Will is a British wildlife photographer, author and entrepreneur. He is the creator of BeetleCam, a remote-control camera buggy, and founder of Camtraptions Ltd, a company specialising in high-quality equipment for camera trap photography and filmmaking. He dedicates much of his time to working on long-term book projects in Africa. His latest book, The Black Leopard, features a rare melanistic African leopard and was published in March 2021. Prior to that, he spent a year documenting the last remaining big tusker elephants in Tsavo, Kenya for my book, Land of Giants. When not in Africa, he lives in Buckinghamshire, UK.

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.

What inspired you to become a wildlife photographer?

During my childhood, we lived in Tanzania in East Africa for just over three years. Some of my earliest memories are from our family safaris, searching for wildlife. That was the beginning of my lifelong fascination with nature and passion for Africa.

My mum is a keen photographer and whilst growing up I did occasionally pick up her camera and enjoy the act of taking photographs. However, that was back in the film days and waiting for film to be developed was slow and inhibited my creativity.

I had always enjoyed travelling to watch wildlife but gradually the purpose of my trips became more about photographing the animals I was seeing. From there I built up my portfolio and started to earn some income from my images. Seven years after picking up my first digital camera, I took the leap and became a full-time wildlife photographer.

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.

From your experience, what makes Africa a unique place for wildlife photography?

Africa still abounds with an abundance of charismatic megafauna and expansive wilderness areas (albeit rapidly shrinking). It also boasts a great diversity of habitats, from the open planes of the Serengeti to the riverine thickets of the Luangwa Valley, from the dunes of the Namib Desert to the Okavango Wetlands and from the humid rainforests of the Congo to alpine highlands of Ethiopia. I feel there is enough in Africa to keep me busy for a hundred lifetimes!

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.

What is most crucial to focus on when shooting wildlife?

I will answer your question by repeating one word: Focus. Pick a subject – perhaps a certain species or place – and then photograph it in more depth than anyone else. The more time you spend working on a single creature, the better you will come to understand its behaviour and the more creative you must be to continue producing new images. That is when your photography becomes elevated to the next level. Finding a subject close to home or one that you have privileged access to is the best place to start.

Moving to Zambia for a year in 2012 was a turning point for me. That was when I saw the value of conducting long-term projects rather than flitting here and there, and it was the year that my work gained depth for the first time.

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.

What insights do you have for capturing unique angles?

In the early days of my journey, I found that by exchanging my telephoto lens for a wide-angle and crawling close to animals, I was able to capture portraits that were much more intimate and engaging. The pictures were much more like how we experience the world with our own eyes – we do not see in telephoto with a narrow field of view and shallow depth of field. It almost felt like you could reach into the pictures and touch the subject. I searched far and wide for suitable wild subjects to crawl up to – from meerkats in Botswana to penguins in the Falklands.

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.
International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.

How have camera traps and the BeatleCam changed your photography?

I really dreamed of capturing the close-up, ground-level perspective of iconic African wildlife – the sort of animals that I could not approach safely on foot. To solve this problem, in 2009, I created BeetleCam, a 4-wheel-drive remote control buggy capable of carrying a high-quality DSLR camera.

I have continued to use BeetleCam to capture a ground-level perspective in my work, including my projects to photograph hyenas and lions under the night sky in Zambia, Elephants for my Land of Giants book and Rhinos in Kenya.

The problem with BeetleCam, however, is that it can only be used with quite bold animals. For more skittish animals, camera traps are better.

To capture high-quality camera trap images, a regular DSLR or mirrorless camera can be deployed in conjunction with a dedicated motion sensor and off-camera flashes. Specialised housing keeps the equipment safe from the elements and the attention of wild animals. Camera traps have revolutionised wildlife photography and opened up exciting new frontiers in the field…

For example, the majority of wildlife imagery is captured using natural light during the hours of daylight, however, much of the world’s wildlife is nocturnal and rarely photographed. The success of a night-time photograph often depends on the lighting. Setting up effective lighting takes time, and often requires multiple lights to be set up at different points around the subject. In practice, this needs to be done in advance, before the animal arrives on the scene. Camera traps are ideal for this, allowing the photographer to perfect the composition and lighting before leaving the camera to wait for the animal.

Combined with the incredible advances in the low-light performance of modern digital cameras, camera traps have allowed me to capture photographs of nocturnal animals that show them in their true element, for example, lions and hyenas under the star-filled night sky. Photographing wildlife at night has become one of my main specialities and remote cameras are essential to this way of working.

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.
International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.

How has the adventure of capturing the African Black Leopard impacted you?

In places where leopards can be found, they are usually extremely elusive and shy. The majority of leopards are golden with black rosettes – they are beautiful and catching a glimpse of one is very exciting. But then there are black leopards – striking, mysterious and much less common than their spotty counterparts. In Africa, they are so rare as to be the stuff of legend…

I think the moment I realized I had managed to photograph the black leopard in Kenya is going to be difficult to beat. It is both the rarest and most stunning creature I’ve ever photographed and a dream come true for me. I think one of the reasons it was such a highlight is because I don’t think I really expected to achieve it!

Following on from that moment, I continued to photograph the leopard for more than a year and the resulting images formed the basis for my new book.

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.

What can people expect from your new book: The Black Leopard?

My book is a blend of nature photography and memoir which sweeps readers along on my quest to photograph the elusive black leopard in Kenya. Over 100 photographs are printed throughout, including images of lions, elephants, and never-before-seen photos of the black leopard itself. It is both an adventure story, and a thrilling and timely reminder of nature’s hidden wonders.

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.
African Black Leopard.

What do you think motivates people to buy prints and books on wildlife photography?

I think the market for books and prints is quite different. Someone will buy a print if it really speaks to them, perhaps because it shows an animal or place that they love or perhaps because it conjures a specific memory or feeling inside them. Of course, they also need to have a specific space on their wall in mind to hang it.

Books on the other hand are much more accessible. I personally love photography books and collecting them. I buy them for many reasons; because I admire the photographer, love the species or place they focus on, or simply to learn more about a topic I am interested in. I think there is nothing more inspiring than sitting down with a beautiful photography book.

International wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas.

What gear do you use to shoot with?

I am a Sony ambassador. My main cameras are currently a Sony Alpha a1 and a7r IV and I use a variety of G-master lenses. For my camera traps, I exclusively use Camtraptions equipment.

To see more of what Will Burrard-Lucas has to offer, visit his website, or Facebook and Instagram pages.