An interview with photographer Sue Flood

Back in March 2011 we interviewed photographer Sue Flood after the launch of her first book and solo exhibition - Cold Places. Before she became a full-time photographer, Sue worked with the BBC for 11 years in their Natural History Unit where she was an Associate Producer on the award-winning series ‘The Blue Planet’, and also more recently on ‘Planet Earth’.

I recently met up with Sue again to have a chat about her recent travels to some warmer climates and we're pleased to announce that we have one of Sue's signed prints to give away, as well as the new Canon PowerShot S100, worth £439*! Visit our WEX Gallery competition page for more details about how to win this fantastic prize.

You’ve just got back from a trip to Africa, how was it?

It was fantastic! It was actually my first time in both Kenya and Zambia and both countries really exceeded expectations. After so much time in Cold Places, it was a very pleasant change to that!

Was there a particular photography project you were working on there?

I was lucky enough to visit two very different, but equally stunning, locations - Olarro lodge in Kenya and The Bushcamp Company lodges in Zambia,– sort of a working holiday, since I seem to be incapable of having a real holiday!   At Olarro I was taking some images for their website and it was a really welcome opportunity for me to do a variety of things - from macro flower shots, to architecture, people and wildlife. It was a diverse trip photographically, because I took everything from my 100mm macro lens through to my precious 600mm.

Was this your first time to the Maasai Mara?

Yes, it was my first opportunity to visit the Maasai Mara. I stayed in the stunning lodge, Olarro, which is located in the Loita Hills in the Greater Maasai Mara region, which meant it was nice and cool (for Kenya!) and particularly welcome as there were no mosquitos at altitude!

Ironically, I was really bitten by the Kenya travel bug though! It was a fabulous place with fabulous people and Olarro was really one of the most outstanding places I’ve ever stayed - absolutely magical.

This wasn’t your first time to Africa though, is it somewhere you travel to often?

I didn’t visit Africa until 2007, when I was fortunate enough to go to Namibia and Botswana. When I was in the BBC Natural History Unit I tended to specialize in the polar regions and marine shoots, working on series such as The Blue Planet and Planet Earth – which I loved. But I used to joke that it was a bit like being typecast as an actor – I tended to get the cold shoots as there were a number of very skilled Africa specialists (working on Wild Africa, Big Cat Diary, etc) so I never really had the opportunity to go to Africa when I was at the BBC. So when I was offered the chance to go to Namibia and Botswana in 2007 to take some stills for a private client, I seized the opportunity with both hands! Later that year I also went to Zimbabwe while I was shooting for Animal Planet as the stills photographer on location for a series called Big 5 Challenge and that gave me a chance to go and see all these fantastic animals.

Did you have a local guide when you went out on safari?

Yes, we had two local guides - Jonah and Jackson, two Maasai guides who were both really lovely, great company, had a good sense of humour and super knowledgeable. It was a really special experience.

I love your photo of one of the guides, where he’s looking through your viewfinder…

Jonah saw me working with my 600mm lens every day. He has such brilliant eyesight and is great at spotting things, and I thought he’d appreciate seeing my view down the lens! He seemed to have eyes in the back of his head – though he was impressed with my 600mm!

The lodge you photographed in Kenya looks incredible, much more comfortable than what you’re used to in the Arctic and Antarctic I bet?

Oh yes, for sure! Olarro was lovely because it's such a stylish, comfortable and really beautifully appointed place.  Something of a change from an Inuit tent on the sea ice! Fantastic food too as they have their own organic vegetable garden so they serve incredible salads and vegetables, fresh out of the ground. As you can see from the photos, it’s just open to the elements and has a big roaring fire at night. It was magical.

The fire pit at Olarro lodge


Likewise, Mfuwe Lodge and the other Bushcamp Company locations in the South Luangwa valley in Zambia were outstanding. The lodges, surroundings, wildlife and staff were just wonderful. Both places had amazing wildlife and amazing people and I definitely want to go back ASAP.

You’re well known for your photography in the Polar Regions, and Africa is pretty much the most opposite environment you can find.  Other than the climate & very different wildlife, what are the main contrasts in photographing such different environments?

It was a pleasant change to go somewhere where I didn’t have 24 hours a day of light! When you’re in the Polar Regions, things could be happening anytime of the day or night and you have to be prepared to photograph animal behaviour around the clock, so it was definitely a nice change to have shorter working hours. Although I did do some night photography in Kenya - I took some photos outside of people sitting around the fire in the evening, which I thought was very atmospheric.

Sue photographing the lions from a game vehicle


Were there any particular shots you had in mind and wanted to capture, or any animals you specifically wanted to photograph?

I knew I wanted to get some pictures that really gave a sense of being there, I wanted to put people in the shots and get a sense of all the exciting things you can do. You can’t get out of your game vehicle in the Mara, but when you’re outside of the Mara you can get out and actually track animals on foot. So in some of my shots you can see us doing that and the thrill of being able to get close to things like giraffes and zebras.

I just wanted to capture people enjoying themselves and getting a sense of what it’s like to be there. You often see pictures of hotels or other locations where people aren’t in them and I think it can be a little bit clinical. So that was a challenge, but I enjoyed it.

This must have been a bit of a change for you, because you often photograph wildlife and landscapes…

For me, I’m not really interested in ticking off a list, for example "I must photograph the Big 5!" because I think that often the most interesting things aren’t necessarily the most obvious. But as a rule, what I enjoy doing is capturing a split second moment and trying to capture something of the atmosphere, whether it's between people or animals. Trying to get that shot that makes you wish you were there. In my last interview with you, Natalie, I mentioned the shot of the two emperor penguin parents with the little chick between them - that was a split second moment and then it was over. So likewise on this trip there are a few pictures like that. There’s an image of two Maasai guides laughing and shaking hands, which wasn’t staged. I just saw them chatting to one another and I thought it was a special moment.

Do you have a favourite image from this trip?

A few! I really like the shot of the two people looking at the giraffes, as it was such a privilege to stand watching these beautiful and elegant animals on foot. I also like the shot of the couple at Olarro lodge who are enjoying the beautiful view and I like some of the interior and fire pit shots. And the lion covered in flies is so sharp - poor lion!

I really liked your images of the carmine bee-eaters…

Those were taken in Zambia while I was staying at Mfuwe lodge. I’d never seen carmine bee eaters before and they are one of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen. I’m actually going to lead a photography trip in September/October next year to Mfuwe, specifically to photograph the carmine bee-eaters again. They’re absolutely spectacular birds, with such gorgeous colours.

Any memorable animal encounters from your time in Kenya and Zambia?

The day before I left Mfuwe lodge in Zambia I was in my gorgeous room having a shower and I looked out the window and there was a hippo and a crocodile just feet away! The evening before, I was about to have dinner and Stephen, my excellent local guide, came to find me to tell me there was a lion outside. We went to look at her and there she was, in the grounds of the hotel, drinking water from the pool. Fabulous!

Though probably my favourite moment was sitting in an open vehicle at night, watching a leopard stalking an impala. We turned off the lights so as not to disturb the leopard hunting and simply enjoyed the experience of being there and listening!  As I always say, it’s important to take in your surroundings and put your camera down sometimes. That leopard will stay with me forever and I’m hoping to see many more leopards in May when I take a group of photographers back to Zambia!

Do you have any photography advice for people going on Safari for the first time?

You don’t have to load yourself down with camera gear. I could have taken just two lenses and captured some nice stills because a lot of the time I was using my Canon 16-35mm f2.8 and Canon 100-400mm with my Canon 1 Ds Mk III. Equally, you don’t have to have a fancy SLR to take nice photos. I also have a Canon G11 and you can get some really nice pictures on that and video as well - I captured a nice little clip of some leopard’s hunting with my G11.

I would also say, make the most of the fabulous light. Get up early and then have a siesta in the middle of the day if you want to, when the light is overhead. I was getting up between 5 and 5:30am to make the most of that early morning light.

Do you take the same photography kit to Kenya and Zambia as you usually do on your trips to the Arctic and Antarctic?

I do tend to take everything to be honest, because I’m usually going away for a long period of time and I figure that if I have everything with me I can always leave something in my room or tent. So although it's a chunky piece of kit to carry, I did take my 600mm lens away on this trip though and I’m really glad I did. It was perfect for photographing the carmine bee-eaters.

When I spoke to you last time you mentioned some of the practical challenges of photography in the Polar Regions. Are the any difficulties you faced shooting in an opposite, yet still harsh environment?

It can be dusty, so you need to keep your gear wrapped up, clean and well-protected on some bumpy roads! If you’re going to get out of your vehicle and try to get closer to something on foot (where you're allowed to do this), you have to make sure there’s not a lion hiding in the bush, it’s not like photographing emperor penguins! It’s just important to be aware and we had expert guides with us so I felt very safe the whole time.

What is the next photography project you’ll be working on?

I’m very excited to be working with Steppes Discovery,  leading several, very special photography trips for just a few next year and in 2013  - Costa Rica in very late January and early February and I’ll be going back to The Bushcamp Company Lodges in Zambia in May and also in September to photograph the carmine bee-eaters, which are stunning!

This week I head to Vietnam and Cambodia for eight weeks, lecturing about photography on a ship. Basically anything to avoid the British winter!

And I will definitely be heading back to Olarro next year!

You’ve recently teamed up with Chester Zoo on a new project, what will that involve?

Yes, they’ve asked me to be a patron of their charity Act For Widlife. Chester Zoo are supporting some really great conservation projects around the world so I’m really thrilled to be involved with it, because I went to school in Chester and I’ve given lectures at the zoo for years. I’ll be working with them on some exciting projects in 2012 and beyond.

Do you have another book planned for the future?

Yes! I'm very happy and excited to say that Cold Places had just been awarded a prize in the Nature Book category of the International Photography Awards, so i'd like to do another book. I do have some ideas in the pipeline and it’s definitely going to be something warm this time.

Sue Flood’s first solo exhibition Cold Places - From Pole to Pole - is currently at the Royal United Hospital in Bath until late November 2011. To find out more about Sue’s work or to purchase a copy of her book Cold Places, visit

For more information on where Sue stayed during her trip to Kenya and Zambia, please visit Olarro and Mfuwe Lodge.


*price as at 13 October 2011