A life to inspire us all

Paul Boag

Today is Father’s Day and so I wanted to introduce you to my dad. Before you stop reading and think this is not worth your attention, think again.

My dad is quite a remarkable guy and I want to share his story with you (at least some of it).

He is a wildlife photographer, but he didn’t start out what way. Growing up in the heart of London, his life was about as far removed from nature as you could get. Yet his love for nature was insatiable.

My dad and son
My dad’s passion, enthusiasm and knowledge of the natural world is infectious, but most of all it inspires us to vigourously pursue our passions.

School held no interest for him. He was thrown out of many lessons and those he did attend he failed. He left school with next to know qualifications. He just didn’t fit the system. The system didn’t engage him, didn’t feed his passions, didn’t see his potential.

His dad wasn’t much better. Instead of nurturing his passion for wildlife and his desire to be one of the first generation of wildlife filmmakers, his dad felt he should get a proper job. Something reliable, something safe. The compromise was for him to work on a farm.

And for years that is what he did. It was while working on a farm in Dorset (when I was a young boy) that he discovered Kingfishers nesting at a nearby river. These beautiful birds became his obsession.

Kingifshers courting
Dad become a world’s authority on Kingfishers and his book on the subject is still seen as the definitive work to this day.

My earliest memories are of sitting in a hide with my dad watching these flashes of colour dart into the water and come up holding a fish. He would spend hours sitting perfectly still, waiting for that perfect moment to catch their beauty. This obsession and patience is something I admire so much about the man. His ability to focus so intently on a subject.

In fact so intent was his attention that he became an expert on the bird. He quickly became the worlds authority on the species. With no money and no formal education to speak of he invented new photographic techniques to capture this illusive bird. Nothing was going to stop him from pursuing his passion.

Kingfishers nesting underground
Dad invented new photographic techniques in the 1970’s that allowed him to capture photos of the Kingfisher never seen before.

In fact after 7 years of study he finally decided to write a book on the subject. A man who failed English CSE, decided to write a book. It must have been a mammoth undertaking for him especially as this was in a world without computers and spelling checking. Yet he could turn his hand to anything and the book became a phenomenal success being reprinted in several languages.

Following being made redundant he decided to take the plunge and try and build on the books success by becoming a full time wildlife photographer. He lectured on the Kingfisher and other subjects with the same passion and enthusiasm he exhibited in his study of the subject. To this day he is one of the best public speakers I have ever met. He can captive and excite even the most bored and cynical of audiences.

Being a wildlife photographer in the pre-web era wasn’t easy. We never had much money growing up. But it was a child’s dream. My childhood was full of snakes, owls, deer and kestrels, all of which would pass through our house on a regular basis. I have more stories than I can possibly tell here of the fun and chaos these wonders of nature brought to our family home.

Frog in duckweed
Our house was always full of animals such as this frog which was photographed in an upturned dustbin lid.

But even though at times mum and dad struggled to pay the bills, I have never seen a man so driven to come up with new and imaginative ways of making money from his passion. From writing books for quarry companies to beautiful one off handmade, leather bound tomes he created himself for stately homes, there was always a new source of revenue.

As I child I took it as normal that my dad could turn his hand to anything, but now it amazes me. The man learnt to do whatever it took to follow his passion from writing to creating leather bound master pieces.

When I started in my career, he saw the potential of CD-ROMs and software to communicate his message. So he sat down and taught himself programming using tools like Adobe Director. In fact he still sells hundreds of copies of his interactive photography tutorial.

As I moved into the web, so did he, setting up and designing his own website. He was always looking for new channels to present his work to the world.

From humble beginnings he is now seen by many as the father of British wildlife photography. He has spoken alongside David Attenborough, has been called “my hero” by Simon King and travels all over the world speaking on wildlife photography.

He now spends his life travelling the world speaking on wildlife photography and taking breathtaking photos.

Supposedly retired this year, he seems to show little signs of stopping. He still lectures regularly, sells his books and interactive tutorials and does all of this while travelling around the world as a regular lecturer on high-end cruise ships.

He is an amazing man who has had a profound impact on my life. He has taught me that nothing can stop somebody who is determined to live there dreams. He has shown me that determination, passion and enthusiasm are more important in life than formal education. He has failed, picked himself up and tried again and again. He shows us all that as Winston Churchill once said:

Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

Most of all he has done all of this while pouring love and attention on me his son. I could not ask for more.

All the photos used in this post come from my Dad’s Flickr account.