The Zoological Photographic Club was founded in 1899 and was the idea of one man, namely Charles Louis Hett, who served as the first Hon. Secretary. Originally the Club engaged primarily in zoo photography, but this practice was very soon superseded by a style of wildlife photography that is still recognised today. There were fourteen original Club members, the best known amongst them being Riley Fortune, D. Seth Smith and Capt. (later Col.) H. Moore. Other notable members in the early years included R.B. Lodge who, in 1895, produced what is still regarded as the first 'wild' bird photograph, depicting a Lapwing incubating. As a result of early work, Lodge was awarded the first ever medal for nature photography by The Royal Photographic Society.
Another notable early member was Richard Kearton who, along with brother Cherry, was a true pioneer of both nature still and cine photography. The brothers are credited with the first British nature photograph, depicting the nest and eggs of a Song Thrush which they exposed in April 1892. They pioneered many of the field techniques relating to bird photography, several of which are still followed today, in particular the use of 'hides' or 'blinds' as a means of getting close to wild subjects.
In 1908, Jasper Atkinson took over the position of Hon. Secretary. During his term of office, Atkinson placed the Club on a firmer footing by initiating a proper constitution consisting of a President, Hon. Secretary and a Council of three members. Douglas English was the Club's first President, serving until the outbreak of the First World War. During the Great War, the Club continued in spite of many members serving in France and elsewhere. Notable arrivals to the membership list in 1912 were G.C.S. Ingram, who lost an eye in the Great War, and Col. H. M. Salmon, who remained in membership for seventy-three years. Also in 1912, the first big Exhibition of Zoological Photography was held in the offices of The Zoological Society in Regents Park. An attempt was made to exhibit an image of every British bird that had, at that time, been photographed - surprisingly so early in the century, very few species were missing. Zoological Photographic Club members supplied the bulk of the images on show, as they did in subsequent Exhibitions. In 1913 Douglas English, with the backing of members launched 'Wild Life', a monthly publication featuring the best nature photography of the time. Unfortunately, it only lasted until 1918 before subscriptions fell away and it was forced to fold. Notable members joining in 1917 included Ralph Chislett and Tom Fowler, both of whom gave many years of service to the Club.
The Club grew from strength to strength during the two wars, with many prominent nature photographers being in membership at one time or another. These included Arthur Brook, one of the most outstanding bird photographers of the century; Seton Gordon, noted for his work on Golden Eagles; Niall Rankin, Clem Acland, Walter Higham, Walter Pitt, Hugh Wagstaff, Harold Lowes, George Yates, John Armitage, one of the country's very best naturalists, and Eric Hosking, the best known of all British wildlife photographers, who enjoyed a professional career in nature photography that spanned sixty years. In 1977, Eric was awarded an OBE for his services to nature photography. Arthur Gilpin and John Markham joined just before the Second World War and during hostilities Guy Farrar, Stanley Porter and Derek England also joined.
Notebooks from the late 1950's contain many remarks regarding the advent of both miniature (35mm) cameras and the arrival of colour prints and slides. Generally the feeling among members was that few, if any, young nature photographers would bother to produce monochrome in the future. In 1977 the classic 'C' folio ( folio for prints larger than 10" by 8") was discontinued, but was successfully re-launched in 1996. In the late 1980's the notebooks were crammed with references, good and otherwise, concerning the newly arrived auto-focus cameras and lenses. The advent of this new, exciting and portable equipment was also matched by a welcome move away from nest photography. In 1989 a decision was taken to instigate a 'Club Collection' of prints. The aim of the 'Collection' was to maintain a record of the very best of the wildlife images produced by Club members. It was during the early 1990's that new black and white work disappeared from the folios. As the century drew to a close, digital printing had arrived. Now the bulk of prints are produced from scanned images printed on inkjet printers. In 2002, the first prints taken on a new generation of digital cameras appeared in the folios. It is the view of some members that this new digital technology is the greatest single photographic advance in the first 100 years of the Club's history.
Since the end of the Second World War many of the country's leading nature photographers have graced the ranks of the Club. In the Club's first one hundred years two hundred and thirty-one photographers had been in membership. Hett's original idea has lasted well and very little, relating to the functioning of the Club, has changed with the passing of the years. Six folios are still constantly circulating among today's twenty-eight members.