Life Behind the Lens: An Interview with Jack Hague

Jack Hague is a 27-year-old wildlife conservation photographer from Sheffield England. He’s had a camera in his hand since he was a child; however, at the tender age of 16, he went to Kenya and Uganda for a trip that was his first taste of exotic wildlife photography and realised that photography was his vocation. 

Since then he’s been finding ways of making a career out of it. He has a diploma in photography and highly recommends that aspiring photographers study formally, as well. He has been working with Operation Wallacea as an expedition photographer since 2018 and is the lead photographer for our ‘Photograph Wild Transylvania Tour’.

For Jack, photography is the ability to share moments with people that bystanders rarely see. For example, with wildlife conservation, it can be difficult to convince people that they should care about animals they have never seen before. A picture is worth a thousand words and can convey years of conservation research that can inspire people to be more aware of the world. 

Wildlife photography is Jack’s way of sharing with people the opportunity to immerse themselves into situations they’ve never seen with their own eyes. His work is vital for spreading awareness about conservation so we asked Jack to tell us more about his journey and his life behind the camera.

When did you realise you were a professional wildlife photographer?

JH: I have been doing professional photography for the last ten years. But with wildlife photography, it’s hard to get your foot in the door and make a strong start in it as a career, so it was always more of a hobby to me. I supplemented my income with other kinds of work throughout college by photographing weddings, events, and products. Even now, I still do some product photography but I was never comfortable doing those types of events. Those experiences solidified that wildlife photography is what I’m meant to do.

The transition to wildlife photography as my profession rather than just a hobby began in 2018 when Opwall hired me as their expedition photographer. That was my first real step into paid conservation wildlife photography and film making. As I sat in the Nairobi airport waiting for my connecting flight to Madagascar. I thought: “Oh wow, this is finally happening. I’m getting paid to go and do this.” 

I’ve known what I’m doing with a camera for a long time now, but this time I acknowledged that the skill I have is worth something. That’s when I realised I was a professional because for the first time it wasn’t me saying “Hey, look what I did. Do you like it?” It was them saying: “We like what you do, come do it for us.”

Was your family supportive of your photography vocation?

Growing up, I initially wanted to study zoology, which stemmed from a massive interest in nature from my mum, who is passionate about nature and wildlife. My dad, however, has a creative streak and first introduced me to photography. 

When I was little, he would take out the film roll from a 35mm camera and let me run around the house pretending to photograph things. When I was 12, he bought my first point and shoot camera. After I picked up the camera, I strayed away from zoology and began to consider what would happen if  I pursued wildlife documentary filmmaking. 

I played with this idea, but in all honesty, I was scared to pursue it because the industry is so competitive, I thought I would be wasting my time trying. But I still loved photography, so I chose to go to college for four years where I got my diploma and foundation degree in photography.

Do you have a favourite animal to photograph?

That is a tough question! Different animals bring different aspects to photography that I enjoy and different reasons for photographing them. For instance, birds are very challenging to photograph because they test your speed and technical ability. They are just so erratic that you’re forced to think fast, adjust quickly to capture the moment as it’s flying by. It is challenging but also really rewarding and it doesn’t have to be anything complex. It could be a nice portrait of a garden bird but because of how difficult they are to capture it feels really rewarding afterwards and I enjoy that. 

However, I equally enjoy sitting in a hide for nine hours waiting for the moment an animal comes out. You know the shot that you want to capture and you can see everything in front of you, so it’s just about waiting. These experiences are equally rewarding because when it happens you’re like yay!

What’s your favourite wildlife photography moment?

Since I never really answered about my favourite animal, I think that fits in here, too. My best moment (and favourite animal!)  happened when I was in Borneo. It was a binturong, commonly called the bearcat. This is a mammal that lives in the canopy of trees that looks like a bear but with a cat’s features. They are really weird looking and smell like popcorn!  

I saw them in captivity years ago and knew that it was an incredibly bizarre animal that I wanted to photograph. When I was in Borneo in 2019, we were doing forest surveys at night looking for herpetofauna like lizards and reptiles. We shone the torches up into the trees because we heard something when I looked up I saw the binturong’s face staring at me through the trees. 

I took a photo and technically speaking, as a photograph it’s not the best I’ve taken because it was dark and we were using headlights to see. It’s not a great picture but for me that moment of actually seeing the animal that I found so fascinating free in the wild was incredible. That was one of the most special wildlife photo moments for me.

How has Covid affected your wildlife photography?

In terms of travel and working abroad, all that has stopped. It put the brakes on all of my travel plans as it did for everyone. The silver lining for me is that after growing up in England but mostly photographing wildlife abroad, the pandemic allowed me to connect with nature close to home. I’ve been working on little exciting wildlife projects by delving into the wildlife close to where I live. 

I’ve seen species that I never thought I would 10 minutes away from my front door; rare bird species like a species of bittern that only has about 80 breeding males living in the UK. I’ve also seen an otter on the river which is amazing because of how elusive they are. Covid brought me back to the basics of loving wildlife again. It made me realise that covid doesn’t stop nature, wildlife doesn’t stop for covid and it has been great to connect with that on a level that is closer to home for once.

What can we expect from the Transylvania tour?

Loads of cool stuff to be honest! The wildlife, landscapes and culture are beautiful; it’s a great experience. Transylvania has a wide variety of wildlife: it has the largest population of brown bears in Europe and many different bird species. No matter what time of the year you go, it’s going to be great because there is so much wildlife out there. 

I can guarantee that whenever we can go there is going to be a wide variety of wildlife to try and photograph. It’s a beautiful place, and the culture is like stepping back in time so you have the chance to learn about the unique European ecosystems of rural Transylvania. Also, you’re going to be around like-minded people interested in wildlife and photography. It’s a place where you can feel comfortable to learn from other photographers and scientists while having some incredible wildlife encounters. You can learn more about Jack’s work and keep up with him here. Stay tuned for the launch of Photograph Wildlife in Transylvania tours.

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