Following on from our interview with Graham Hudson, we thought we should catch up with his Online Sales & Support team-mate, Lily Wan.
Graham and Lily work tirelessly to run the hectic online side of the business, keeping customer enquiries, stock, orders and shipping running smoothly. And that’s no mean feat.
Lily joined Wilkinson Cameras just over a year ago, initially visiting stores (both at Preston and Liverpool stores) to gain first hand experience of the business. Previously working in a range of retail and hospitality businesses, Lily had also taken some time out to care for a family member.
Lily told us: ‘I really wanted to get back into retail and in particular an online retail role.’
‘After working for brands including Next and Asda, photography was a new sector for me, but I’ve always had a keen interest in taking pictures on my travels, so it was an exciting opportunity.
‘In terms of my own photography, I’d say I’m still a beginner, but in this job I get to learn about a vast range of equipment and accessories – including all the latest product launches and new cameras. So in a short space of time, I’ve gained lots of product knowledge, helping me to help our customers.
‘As Graham mentioned, times have certainly been interesting! I’ve experienced the retail madness that is ‘Black Friday’, the festive challenges of Christmas and the Boxing Day/New Year sales, and then of course the one that no one could have predicted…the Covid Pandemic.
‘Our single biggest challenge was when the stores had to close – and at the same time we saw a huge increase in photography related enquiries and sales. But as a team, Graham and I work really well together. Graham’s store background and extensive product knowledge, together with my experience of the IT & sales systems here, mean that we’ve managed to keep the wheels turning really well!
‘It took a lot of juggling of stock from stores to HQ – and currently back again now stores have reopened!
‘We also manage pretty much all communication with customers – by phone, via email, messenger or web chat – so days can certainly be hectic. One of the really nice things though, is that especially during the lockdown period, we’ve seen so many new photographers getting in touch – even taking up photography as a brand new hobby, which is great to see.
‘Now (at time of writing!) that schools are back and more people are back to work, things are ‘slightly’ getting back to normal – but we’re still seeing high levels of enquiries and sales.
‘We’ve also see a few unique and interesting trends – for example a resurgence in film sales!
‘One of the nicest things is all of the positive reviews from customers – it’s really good to know people appreciate your advice and are happy with our products and service.
‘Also, I’m a family type person and with Wilkinson being an independent business, we do treat each other as family – which I really like.’
Lily’s Own Photography
‘Personally, I shoot a lot on my iPhone, plus, I also have an Olympus PEN and an older Canon 550D DLSLR.
‘I really love that photography freezes a moment in time that we can keep forever. After a hectic week I love to go out walking and most of my pictures are of the surrounding landscape.
‘One of my other favourite subjects, who is a bit of a star on my Instagram feed is Gizmo, our rabbit! We’ve had him just over 6 years, he lives inside with us, but has full roam of the house and garden and he’ll be waiting for dinner when I get home today!’
‘For me, photography is a hobby, alongside other things such as travel, walking, etc. I don’t want to miss the experience by always looking through a lens. Equally I love to look back on those pictures of moments in time – so it’s a balance.
‘I’d really love to visit Iceland, to explore the amazing landscape there and of course experience the northern lights.
‘Kit wise I can’t deny (being surrounded by all this amazing photography gear!!) that I’m not tempted on an upgrade. My wish-list would include a Sony A7C as it’s full frame but still compact – or a Fuji X-T4. A great camera but also super stylish looking too!
‘I’m definitely a digital girl – I won’t be following the trend back to film just yet. But never say never – we’ve had some of the most beautiful vintage cameras in our office!’
To see more of her photographs, check out Lily’s Instagram account @Tiger_Lilstar
Meet other members of the Wilki Team and keep checking back as we plan to introduce many more team members in the future too!
The kayaking section of The Great Australian Triathlon was the one that concerned me the most. I think this was because the Bass Strait has the reputation for being one of the most treacherous bodies of water in the world.
Missed the first parts in the series? Catch up now:
A reputation which is well deserved. The sea between Tasmania and mainland Australia has seen over 1000 shipwrecks, including the destruction of 5 yachts during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race, claiming 6 lives. The reason the strait is so dangerous, is because it is very shallow with an average depth of 60m, a stark comparison to the ocean on either side which plunges down to several thousand metres. Wind can travel uninterrupted for thousands of kilometres across the planet to reach the shallow shelf of the Bass Strait, and in doing so can create waves as tall as 20 metres high!
While the obvious choice for the crossing was to wait for the very calmest days to paddle on, the team only had 21 days to complete it as Aidan Cameron and Alie Repetto, the kayakers joining Ben, had to return to Sydney in time to start the next semester of university.
How the hell was I going to film Ben kayaking across the Bass Strait? I don’t kayak and with such a limited budget, hiring a boat was never really an option. I decided that the best course of action was to base myself on Flinders Island, the largest island the team would stop at during the crossing. The island can be accessed by a 9 hour ferry crossing which is often described as an adventure in itself. However, unfortunate timings meant I would miss its departure by a day and so in order to avoid risking missing the team altogether, I opted to fly to Flinders Island on a 6 seater plane instead. My equipment list was somewhat more limited than in leg one as I could only take what I could carry and I somehow had to squeeze in my camping gear too. With just 20 minutes to pack before my flight left, I threw everything into a couple of bags and miraculously the only items I forgot were the sun cream and a change of clothes!
I was lucky to ride shotgun on the flight over to the island, and my luck continued throughout the day. I managed to blag a lift from the aviation company to find somewhere to hire a car, where I then, managed to obtain the very last hire car available on the Island! At length I found myself set up and camping at Trousers Point, a perfect campsite situated just inside Strzelecki National Park right on the edge of a white-sand beach. My watch had begun.
At this point the pace of the expedition slowed down dramatically. I was two paddling days ahead of Ben, Aidan and Alie and while they were out battling the big seas and strong winds of their first day, I struck out to explore the Island. My first objective was to climb the 756m Mt. Strzelecki, the highest point on the Island and interestingly, also part of the Great Dividing Range, which we would later be following on mainland Australia. While the views, as you would imagine we literally breath taking, the highlight for me was on the run back down to the car. I was making excellent time when I suddenly rounded a corner and my brain subconsciously stopped me dead in my tracks. There in front of me was the biggest snake I had ever seen. Wait, make that two. A pair of Tiger Snakes, the 4th most venomous land-snakes in the world were sat right in the middle of the path no more than two metres in front of me. They just watched as I got my camera and tripod out and proceeded to film them, best day ever!
The next morning, I got a call from Ben telling me that he was eating a pie… this was bad news. The team were sat just 20km south of my position on Cape Barren Island, but due to the inclement weather, it would be another couple of days before they would be able to make the crossing to my position. It was such a shame that I had to spend two more days stuck on a paradise island with nothing to do but explore! I spent the time interviewing and filming with a local mountain biking company and discussing what it is like to live on the island and how they managed to make a living there. Even though many of the residents needed to work multiple jobs, they all told me they couldn’t think of anywhere else they would rather live.
Four days after arriving on Flinders Island, I was out location scouting when I got a satellite message from Ben’s Garmin GPS device to say they had set off. I rushed back to Trousers Point and set up shop; the Sony A7iii, equipped with a Canon FD 100-300mm lens, was sat atop my 3-Legged Thing tripod, and my DJI Mavic Pro drone prepped and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. I was joined by Les and Jenni, two sea kayakers from Western Australia who were waiting for a good weather window to kayak back to Tasmania. We’d spent the last few days chatting over a cup of tea or two and they were keen to welcome Ben and the team to the island. A tense hour crept by gazing though my Hawke Endurance binoculars waiting for the first glace of bobbing heads and splashing paddles. I blinked and suddenly there were there. Four days of waiting had built up to this, I set the A7iii rolling and scrambled the drone.
Patience Part 2
The very next day Ben and the team made it further along the coast to the main town, Whitemark. But just as we felt we were making progress with the crossing, the weather turned on us again. Strong North-westerly headwinds were forecast, meaning paddling would be off the cards until they changed direction. The mood in camp was understandably tense. Ten minutes wouldn’t go by without at least one of the team checking the weather to see if the wind would be changing any time soon. It wasn’t, and with six days already gone, they were getting ever closer to having to make the call to abandon the crossing. We spent the time eating pies and pizza, exploring the town a little and playing hackie sack (terribly) on the beach. Three days slowly went by, but little change in the weather the mood remained the same. During a series of interviews, I asked the trio whether they though the crossing was still possible, to which the best answer got was a firm maybe. So at least there was still a shred of optimism left.
As it happened, a very small weather window opened the very next day and the decision was made to push a little further north to Roydon Island, a tiny landmass just off the north-west coast of Flinders.
I found myself huddled behind a rock on a headland, sheltering from the battering wind and sporadic rain and watching Ben’s GPS dot move painfully slowly towards my position. After 5 hours of waiting, my patience paid off as I spotted three sea kayaks in the distance, it was go time. I launched the drone and set my camera rolling and with no room for error, I spent an intense 15 minutes trying to capture as much footage as possible before they disappeared into the distance. That was the last time I saw the paddling trio for quite some time.
The team spent another five painfully slow days on Roydon Island, experiencing torrential rain and 80 mph winds. Of course, they always knew there would be an element of waiting involved to complete the crossing, it was inevitable, but I’m not quite sure they were fully prepared for the monotony it provided! In the end Ben, Aidan and Alie managed to complete the crossing in a total of 19 days, 9 days of kayaking and 10 days of waiting!
Ben had always said that if the first two legs went well, then it was basically a done deal that he would become the first person to complete a completely human powered vertical crossing of Australia. Little did he know what difficulties lay ahead of him in the coming weeks…
See how they get on in the final leg of The Great Australian Triathlon:
Sadly, as we suspected, ex Wilki team member Jonathan Doyle and his friends attempting the Great Australian Triathlon have been halted by the global Coronavirus pandemic. After successfully completing the first two gruelling sections of the trip – the run and the kayak – the team sadly had to call it a day 60km south of the Queensland border, on their final cycle leg.
Now safely home and under lockdown in the UK, we caught up with Jonathan to talk about the decision to abandon and also to recap on the impressive achievements of the team.
We say ‘so far’ – and wonder if the adventure will be revisited at a later date?
“As you may have guessed from the current international Covid-19 situation, The Great Australian Triathlon had to come to an early end. For a few days we had seen news articles about some new virus that had spread out from China, causing some difficulties in Europe. We didn’t pay much attention, as the situation in Australia was mild in comparison, we kept our heads buried in the sand telling ourselves that it wouldn’t really affect us as we’ll be out in the wilderness again in a few days.
‘But then the local council closed the entire of Cape York, meaning we suddenly did not have access to the final 1000 km of our route. “It’s okay, we’ll keep moving, we’re 2 months away from there yet, it’ll be open again before we arrive”. Then the state borders were closed, and the UK were advising travellers to get back home as quickly as possible. It got real.
‘With heavy hearts we accepted that it was the end of the road. We booked flights and rode the final day into the fifth and final state of the journey and the finish line of The Great Australian Triathlon, some 3000 km premature. It was over.”
Two weeks of quarantine have passed since the team’s swift exit from Australia, who say the reality of the situation is finally beginning to sink in. But no adventure is time wasted, so we thought you’d still like to read the blog from the ‘First Leg’ of this epic trip, written by Jonathan Doyle.
My first challenge to was to figure out exactly I was going to single-handedly film Ben, Emma and Claire Cianchi running 640 km across Tasmania. Since running is inherently a fairly slow method of travel, I wrongly assumed the pace of filming would match this and that this leg of the trip would be the easiest to film. My first and most logical thought was to use a car to shoot from. I could easily carry all the gear, move around quickly and get ahead of the team with little effort. However, the planned route followed much of the Tasmanian Trail, a long-distance trail established in the 1988 which is mostly inaccessible to motorised vehicles. That option was out. My next thought was to run with them. I would be able to keep up and it would solve the access issues too, but it would mean carrying little more than my Sony A7iii camera and charging would be increasingly difficult. Perhaps not. I quickly settled on option three, I would cycle across Tasmania while the others ran. This would solve the issues with the other modes of travel and I would be faster than the runners too, in theory. Going for the bike was a bold choice as I had exactly zero cycle touring experience and in fact the furthest ride I had ever completed was about 30km between Kendal and Milnthorpe. As you can imagine, I wasn’t quite ready for what lay ahead of me.
The First Challenge
We landed in Hobart, Tasmania on the 29th of December and gave ourselves just one day for jet lag recovery and bag packing. The expedition would begin with a short hike in to South East Cape where we would camp overnight and officially start the expedition the following day. However, upon arrival at Cockle Creek, the closest point by road, we were faced with one of the most difficult decisions of the journey. With unprecedented temperatures and dry lightning strikes predicted, there was a very high possibility of bush fires starting. The peninsula is a remote spit of land with only one access point, and so if we went in, there was a possibility we could get trapped if there was a fire. After a great deal of discussion, we came to the unanimous decision that we would compromise the original plan. Instead we would smash out the 14km round trip as quickly as possible, returning the same night to camp back at Cockle Creek. The expedition had begun.
It quickly became apparent that I was carrying too much, like way too much. I could only just lift the back end of the bike, an issue when I ended up having to lift it up and over numerous fallen trees! The plan was to create a high-quality cinematic style film rather than the usual ‘let me just put the GoPro on the ground and you ride past it’ kind of production. In order to achieve this ambitious challenge, I did not skimp on the camera gear. I carried the Sony A7iii and A6400 and five lenses, a Zhiyun Weebill Lab gimbal, DJI Mavic Pro drone, tripod, charging cables, laptop, the list goes on. Needless to say, I was nowhere near the 20 kg dream weight most bike-packers strive towards.
It’s All Uphill From Here
On the fifth day on the crossing, I met my nemesis, the 1000m White Timber Mountain which we had to pass directly over. We spent the day on gravel tracks that only got steeper and looser as we gained height. It was not long before I found myself being overtaken by Ben, Emma and Claire and shortly after I was demoted to pushing my bike. It was a lonely and brutal slog, the ground underfoot was so loose, I often lost my footing and at times I was not even exceeding 1km/h! Gone were the thoughts of filming, the burn in my muscles consumed my mind and it took every ounce of strength to will myself on to take just one more step. Shirt off and sweat-drenched, I was making painfully slow progress.
I heard footsteps approaching from behind belonging to an Israeli chap named Asa. We walked and talked for a while and before I knew it he was helping me push my bike! I told him that I was conflicted about The Great Australian Triathlon as I felt it was ultimately a pretty selfish endeavour, we were spending all this time, energy and money travelling across an entire continent when we could be using our resources to help others. Asa stopped and looked at me, “You have to do things for yourself sometimes too. You need to help yourself to be happier and healthier so that in turn you can help others too”. Those words really stuck with me. Asa helped me push the bike right to the summit of the mountain where the others had been waiting for quite some time. The descent from White Timber Mountain was much more difficult and physically demanding that I had expected. Gone were the easy-going fire-trails, replaced with technical tracks needing 100% concentration to maintain any forward momentum. While the riding was not fast, it was some of the best of the trip.
I Don’t Have The Power!
A huge hurdle to overcome was meeting the colossal power demands required to shoot a film like The Great Australian Triathlon. In addition to all of the equipment mentioned above, I also had to charge the team’s phones and GPS devices. It seemed to me to be the impossible task, and it was a constant source of stress. My only power source was a 100Wh power bank which was charged via a 20W solar panel, and ultimately this system did not cut it. To ensure we had enough power to shoot, I took advantage of every kind person we met who had access to power. On one such occasion, I spent eight hours in a bakery with my 6-way extension lead plugged in with every single electrical item I had connected and charging! Ben commented that it was the most ridiculous thing he had seen. I did cut it fine one day however; following a series of interviews with the expedition team, I was left the last remaining Sony A7iii battery holding just 3% charge!
‘It was a full-time job to survive, and another to shoot the film.’
Filming an expedition such as The Great Australian Triathlon, it turns out is no mean feat. There were days when I had to push myself well beyond my comfort zone both physically and mentally just to get the ride done while simultaneously working my butt off to get the shots we needed. It was a full-time job to survive, and another to shoot the film. Often the runners were much faster than I anticipated, meaning that I had to set up every shot as fast as possible or risk missing a shot or even worse, making the runners stop. Both outcomes would result in frustrations within the team. I spent a lot of time trying to avoid this situation by refining my setup for maximum accessibility and efficiency. I would say one of the most important items in my arsenal was Peak Design’s Capture Clip. I used it to mount my camera right under my handlebars meaning it could be powered up and shooting within a matter of seconds. This took maybe a week to figure out, but I was so stoked to have finally solved a problem the internet was unable to prior to the trip!
‘Power is more valuable than gold.’
The Great Australian was the definition of trial by fire and I certainly learnt a great deal. It turns out power is more valuable than gold: running out means no filming, no GPS, no audiobooks. I have no idea how the early explorers survived without 48 hours of Game of Thrones audiobook for company. Do not go back to find something you have lost on the route, let it go, it belongs to the trail now. Finally, people are awesome. We met so many wonderful people during our crossing of Tasmania, they did everything from making us cups of tea to letting four strangers sleep in their house and steal all their electricity and hot water.
The run across Tasmania was a journey of a lifetime, and we still had two more legs of the expedition to go…
Wilkinson Cameras ambassador James Rushforth has written four guidebooks in the past decade covering photography, ski mountaineering, rock climbing and via ferrata. He is currently finalising his next project, a photo location guidebook to Iceland for publisher fotoVUE.
Recently home from Iceland and writing from quarantine in Worcester, we asked him to share his experiences with book publishing and talk us through the process.
What you read and the images you see next may just have you reaching for your credit card and booking flights as soon as lockdown is over!
Ten years ago I agreed to write a rock climbing guidebook to the Dolomites for British publisher Rockfax. Shelling out £390 for my first camera (I paid less for my first car – were photographers all mad?) I bought a little Canon G12 and have never looked back. Which is not to say it has always been plain sailing, but it has been an experience.
I’ve tried to keep the following as succinct as possible, glossing over some of the more mundane economic considerations and focusing on the photographic side. I hope the article gives a little honest insight into guidebook writing, both the good and bad.
This stage is key and there are some essential questions to ask before making a start in earnest.
• Are you going to work for a publisher or self publish? • If the guidebook is a commercial enterprise is there a valid market? If so, will the market still exist by the time the book gets finished? • Do you have time? • Can you afford it?
Obviously the answers to these questions will vary depending on personal circumstances and the proposed project. For my part I’ve always worked for a publisher, which provides a certain level of security while alleviating some of the printing, advertising and shipping responsibilities associated with self publishing.
Certainly in my experience, writing a book always takes much longer than you think: come up with a timeline and then double it. For example, this current guide to Iceland contains 150 locations, with each location requiring an average of 4 images. That means I have to get 600 unique high quality images before I even consider the introductory material. Even if I were to average one print-worthy photo a day (which is nearly impossible – especially given the weather in Iceland), it would mean two years full time work before making a start on the text.
Then there are the finances to consider. My current expenses for Iceland are in the region of £20k, and that’s living out of a van and living as frugally as possible. Depending on the success of the book this can mean you’ve got several years to wait before you break even. In my experience guidebooks are profitable, but only in the long term. When I first started I took out a loan to cover the expenses, and now previous guidebooks cover the costs of the new ones.
Considering all of the above, it’s worth creating a quick mockup of how you envisage the pages looking. This invariably raises more important questions and allows a rough page count to be determined. Thought needs to be given to the book size, shipping costs and binding strength.
Then it’s time to start gathering the content, always the best bit of any project! The key is to be organised and methodical from the start.
• Record everything – You can never have too much information. Voice notes are an excellent way of recording exactly what you see; these can be typed up or referred to later. Geotagging images with GPS data is really useful for later reference. Many cameras have this function built in, or if not a GPS unit can be added, or the camera can be paired with a mobile phone.
• A map is a great visual reference – I create a custom google map and log locations I’ve visited, colour coding them according to chapter and quality. This allows me to see if I’ve under-represented any areas and helps plan the next day’s photos according to location. It also makes driving and navigation easier.
• Organise your images carefully using cataloguing software of your choice. Be sure to keyword your images and use a logical filing structure. A quick and efficient method of finding a desired image will save so much time in the future.
• Plan your locations – Maximising time and stacking the odds in your favour for a desired shoot location is important for maximising efficiency. Use software such as the Photographer’s Ephemeris, PhotoPills or SkySafari to plan for the best light and important celestial events.
• Scout the locations in advance – There’s nothing worse than stumbling about in the dark looking for a foreground as the aurora goes crazy over your head. Get to locations early or use bad weather days to do some location research before the stars quite literally align.
• Mix it up – Today the potential audience for anyone reading your books is broad, leading to a very eclectic range of photographic tastes and preferences. Try and mix up your image styles, techniques, subjects and processing to reflect this. If nothing else it might inspire someone to try something new.
• Think in three dimensions – Love or loathe them, the advent of drone technology has fundamentally changed the way we perceive photography. What would previously have been a £8k helicopter flight in Iceland can now be achieved multiple times with less than £1k worth of equipment. The technology is particularly good for guidebooks as it allows you to capture orientation style shots to aid navigation. Writing the Dolomites climbing guidebooks I frequently ascended mountains on the opposite side of the valley to get the crag shots I needed, whereas now you could simply fly a drone up from below. What took weeks would now take days.
• Buy a van – Okay, so you don’t have to buy a van, though it definitely helps! The ability to travel, cook and sleep under your chosen location makes getting the images you need much easier and that sunrise start becomes considerably less arduous.
Book Design and Layout
Some publishers will request the written text and images before laying out the book for you. Personally I much prefer doing this myself, then you’re involved in all stages of production. For all three publishers I’ve worked for, Adobe InDesign is the software of choice as it links so well with Lightroom, Photoshop and Illustrator for cataloguing, image editing, map and symbol creation.
Much like photography, designing a book is all about colour palettes that work together, interesting compositions, symmetry, variety and juxtaposition.
I won’t go into all the tedious details of writing except for the following quick tips:
• Try to avoid leaving all the writing until the end as it becomes a daunting task. Better to chip away at it slowly.
• Find yourself a good copy editor.
• Be patient: don’t think of the project as a whole as it’s daunting and instead take it one page at a time.
• Try and keep social media interest going. Schedulers like Planoly for Instagram are great as you can spend a day organising your social media posts for the next three months and then largely forget about it.
A few frequently asked questions…
Do you recommend guidebook writing as a career?
It’s lovely work, you get to travel frequently and spend time fully exploring beautiful corners of the world. You also get something tangible to show for all the hard work at the end. But you also have to make sacrifices. I’ve spent the last 10 years living out of a van, which is great when the weather is good, but less enjoyable when you’re stuck in a 2x5m area on the eighth consecutive day of rain. Or digging yourself out of yet another snow drift. Such a transient lifestyle also makes for a tough social life – you build up a great friendship network only to move on again. Of course, the dream is to write a guidebook from your home address!
Is guidebook writing an economically viable career?
A good question that’s difficult to answer. Certainly in my experience it’s a good supplementary income but I’d personally struggle to live off the royalties full time. I also lead photographic workshops, sell prints and do some guiding. I’ve found that to be a good combination that keeps me on my toes and gives me good work variety.
What camera equipment do you use?
I’ve never got particularly excited about camera gear, I like taking photos. Some of the best work I’ve seen on my workshops have been taken by guests using mobile phones. Artistic creativity and a good eye will always trump expensive equipment. Working in Iceland the Arctic and at the top of mountains frequently my primary consideration is durability, it doesn’t matter how good the image quality is if it doesn’t take pictures when I need it to.
I’m currently using:
Nikon D810 with Kirk BL-D800 L-Bracket Nikon D850 with Kirk BL-D850 L-Bracket
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
I’m interested in writing a book, where do you recommend starting?
I think creating a photo book of one of your recent trips is a great place to start. If you enjoy the experience of whittling down your images, editing and creating a visual story then you can think more seriously about a bigger project.
If not, you’ll still have a nice photo book to show for your efforts!
Wilkinson Cameras has an excellent range of photobook options that are available to browse if you’re feeling inspired and want to get started with creating your very own photo book.
Enjoyed this feature?
If you would like to know more or get in touch with James you can visit his website.
James also has one of the most inspiring Instagram feeds we’ve seen – though we warn you it may give total wanderlust frustration at this time of temporary lockdown!
James was the overall winner of the Digital Splash Photographer of the Year Award 2018. He also won the Digital Splash Landscape Photographer of the Year and Digital Splash Sports Photographer of the Year categories in 2018.
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