WHEN the girls returned from Strictly Come Dancing Live at the Odyssey a few weeks ago, they were buzzing. The show was beyond their expectations and the dancers were all phenomenal – especially the Glitterball winner.
Dúlra had no idea who it was and never really thought to ask.
Then, on Saturday, Dúlra was halfway through a riveting Behind the Lens talk in Queen’s by wildlife photographer Hamza Yassin when a kid asked a question that led to a moment of realisation. Among the flurry of wildlife queries, the young girl asked Hamza a question that made the whole hall burst out laughing: “How are you such a good dancer Hamza?”
And that’s the point that Dúlra realised that, amazingly, this was the very same guy who lifted the Glitterball and who had thrilled Belfast audiences just weeks earlier.
It takes a special kind of person to fill two halls with two completely different audiences.
On Saturday, it was more about Hamza’s quick shutter speed than his quick feet. The 33-year-old who moved to Britain from Sudan at the age of eight and now lives on the west coast of Scotland has devoted his life to documenting nature. No quest is too big, no challenge too difficult for him – especially if it’s to get a picture that has never been taken.
He told the audience how he spent three weeks in a hide watching a pair of sparrowhawks after finding their ‘plucking post’, where they eat their prey. He took 2,500 images, from which he chose 25. And he liked just one. He showed it on the giant projector and it was a stunning picture – but to Hamza it still wasn’t perfect – the sparrowhawk’s head was looking in the wrong direction, he said!
Perfection takes dedication. Hamza said that even his judgment of time had changed since he started spending so many days on end with nature. The many hours travelling to Belfast by train and ferry didn’t bother him in the slightest.
“It’s long, tiring and I love it,” he said about his work. “As much as I love people I’m actually a loner. I feel more comfortable on my own in a hide somewhere. That’s my meditation.”
He said you’ll never get the right picture unless you put the effort in.
“As a wildlife photographer, you need a bit of luck,” he said. “But you make your own luck – you can’t expect to wake up at nine o’clock and say, I wish I really got that sunrise shot.” When photographing wildlife, he works from sunrise to sunset.
“When I used to do the paper round and cut people’s grass I used to go out in the morning to get the sunrise and when I was knocking people’s doors I’d already been up for six hours. You need the love for it and you can do anything.”
And although he’s got every camera going, you don’t need expensive ones, he said. “The best camera and the best brand is the camera you have with you in your pocket – all cameras have become so amazing.”
Drones let him do so much more and they can get stunning shots – “they open up a world of difference to you”.
When asked if we had messed up the world too much to save it, he still had hope. “We have messed it up, but I think we can rescue it,” he said, giving America’s Yellowstone National Park as an example of nature coming back from the brink. “I genuinely think we can repair it, but we need to start soon.”
And if he could give one tip for things we could do in our own lives, at home, to help nature?
Hamza said stop obsessing about manicured lawns.
“Let your garden grow. In the five years since I bought my house I have not cut the grass once” – although he does let the sheep through once a year for two days – because that’s what nature would have done – herbivores would have come through naturally.
“I’ve got flowers that I’ve never seen before.” And he’s got an incredible variety of birds and animals there, from hedgehogs to pine martens.
“Let your gardens grow, although by all means manicure the outside of it so it looks like you actually care about it!”
Hamza travels the world with his camera team to get that unique image – but is determined that filmmakers shouldn’t exaggerate. “In the future I would love people to tell the truth in documentaries – we don’t need to oversimplify, or Disney-fy as I call it – nature history – it’s amazing by itself.”
And did he reveal to the young girl how he is such a good dancer?“Because I’m normally running away from animals,” he said.
* If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.