Luke Massey, Wildlife Photographer
Luke Massey, Wildlife Photographer
Luke Massey has been obsessed with wildlife as long as he can remember. With a lot of hard work and determination, he has turned this obsession into a job, which has allowed him to travel the world seeing fantastic wildlife and meeting amazing people. He hopes his work can inspire people to care about the environment a bit more: humans are the biggest threat to the planet, and the only species that can fix that are humans.
Luke’s work can be seen at www.lmasseyimages.com.
What makes you stand apart from other wildlife photographers?
My knowledge helps a lot: I am a naturalist as well as a photographer.
Since I was little, I have always observed wildlife. You learn a lot by being out with the animals, watching them, sometimes they exhibit behaviour that isn’t in a book.
With photographic equipment being easily available to anyone, many people are now taking pictures as their hobby. This is great as there are more people caring about wildlife and more people willing to learn, but with a surge in hobbyist photographers it is making it harder to sell images. Many people are giving away images for free. It’s like someone learning to be a mechanic and servicing your car for free, the professional mechanic loses out and so are professional photographers.
Tell me about your first trip as a photographer.
When I was seventeen, I went to Fiji for a month. I’d seen a documentary on a guy preserving coral reefs there and I emailed Austin Bowden Kerby. After meeting him he invited me there, if I could fund the flight ticket I could come stay. I managed to get a grant, and that summer headed to Fiji. This trip was such an eye-opener: I was on a completely different side of the world all on my own.
I went back to Fiji 18 months later, for three months this time. I stayed on a tiny island called Moturiki. It’s 10 sq km with no hotels or tourist spots just a few remote villages. I lived in a village called Uluibau, partaking in local life. I was fascinated by the local people’s way of life, the way they lived almost completely sustainably, growing crops on the land and getting fish from the sea. They were the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
This year, I went back to Moturiki once again for a month. This time to make a film about a day in the life of an islander. I followed a guy called Inia, who took me under his wing on my first visit and Nala, a lady who was basically my mum when I was in the village. This film can be seen here.
How many continents and countries have you visited?
I have been to four continents. As for countries, I have never counted, but perhaps about twenty or so. So, I do still have a lot to visit! I usually travel to shoot wildlife, and I am willing to return to the same place again and again until I have nailed the shot that I was after!
Favourite part of the world to travel to shoot wildlife?
Zambia has topped that list, simply because I spent three months out there, observing some amazing animals. Working closely with predators was great, I had a few experiences that really got my adrenaline going.
My main aim in Zambia was to film leopards, which was not the easiest task. To start off, it took me two weeks to even find the leopards, because they’re very shy and nocturnal!
However, once I did find the leopards, I was with them almost every single day. I spent about 450 hours with the leopards over my three-month sojourn in Zambia, either looking for them, or hanging out with them. After some image culling I’ve got about 4,663 photos…
Can you tell me about different cultures that have provided you with an exciting event on the way to shooting?
In Fiji I had a few interesting experiences, the culture is a quite a lot different to home.
One day, I went out fishing out with local guys; just after we’d caught a load of fish one of the guys tore out the guts of the fish and gave me a handful. They told me that’s what they always did, but I never really found out whether that was true. It didn’t taste too amazing.
There is a drink called kava made from a root of a South Pacific crop. The sun-dried root is ground up and mixed with water; it’s a bit like a drug. It relaxes you and makes your body feel numb… however, it tastes pretty bad! The local people consume it nightly, drinking it from the shared half-shell of a coconut. On my last night in Fiji, I drank a lot of kava. There were no lights and no electricity. In the dark I stubbed and broke my toe (although I didn’t realise this till the morning), and didn’t feel a thing – not the best way to end my trip.
If you could bring minimum photographic gear with you, what would it be?
A camera, a telephoto lens, a wide-angle lens, and a macro lens. A tripod and binoculars to efficiently spot wildlife. Of course, a laptop to put my pictures on, a spare hard drive to back them up: there is nothing worse than losing them all! Flippers and a snorkel, if I was going somewhere near the sea.
And, perhaps, some fishing line to get some food?
Do you think you get distracted by spending too much time looking through the camera lens?
I think it is a bit of a myth that you miss something really important and ruin the whole experience of the place if you look through the lens a lot… If I get a photo of an amazing thing it makes the experience even better.
I like showing people interesting things that I have seen, rather than just telling them about such things: it is nice to have wonderful memories, but it is even nicer to take visual souvenirs with you! Perhaps, it comes with being a “modern” child, and growing up in the world, where I have always had a camera.
Do you prefer shooting wildlife where you live or halfway across the world?
Nowadays, I do prefer shooting wildlife halfway across the world. British wildlife is great and I still get out and about when I’m home but now I do tend to go for the more exotic species if I’m given the choice.
I shot a lot of British wildlife as a teenager: rabbits, foxes, deer etc. and lots of different birds. People say British wildlife is boring, but once you study it just a little bit, you come to realise that there are a lot of cool animals and birds in the UK all exhibiting some excellent behaviour.
One of the main things I do with my photography in the UK is showing others what is on their doorstep, and they often tell me, ‘ I never expected to see that 10 minutes from my house!’ For instance, in London there are about 21 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons; this bird is the fastest animal on the planet right on our doorstep.
I suppose if I grew up in Africa, I would really like to come to England to film the deer rut.
What is the most beautiful place that you have been to?
During my last night in Peru, I was in Manu national park, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth and probably the most remote place I’ve ever been. I climbed up into a tree house in an ancient mahogany tree and just looked out across all the canopy. Above me, I could see endless expanses of glimmering stars. The view was incredible, I stayed up there all night without sleeping. It was incredible.
You must have met some fascinating people during your travels; can you give me an example?
In Zambia my housemate James DA was a guide at the lodge I was based at. He knows so much about wildlife and is very passionate about it. He’s seen some incredible things and is like a living encyclopaedia. He is also a great conservationist. In his downtime, during the low season, he goes out and helps to fight against poaching.
What country has the best food?
Fiji, if you did not exclusively eat the food provided in hotels! The reason why I made the film about Fiji is that travellers are often very reluctant to explore outside their hotels.
I think it must be the freshness of the food in Fiji that made it so delicious. I lived on a tiny island, where whatever you eat is home-grown, or caught that same day or the day before. You catch a fish in the in the morning and eat it for lunch.
What is your perfect getaway for relaxation?
Even if I did not take a camera with me, my perfect getaway would still have to involve wildlife: I just love it! It would probably be somewhere where the weather is nice, but I do not mind a proper storm with lightening from time to time! Some place with not many people and starry skies.
Who inspires you?
Conservationists… I’d say I am one but there are a lot more out there doing a much better job than me. Focusing on everything from iconic and well-know creatures, like tigers, to people championing tiny unknown insects. A bug is just as important as a tiger in my eyes.
In Malta, I did some work on illegal bird hunting; bird hunting has a lot of historical value attached to it in Malta. You are allowed to hunt certain birds; unfortunately, there are some people who shoot the non-legal species, such as eagles. There are a group of conservationists out there who, despite seeing these birds getting shot down, still head out day upon day and make a difference.
Emmanuel de Merode is the head of Virunga National Park [in Democratic Republic of the Congo]. He is someone who I’ve never met, but got shot by poachers whilst trying to do his job in April. A few weeks later he was back out in the field, doing his job. Everyone should watch ‘Virunga’. It tells the whole story and is on Netflix.
Photographically, Brent Stirton is a big source of inspiration for me. He is a photojournalist that does a lot of wildlife and anthropology images. He has the kind of portfolio that when you look at it, you really do think: “Wow!”
What are your thoughts on raw images vs. images worked off the camera?
As I photograph wildlife I try and keep my images as natural as possible. If you’ve got a photographic eye you can capture a great image, without the help of a computer programme. There are a lot of overdone, over-photoshopped photographs out there…
What is a piece of photographic equipment that you are particularly excited about at the moment?
The Panasonic GH4; a great compact camera that is perfect for filming, especially in slow motion.
How do you incorporate conservation into your work?
I incorporate conservation into my work by taking pictures, thus showing others what is happening. As already said, I participated in making documentary in Malta exposing illegal bird hunting for what it was. So that is one realm of my work.
I find if I can take a photo of a species and show it to the world and if one person sees it and decides they want to start protecting wildlife or it stops one person from wanting to go out and shoot a rare bird or catch a shark etc. my job is done.
Unfortunately, I would like to solely do conservation based photography and make a difference. However, if I chose to do this, I’d struggle to make a living…
If I can make enough money doing other photographic assignments then I can focus on the conservation on the side of things, that would be brilliant.