Lara Jackson is an incredible wildlife photographer, conservation biologist, and children's book author. Over the last few years, Lara has had an incredible journey, becoming highly commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition to then becoming an ambassador with Nikon and Save The Rhino. I sat down with Lara to discuss this journey in more detail.
I first discovered Lara via social media a few years ago when an incredible image was shared, and ever since then, I have become a huge fan of her work, not just in photography but also in wildlife conservation. Lara is incredibly passionate about all things wildlife and nature, which really shines through in our chat.
How It All Began
Lara's love for wildlife has been there since the very beginning, but back then, she did not realize what kind of career opportunities were available to her, believing that her options were limited and that she could only become a veterinarian. It was only when Lara arrived at university that she realized there were many more career paths that could open up for her. Lara criticizes the education system in the UK, as there are many potential careers available via different courses that were just not discussed openly, but fortunately for Lara, she settled on Zoology after trying her hand at other courses. This new direction opened up some incredible experiences, which allowed Lara's passions in wildlife to grow.
As time progressed, through the Zoology course, Lara loved the fieldwork and decided to continue on to do a master's degree in wildlife conservation. The course enabled Lara to visit Kenya for three months working with Rhinos, and her incredible journeys just continued from there.
Having prolonged periods away from home allowed Lara to develop an interest in photography. It was later when Lara visited Madagascar and jokes: "I only had an action camera, which of course you can't get any good wildlife images with at all." This experience prompted Lara to pick up a bridge camera, which she could take on future trips such as Belize and back to Kenya.
I Was Just Hooked
Lara admits that she didn't have her first camera until she was 21 years old, and after travelling to amazing countries and working with incredible wildlife, she gleams: "I was just hooked!" The passion for photography began to overtake the conservation work, but they also worked well hand in hand together, as Lara decided to combine them to help raise awareness for conservation.
I asked Lara who her heroes and influences were growing up and, just like myself, David Attenborough and Steve Irwin were the first names mentioned. Growing up in the UK in the 90s and 00s, Attenborough and Irwin were always on television. It was almost a religion to watch their shows in my house, so I can completely understand why Lara is also a massive fan.
A Dream Come True!
In 2021, Lara became highly commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards with an iconic image of a Lionesses face covered in fresh blood staring directly at the lens after feeding on a Wildebeest. The eyes of the Lioness are what really draw your attention to this image at first, and then, you begin to see everything else that's going on. It's an incredibly powerful image and worthy of all the attention it has received over the last two years, in my opinion.
I asked Lara about how this image was captured and also how it felt to suddenly have all this international attention suddenly put your way.
First of all, it was a complete dream come true and completely surreal about how that even happened to me.
Lara explains that during the COVID pandemic, in the first summer, when cases began to fall and travel restrictions began to loosen, she and her partner George travelled back to Africa to Tanzania. At the time, countries such as Tanzania and many others around the world were struggling. What would normally be full of tourists was now completely quiet, just like other businesses all over the world who were desperate for help, promotion, and income.
July and August is when the incredible Wildebeest migration begins. As Lara and George were waiting for the Wildebeest to cross the Mara river, they caught a glimpse of a Lioness taking down a Wildebeest in the corner of their eyes. They drove closer to the scene, maintaining a safe distance, and Lara captured this incredible scene.
I would like to think that I did all of the work, but it was just her and the situation that I found myself in.
What made this experience even crazier was that the fully grown Wildebeest was still alive while this young Lioness was feasting for 10 or so minutes. The blood was fresh on the lioness' muzzle, and this scene really captures the beauty and brutality of living in the Savannah.
After gaining notoriety from the image and becoming highly commended, Lara had the incredible experience of attending the Natural History Museum in London to attend the awards, where her work was featured front and center. Many images, including Lara's, were also displayed in the annual exhibition following the awards.
It is because of that competition that I am here where I am today. Ut enabled me to get my partnership with Nikon. It really did accelerate my career, and I have so much to be grateful for.
It's a great feeling. I think competitions are really important as well because it helps you curate your own work when you're limited to how many you can enter. You have to be quite critical of your own work, and it helps you become more critical and trying to come up with new compositions.
Since the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, Lara has been welcomed by the Nikon family and has been on a few incredible assignments. Before Lara's ambassadorship with Nikon, she was shooting on an entry level DSLR with a Sigma lens, but now, she has been fortunate enough to move on to the Nikon Z9 and her go-to lenses, the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 and Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens.
I am trying to work out how to get my hands on that lens permanently!
Lara names three assignments for Nikon which she has absolutely loved, the first being when Nikon came to the Isle of Mull, Scotland, where she lives. Here, Lara and her partner, George, were able to photograph some of the UK's most iconic species, such as Otters, Golden Eagles and White Tailed Sea Eagles.
The Isle of Mull is one of the most incredible places left for wildlife left in the UK. It felt really special that Nikon was shining a light on some of the species that we do still have here, as we are notoriously awful at caring for wildlife and one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
Second was a trip to Switzerland to understand more about the Lynx, who were reintroduced quietly, and how this has affected the country and attitudes from the residents such as farmers.
Lastly, there was a trip to Dovrefjell in Norway back in February this year. Here, they were photographing Muskox in the snow, which was an amazing experience, but also the opportunity to work with three other incredible female wildlife photographers: Rachel Bigsby, Eeva Mäkinen, and Lina Kayser.
Celebrating Women in Photography
Professional wildlife photography is a male-dominated genre, but thankfully, women such as Lara are inspiring many other women to take that step into professional wildlife photography and also conservation.
There are 100% more women and girls coming into photography and conservation. There are women out there, but they are just so underrepresented when compared to our male counterparts. It will be interesting to follow this space over the next few years to see if companies support women a bit more and give them those opportunities.
In truth, I could possibly only name five female wildlife photographers off the top of my head with Lara being one of them, so I agree that this is a space which is being underrepresented and I hope in the future that this changes and is one of the many reasons why I wanted to conduct this interview.
Where Did All The Rhinos Go?
Last year, Lara released her debut children's book, Where Did All the Rhinos Go?, which is available on Amazon.
Lara is head over heels in love with Rhinos. Rhinos are quite undervalued by many, as humans don't seem to feel as connected to these magnificent creatures as they do with other animals. Lara explains that poaching is still very prevalent and is very much a crisis, with us losing a Rhino on average every 16 hours. We are losing Rhinos much more quickly than they can reproduce due to long gestation periods and nursing.
Launching this book for children allows a truthful yet sensitive insight into how us humans can help Rhinos and inspire the next generations to come to put poaching to an end.
I feel really strongly that we should be introducing conservation concepts at a younger age. I think the fact that I didn't know you could work in conservation until I was at university is an absolute travesty. I feel there are so many children who would want to help save nature or save wildlife or work with wildlife. I wanted my book to be that entry level and explain to children about how we are losing Rhinos in a compassionate way and be a conversation starter.
In the back of the book, there are questions that parents can talk to the children about and resources where they can find out more information. Children are so compassionate and show empathy that if we can tap into that, the world can be a better place.
Looking ahead to the future, Lara mentions that she would like the next opportunities to continue being purposeful and have a net benefit in the world. Lara appreciates that she is privileged in the position she is in that she has the opportunities to travel, but unless there is a true benefit to spread those stories in a positive way and help conservation efforts, then it may not always work out. Sadly, these opportunities can be the hardest ones to come by due to lack of funding from certain organizations.
The Arctic regions, Salmon runs in Alaska, Borneo for Orangutangs are all very much on the bucket list for Lara in the future, and I believe she will make it there, and not only that, Lara will continue to capture amazing images and inspire many men, women, and children all around the world for years to come with her imagery and passion.
My conversation with Lara was recorded with permission, and you can watch the full interview above.