GP Interview - The GP naturalist

Dr Kevin Elsby is an award-winning wildlife photographer and leads nature tours for a travel company.

What first prompted your interest in wildlife?

Aged eight, on a family holiday on the Isle of Wight, I looked at a robin through my father's binoculars and was transfixed by how near it seemed. I was hooked and became increasingly interested in watching birds.

There are roughly 10,000 kinds of birds. Over the years, I was able to see new birds by visiting new destinations. The UK is not too bad for bird watching, but the summer is often a quiet time. I got into watching butterflies, mammals, plants and other subjects at these times and now consider myself an all-round naturalist.

How did you pursue this while also working as a GP?

I am a great believer in work/life balance and continuing my natural history hobby was straightforward. The only difficulty I have had over the years has been securing annual leave from my practice to lecture on cruises around the world, or lead wildlife tours for the travel company I work for.

I decided a few years ago to gain formal qualifications in wildlife-related subjects. I gained an honours BSc in natural sciences with the Open University and then a master's in wildlife biology and conservation, all while working full-time.

Having travelled extensively, where has been memorable?

I have been lucky enough to visit all of the continents; in fact, in 2007, I took a sabbatical and visited all of the continents and 26 countries in the same year. I enjoy visiting the Arctic, Antarctica (four visits each) and South and Central America, as well as Australia, Indonesia and Africa.

From a bird-watching perspective, South America has it all and I always enjoy returning there. One of my main interests in bird photography is hummingbirds.

These only occur in the Americas, and most are in South or Central America. They are tiny and fly very fast. The ultimate wildlife photography challenge is to photograph them in flight.

My most enjoyable experience was photographing the Cuban bee hummingbird, the world's smallest bird, in Cuba, the only place in the world it is found. I have sold more photos of this bird than any other.

How did you hone your photography skills?

While at medical school, I went to Kenya for my elective and borrowed my brother's Zenith E camera. This was my first venture into wildlife photography.

Since then I have developed my expertise in this area. I now use Canon equipment - three DSLR bodies (7D, 1D Mark IV and 5D Mark III), with a variety of lenses.

My favourite lens for bird photography is the Canon 500mm f4 IS. It is heavy and expensive, but the quality is superb. This is a real professional lens.

I have been awarded a fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) for my wildlife images and I am also a member of the RPS nature committee.

I am chairman of the Norfolk Photography Group and look to lead wildlife tours for people wishing to improve their photography.

My website - wildlifeontheweb.co.uk - which displays my favourite images, gives reports on the trips I have done and lists my UK lectures.

I also sell images through online agencies Alamy and the FLPA.

What wildlife photography books have you published?

I have won many awards in photography competitions around the world and have a distinction from the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain. A great many of my wildlife images have featured in magazines and books.

My latest book, Wildlife photography around the world, was self-published. It is designed to inspire readers to take their own images. Using all my own photographs, I give full details of cameras used, lenses, shutter speed and so on, so the reader can better understand how the image was taken.

When did you start leading wildlife treks?

About 15 years ago, I was invited to join the team at Naturetrek, one of the leading wildlife tour companies in the UK, with trips to all corners of the globe.

As a full-time GP, I am only able to lead one or two trips a year. It is a complete contrast to my 'day job'. I have led trips to many parts of the world, including Europe, the Arctic and Kenya. At around the same time as I joined Naturetrek, I was invited to join a cruise agency, to lecture on wildlife for cruise passengers.

I have lectured in most regions of the world, including the Galapagos, Komodo and the Amazon, and I look forward to devoting more time to leading wildlife tours and cruise lecturing in the years ahead.

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