The giving season is upon us and Julian Jackson’s conversation with Tim Harris about NaturePL and how they do things a bit differently is nothing if not timely.
NaturePL (Nature Picture Library) is a world-renowned nature specialist photo agency, based in Bristol, a city in the south west of the UK. Bristol is notably an environmental and creative hub, and received the European Green Capital Award in 2015. The famous BBC Natural History Unit, which produces David Attenborough’s TV series, is based in the city, and that was the reason that NaturePL was founded here – to take advantage of the pool of natural history imaging expertise in the area.
Tim Harris is the Sales Manager of NaturePL. I first worked with him when I was a picture researcher many years ago when he was at NHPA (Natural History Photographic Agency), which was taken over by Photoshot in 2006. He says, “I started in this industry in the usual way, I fell into it by accident! I left University with a degree in Modern Languages, and I was looking for an interesting job. I have always had a passion for wildlife and nature, so I started off running the NHPA library – we expanded from one member of staff – me – to 10 while I was there.”
When I was searching for images, primarily for magazines, I was often looking for rare creatures, to illustrate articles for an avid readership and I needed to get it right. Tim unfailingly came up with the right animal no matter how obscure – and in those days there wasn’t the breadth of imagery there is now. I remember asking him for a picture of a lungfish. He came straight back with, “What particular one do you want, African, South American, or Australian?” Call me ignorant, if you like, but to me a lungfish is a lungfish. Tim, of course, knows better.
He joined NaturePL in 2009. The agency has a commitment to supporting conservation activities and green charities and has raised around £20,000 ($30,000) for various projects, which are detailed on its website here. They also try to be green and offset their carbon emissions and reduce their impact on the environment in various ways. They support a different charity per quarter, ranging from the nearby Avon Wildlife Trust to the far-off Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica, which aside from rescuing sloths (which I cannot help but imagine in slow motion) researches little-known aspects of sloth life, by giving them a GPS “backpack” which records their movements, so their existence can be better understood. Often a suitable conservation venture will be recommended by one of their photographers in the field, who now number over 400.
Of course these projects generate amazing images. The Tolga Bat Hospital in Australia is a rescue centre for flying foxes, which suffer from a horrible parasite which gradually paralyses them. The hospital treats adults and brings up orphans till they can be released back into the wild. This feature has been sold worldwide and helped gain huge recognition for the Tolga Bat Hospital.
Other conservation projects they have been involved with have help protect Monk Seals, Lions, Orang-utans, Rhinos, bugs, Bees, and fish: a wide spectrum of different causes. They also have been involved in the Wild Wonders of Europe project, documenting European wildlife, and ARKive, which is a non-profit catalogue of world wildlife for future generations.
NaturePL recognises that a lot of news about the environment can be disheartening, so they try to find stories which show the positive impacts people are making. They combine this with a pro-active approach of creating features (see here) which they then show to clients to generate stories which the client may not have known about.
The last few years have been very uncertain for the industry. NaturePL has responded with a threefold approach – it has expanded into footage, and is quietly rolling out clips, it has about 4000 on the site at the moment; it is pro-actively suggesting feature stories to clients; and it is also looking more towards digital media and the expanding multimedia education sector, rather than traditional publishing.
Tim adds, “In order to differentiate ourselves in a crowded marketplace, we place high value on our unique images, high quality creative input, and expertise, so we can offer the customer a distinctly special photographic product.”
Julian Jackson is a writer with extensive experience of picture research, whose main interests include photography and the environment. His portfolio is here: https://julianj.journoportfolio.com/ He also runs a Picture Research by Distance Learning Course www.picture-research-courses.co.uk. Linked-in profile.