motivating as it was horrendous and I threw myself into the work for the next 15 years. The photography increased until it was the main element of my job, taking me all over the UK on a wide-range of assignments. In a typical year I would cover anything from PR events, magazine stories, celebrity portraits and functions at the Houses of Parliament to raids against organised dogfighting, animal hoarding cases and wildlife rehabilitation projects. It was wonderful work.

I’d also spend what little free time and money I had doing wildlife photography. I was getting a healthy number of pictures into the final rounds of judging in some notable competitions, but kept falling short of significant success. In 2007, frustrated by limited opportunities, I took six months off work to focus my efforts on personal projects. With more than one eye on the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition I set off to Japan, India and Gibraltar to document urban monkeys. I worked in three small locations for weeks at a time (in Japan I sat by a single hot spring for the entire trip), learning the art of observation and patience. More importantly I learnt how to create fresher and more spontaneous imagery. I developed techniques to overcome the limitations of my imagination that inevitably come with pre-visualising the wildlife images I initially hope to capture. Being prepared for the unexpected is a small part of this approach, and this was invaluable in my first competition success. Walking to a temple on the outskirts of Jaipur where I photographed each day I managed to grab an image of two rhesus macaques squabbling on a leaking water tap in the street. It was a fleeting moment, but it is the standout image from the 45,000 I took for the project. 18 months later it was Highly Commended in the 2009 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. I was ecstatic. Sitting at the table at the award ceremony at the Natural History Museum I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face, such was the feeling of validation and approval. With Press interviews, public talks and special exhibition preview events it was one of the best weeks of my life.

Water Fight - Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist 2009

Water Fight – Highly Commended in Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009

In 2012 a change in domestic circumstances pushed me into taking the difficult decision to leave the RSPCA. With two little ones to look after I was also unable to put aside long periods of time to my personal photography, although I was still able to do a reasonable amount of freelance work. Instead I was forced to look at opportunities on my doorstep, something that I could do little and often. Having seen plenty of images of starling murmurations in Wildlife Photographer of the Year I set out to try to do something new with the group roosting under Brighton Pier. Without a pre-conceived ‘big idea’ I started by simply observing and documenting their movements for a few weeks. Experimentation and persistence led to a focus on small flocks of birds coming in to roost late in the evenings, using slow shutter speeds. Within four months I’d shot in excess of 25,000 images and had been battered by a succession of winter storms, but the results were worth it. A second nomination as a finalist in the 2014 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition followed, particularly pleasing as there were now over 42,000 entries worldwide. My image ‘Murmuration in the storm’ attracted a good deal of attention and a series of talks and TV and Newspaper interviews followed.

Murmuration in the Storm - Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist 2014

Murmuration in the Storm – Finalist in Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014.

My personal circumstances remain largely unchanged so for the next few years I’ll be working on commissions and concentrating more on local wildlife, although short trips further afield are planned for the not too distant future. I now have to aim for a third Wildlife Photographer of the Year success although quite how and where I’ll attempt this is yet to unfold…