I have worked as an ecologist for almost 40 years. I started my career working with surface mining in the 1970’s as return to original contour became the law of the land. Talk about taking textbook theory and learning how to apply principles innovatively and then waiting to see if they worked!
My work has allowed me to explore the wildest habitats in North America, Africa and South America. I have been privileged to work with several endangered species and that has allowed me candid photographs of them. The advantage of being a biologist first and a photographer second is my knowledge of animal behavior and habitats. I see animals I am studying eating, sleeping, in their mating rituals, and even playing. Most tourists who visit wild lands rarely have the time to let animals acclimate to their presence so they rarely see animals being wild, relaxed animals.
I consider myself to be an “ambush photographer.” Unlike a studio photographer who takes human portraits, I cannot “pose” my animals for that perfect photograph. I always tease that I don’t make as much money as a studio photographer but my animals never complain that I made them look fat or their butts too large! In fact my wild animals are anything but posed! So, I must make my animal photographs through great patience and basically waiting for the animal to exhibit postures that I think are expressive. Timing is of great importance. The expression of the animal, such as the eyes looking directly in to the lens, or the position of the body, will make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful photograph. When I am watching an animal through my camera, I look for that “perfect combination of head, legs (or wings) and eyes, in hopes of recording a scene that I think is “perfect.” Knowing when to take that photo is difficult as most animals have eyes or ears that are always in motion – ever alert for that sign of danger. The longer that I am with an animal, the greater the opportunity for me to get an intimate photograph as the animal begins to acclimate to my presence. Sometimes, being motionless and passing up early photographs of the animal is my key to great photographs. Other times, I use wildlife calls and hunting techniques to convince the animal that I am another wildlife species.
Determination, persistence, skill, and of course luck, are all factors in whether the images captured are unique and expressive or not. Hopefully, I can inspire you to love these wild animals that have been my life and to inspire you to help conserve these wild animals and their habitats for future generations.