Face to face with David Tipling

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to David Tipling, whose wildlife photographs have been used in advertising campaigns for companies ranging from KLM airlines to Royal Doulton.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to David Tipling, whose wildlife photographs have been used in advertising campaigns for companies ranging from KLM airlines to Royal Doulton. But while the Holt snapper is happy to travel the world taking pictures of animals ranging from leopards and tigers to penguins and owls, there is one creature he would prefer not to capture on camera . . .

David's love of photography dates back to when, as a 13-year-old living in Tunbridge Wells, he spent his spare time taking pictures of race meetings at Brands Hatch.

A birding enthusiast from the age of 8, the youngster soon realised he could combine his twin passions and he began snapping birds, also training as a ringer for the British Trust for Ornithology.

After leaving school, David made plans to work in retail management but, realising this would leave him with little time to pursue his hobbies, he changed tack and took a job with a bank before becoming an assistant auditor at the Tunbridge Wells branch of a major building society.

A promotion to auditor gave David the opportunity to photograph a wider range of wildlife as he travelled the country visiting other branches, with a trip to Spain in his early 20s sparking off an interest in travelling the world to take pictures of more exotic animals.

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A career turning point came when, at the age of 23, David took a stunning photograph of a leopard relaxing in a tree in Kenya.

The picture was featured in a photographic agency catalogue and went on to earn him nearly �20,000 - dwarfing his auditor's salary and convincing him that the time had come to turn professional.

After leaving his job in 1992, he set off on a 6-week trip to China to photograph migrant birds.

David then came up with the idea of writing a book on the best places to watch birds in Britain and Ireland, and an advance paid to him by publishers Harper Collins allowed him to travel to 150 bird sites.

Illustrated with David's photographs, the book, which was published in 1995, sold more than 20,000 copies, marking the beginning of a parallel writing career that has seen David contribute to more than 30 titles including the RSPB's bestselling Guide to Digital Wildlife Photography.

His burgeoning success allowed David to join an 8-man expedition to the Antarctic, where he spent a month camping on sea ice, enduring temperatures as low as minus 55 degC.

The trip saw him produce perhaps his most iconic image - a photograph of an emperor penguin family - which has been used in books, greetings cards, calendars, and advertising campaigns for companies including Philips, Lufthansa, Walmart, KLM and Fuji.

Since moving to Holt 3 years ago with his GP partner Jayne and their children James, 4, and Charlotte, 2, David, who has won a string of photography awards, has continued to travel, also running workshops for aspiring photographers in north Norfolk.

Eighteen months ago, he teamed up with author Mark Cocker to embark on his most ambitious project yet - a scheme to map cultural attitudes to birds from people all over the world in a book due to be published by Random House in 2012.

Entitled Birds and People, the project, which will include contributions from 2000 people, will see David travel all over the world to take accompanying photographs.

David also recently bought a piece of Broadland woodland, which he plans to develop as a bird haven and photography site.

To see more of David's work, visit www.davidtipling.com or www.photographersgallery-holt.com His photographs are also on permanent show at the Photographers' Gallery, Cromer Road, Holt. Phone 01263 710222. To contribute to Birds and People, visit www.birdsandpeople.org

What is the best thing about your job?

Being outdoors, travelling, and being creative; it's what I dreamed of doing from being a teenager.

And the worst?

Being away from my family. Also, I really don't like flying very much and, with digital photography, these days you have to sit in front of a computer for long periods, which I don't enjoy.

Where do you go to unwind?

For a walk along the coast or to chop wood in my wood on the Broads. When I'm writing, I try to divide my days up between working and going for long walks - if I pop down to Cley and walk out to sea, it helps me think.

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

I'm very fond of a big Indian headdress I brought back from a place called Truth or Consequence in New Mexico.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Not that you could print!

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

I often like to include a Norfolk windmill in my wildlife pictures, so that would probably be either the one at Cley or the one at How Hill.

What is your proudest moment?

The birth of my kids.

And your greatest achievement?

Making a living out of what I love doing.

Whom do you most admire?

Artists - I'd love to be able to paint or draw, but I can't for the life in me.

Do you have any fears or phobias?

Yes, I hate rats! I woke up to find one on my bed when I was in India photographing tigers - I could hear them squeaking and scuttling around the room and I spent the rest of the night walking up and down. I also found one sitting on my boot in a bird hide in north Norfolk and, the thought of it still sends a shiver down my spine.

What makes you angry?

Parking charges along the north Norfolk coast and political correctness - this probably makes me sound like a grumpy old man, but I think it is ridiculous that people have to be so careful what they say nowadays.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Book: Dick Francis novels; TV programme: Coronation Street, and film: Once Upon a Time in the West.

How would you like to be remembered?

I don't think it matters much once you're gone.

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