The Passion of Wildlife Photography

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The topic of wildlife photography is an important one to me. I’ve admired the work of wildlife photographers since I was a kid, watching countless reruns of whatever documentary program the TV channels we received offered, or browsing, over and over again, the pages of National Geographic magazine. For as long as I can recall, I’ve been enamored with photographs of wild animals.

I’ve also been enamored with wild animals; for every hour I spent watching those programs, I spent two or three times that number reading about the habits and lives of whatever animals I was infatuated with on that particular day. One day it might be the great brown bears of the Alaska coast, or the jaguar of the Amazon. The next it might be the Grey kangaroos I saw so regularly on my weekend hikes in the hills nearby our house.

I don’t know why. Probably for a whole host of reasons, and then for a whole host more. There’s always been some fascinating draw toward wild animals for me.

At the end of the day, that’s why I pursue wildlife photography—because the subject itself fascinates me. The elements of photography that are enmeshed within that, the technical elements of cameras and lenses and digital processing, the compositional rules of visual arts, the creative desire, the goal of making a great photo, are all secondary. For me, wildlife photography is all about the subject. Taking a great, abstract, wonderfully crafted image in perfect light of a rusted pickup truck just doesn’t matter to me.

A friend, Andy, told me at a party one night, years and years ago, when we were discussing different approaches I might make to becoming a professional photographer, ‘dude, forget that sh**—shoot your passion’ . I realized then and there I’d never be a wedding photographer, a glamor photographer, a photographer of architecture, sports, etc. I’m simply not inspired by those subjects like I am wild animals. I can point my lens toward them, but I don’t really care about them. I can’t imagine I’d ever do a very good job at shooting those things, were I to give it my best whirl. They just don’t hold me the same way wildlife does.

Wildlife photography excites me, because wildlife excites me. The “photography” part of it is peripheral. Whether my camera is in hand or not, I can sit and watch a herd of caribou move over the tundra, or a bald eagle sit in a Cottonwood tree, or an elk move through the woods, and I still experience that same childlike sense of awe that I had all those years ago.

This winter I saw a wolverine. I didn’t get a chance to photograph it, but just seeing that creature was a huge thrill for me. I had seen one previously, so in just a few fleeting moments I’d doubled my wolverine sightings. This one ran right by me as I drove down the road, passing within just a few feet from my vehicle. I could count the hairs on his head.

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