I am often times introduced when giving presentations or lectures as a "Wildlife Photographer." I am never offended, or feel the need to correct. Actually, I consider the title quite prestigious. I feel it is one of the specialties within the medium of photography that requires the greatest sacrifice of time. And, it is with their great intuitions that talented photographers like Jim Brandenburg and Daniel Cox are able to share with us visual moments in nature we easily take for granted.
If I had to define my work, I guess in many ways I'm kind of a Heinz 57 variety. In other words, I'm an editorial photographer. I shoot as many types of assignments as an actor plays roles. I love this aspect of being a magazine photographer. Its keeps me educated, fresh and motivated.
That said, I do lean towards outdoors conservation/ecology related stories. I feel at ease outside. To experience the gifts nature provides, one learns about themselves and in many ways improve on basic lessons in common sense. Those rewarding experiences can be found in natural disasters or something as simple as a pond reflection. There is tragedy and beauty in both.
One morning on Grey Lake in Quetico, while seeking images for PADDLE NORTH, we spent the previous two days portaging tough trails. We found a beautiful campsite and had the entire lake to ourselves. This gorgeous lake spoke to each of us in unified terms. Let's take a day off and just stay here!
With that decision, a sense of relief sparkled on everyone's faces. Sleep in a little, swim, fish, and just let our bodies heal from the unaccustomed muscle strain of carrying heavy packs and canoes over difficult terrain. We were in for a wilderness treat. And, isn't this what we came here for anyway? To soak up the wildness. I was certainly feeling the pressure of stopping and getting in some work. Day in and day out of nothing but traveling lake to lake, curtailed the coverage I was seeking. I needed to stop and smell the rose hips.
The payoff was worth it. I was taking in the morning fog as sunrise quickly replaced it with crisp, sharp light over the exposed Canadian Shield across from camp. Out of nowhere, like they commonly do, a loon appears from the depths to watch me. The water was glass and my lens quickly trained itself on the loon. The reflections were so perfect that at times I could not find the loon breaking the mirrored image. But, I knew if the bird stayed on the surface, with luck, I might be gifted a memorable photograph.
For those precious few moments, I was a wildlife photographer. Concentrating intensely on the loon's glide as it broke the surface tension creating its own wake, the sunlight hitting it's eyes intermittently, I make tense decisions to snap the shutter just as the red eyes are revealed, when this bird of the most perfect of black and white colors, scooted into part of the reflection that lifted it from the visual chaos, I made my frames. All in all, it lasted only a minute or two and the loon disappeared just as it entered my world. Quietly, and with purpose.
For those few moments, I was a wildlife photographer. An observer of movement, wilderness life, ecology, and a foreign world. Like I said earlier in this post, it felt quite prestigious.
I so totally get what those wildlife photographers feel.