A wildly different change of career

Osprey fishing, catching fish, Pandion haliaetus, Finland
Osprey fishing, catching fish, Pandion haliaetus, Finland

PAUL Hobson recalls the moment he decided to end his career as a Sheffield college lecturer after 20 years to become a professional wildlife photographer.

“It was just another government interference or college reorganisation and I thought I have had enough of this.

“I would have to work longer and harder with no reward. I was doing really well in photographic competitions and I thought if I didn’t become a full-time photographer now I never will. It was now or never.”

So four years ago Paul gave up teaching environmental science at Hillsborough College.

Instead he takes wildlife photos around the world, selling the pictures and articles, and leading tours of photographers under the name of Nature’s Images.

Since Christmas he has been twice to Finland for the Aurora Borealis, to Costa Rica for hummingbirds and to a remote island in Norway for puffins in the snow.

“It was an island off the north coast of Norway in winter and it was challenging to say the least. You had to take all your own food and water.”

The passion can be traced back to when Paul was a youngster, intrigued by newts, frogs, voles and mice. Then his enthusiasm for wildlife was truly fired by Gerald Durrell’s 1956 book, My Family and Other Animals.

Originally from Manchester, he came to Sheffield University in the late 70s to study environmental science, which formed the basis of a career at Ecclesfield Secondary School before Castle and Hillsborough Colleges.

He was still a lecturer when he was specially commended in the 2009 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition for a stunning image of an Osprey catching a fish in Finland, competing with 33,000 people from 87 countries.

It encouraged him to take the plunge, and the next year he won a category in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year with a photo of a Mistle Thrush in traffic lights in Leeds at night.

There has been a successful book, Wild Derbyshire, with the idea sown for a follow-up, Wild Yorkshire. There is plenty to observe.

“I have been researching sea slugs off the Yorkshire coast. They are stunningly beautiful - you would think they were tropical - although I’ll have to hire a diver to find them. ”

Later this year he is off to the Shetland Islands and, for a British birds field trip, Worcestershire.

Already lined up for next year are visits to Bulgaria, India, Finland and Holland.

His partner, Judy, who lives with him in the Rivelin Valley, helps to run the business and goes on around a third of the trips.

The business has been launched at a time when interest in wildlife photography is growing rapidly.

What advice would Paul give?

“You have got to be really passionate about wildlife and have incredible patience. You have to be prepared to spend days without getting a single picture and to do your fieldwork, learning about what you want to photograph. At the same time, the rewards are brilliant.”

Paul, aged 54, misses just a little of his former career.

“Wildlife photograpy is lonely at times. I do miss working with other people a little bit. I did enjoy group tasks and the cut and thrust of ideas being thrown backwards and forwards. And you miss the students.”

But he certainly has no regrets about flying in a new direction.

“I don’t miss the stress, I don’t miss the continuous changes and the moving of the goalposts all the time. I don’t miss the chasing of results and the pressure you are under, and, by the end, the ridiculous workload.”

l www.paulhobson.co.uk