This wildlife photographer didn't let Parkinson's end his passion
David Plummer is a top wildlife photographer, spending months of the year in some of the world’s most exotic locations. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s seven years ago, he’s now using his images to raise awareness of the condition.
A lifelong passion
David hard at work on a shoot
"Nature has always been my obsession,” says David Plummer. “My earliest memory is, aged two, bringing peabugs in from the garden and rolling them into balls across Mum’s coffee table!” At seven, his father built him a bird table and, from the moment a female sparrow came down, the youngster was hooked.
The next year, David bought a second-hand SLR camera and managed to get a full-frame shot of a blue tit in its nest. By 14, he was bunking off school to cycle down to the north-Kent marshes near his home in the Medway Towns to photograph wading birds on the mudflats.
He left school with 10 O Levels, not knowing what to do—and ended up joining the Metropolitan police force. But wildlife and photography remained his passions. “At the top of a tower block, looking out for criminals, I’d be watching the kestrels,” he laughs. When he transferred to Grand Cayman, he spent every lunch hour scuba diving among the tropical fish, turtles, and stingrays.
At 26, David took the leap to work towards becoming a professional wildlife photographer. “I moved to Sussex and did various odd jobs—which included cleaning and care work—in order to survive while I built my contacts and work experience,” he says. “Being a volunteer photographer for the Sussex Wildlife Trust was a turning point.”
"I’ll do whatever it takes to get the shot"
Image via David Plummer
These days, David is a respected wildlife photographer, teacher, and conservationist. The 47-year-old leads photography holidays to exotic locations such as Kenya, Brazil and the Galápagos, as well as wildlife-watching and photography events in the UK.
Seven years ago, he started to have tremors in his left arm. Aged 40, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease—an incurable, neurological condition with symptoms such as tremors, rigidity, and slowness of movement. “There were some dark months, but all my life I’ve chosen to be positive. I know I’ll lose function, but Parkinson’s has galvanised me to be alive. I’ve decided to grab life by the horns!”
"There were some dark months, but all my life I’ve chosen to be positive"
When he’s taking images, his only concession to his condition is to use faster shutter speeds to counteract camera shake. If he’s leading a trip on the other side of the world, he flies ahead of the group so he can have a night’s rest in a hotel before the tour starts. At home, voice-dictation software on his computer and a newly hired PA (a retired man who’s equally passionate about wildlife) are helping him stay on top of the admin involved in running a business.
“I don’t think about the disability while I’m working, I don’t care if I’m stiff and aching. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the shot,” says David, who happily spends hours in a floating hide covered in leeches.
Next year sees the publication of his coffee-table book Seven Years of Camera Shake, which is filled with stunning images taken since his diagnosis. “I want to tell other people facing health challenges not to limit their ambitions,” he enthuses. “This book is not about what Parkinson’s has done to me. It’s about what it has not done to me. I’m seven years down the line and I’m still going strong.”
A selection of David's stunning photography:
Richmond Park, London. “This wild herd has become habituated to people, which allows for closer photography. This stag ran out from the bracken roaring, so I just took the shot.”
Knepp Wildland, Sussex. “Kingfishers are one of my favourite birds. I’ve got used to setting up for them, with a bucket of water, baiting fish and a good perch.”
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. “I was watching a pride of about 20 lions, including about ten cubs. These ones were four or five months old.”
Pantanal, Brazil. “I always investigate tree cavities as they’re usually home for something. The owl just popped his head out, so I pointed my camera up the trunk and grabbed the shot.”
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. “Lions had killed a bull eland and it was a pretty bloody scene. By focusing in on small details, I got this shot of a cute cub framed by a bloody carcass.”
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. "This adult leopard is called Fig locally. I’ve photographed her on and off for seven years or so—she’s not interested in our presence! Mother and cub came down the tree and started chasing each other, practising killing. All big-cat play is about killing."
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