Insert owl cliche here…

ISO200, 170mm, Aperture Mode, f/4.5 (-0.7 EV), 1/500 sec.

During one of the days of the photo summit I recently attended in Jackson, WY we weren’t getting any good elk photos so the leader got in touch with the Teton Raptor Center in Wilson, WY.  He arranged for the founder, Roger Smith, to graciously open up his facility to a dozen or so photographers and display a few of the residents they use for education.  Roger is very enthusiastic about the birds and the work being done by the Center, and spent well over an hour with us talking about their habits, pointing out cool things about each one, and generally being a great host.  If you’re ever in the area be sure and stop by.

The Great Horned Owl above was the first raptor he displayed for us and she was just great.  I’ve never been this close to any owl before (probably none of us had) and it was fascinating to see the details of her feathers and look into those big eyes.  She had quite a personality, and because she was with us the longest, I think we all found her the most interesting character of all the raptors we saw.

After holding her for a bit and describing owl physiology to us, Roger put her on a stand in the sun so we could continue photographing her.  This, of course, led to an immediate paparazzi crowd.

ISO200, 50mm, Aperture mode, f/5.6 (-0.7EV), 1/500 sec.

NANPA Summit, Day 3

Started out the day with a fabulous presentation on a European nature conservation program starting this year called Wild Wonders of Europe. The sub-theme is Unseen, Unexpected and Unforgettable; the sponsors found that citizens of Europe are significantly unaware of the natural beauty around them. Their program has been to enlist 30-40 professional photographers across the continent to create beautiful images showing the success stories of natural recovery as well as the still threatened habitats and animals. To see the images and learn more about the program click on the link above.

Our next session was all about digital photography after dark: tricks, techniques, tools and methods. The photographer showed us images created using light-painting, time-lapse, star trails, moonlight and car headlights. Pretty simple techniques that deliver very interesting and beautiful photographs, without a great investment in equipment.

After lunch enjoyed a session with Darrell Gulin on five critical aspects of successful photography. Darrell makes wonderful and creative images for stock, travel, editorial and landscape, and he’s a fun motivating speaker. As a Canon Explorer of Light he’s very knowledgeable about their range of products and how to use them effectively. Visit Darrell’s site here to experience some of his work.

Last event of the day was the closing presentation and it was fitting to end a meeting of a group with so much potential to influence change. Joel Sartore was named NANPA’s outstanding nature photographer of the year today and tonight he shared his career story. You can read about him and see his work here. Starting as a graduate of the University of Nebraska, to a Kansas newspaper, onto a National Geographic photographer and all the stories he’s worked on to tell their stories. He’s seen a lot of the results of man’s impact on the environment and it’s obviously had an impact on how he thinks about his work, now and in the future. Appropriately, he challenged a group of nature photographers to use their craft to aid conservation where they live, echoing several speakers’ words that the time for powerful visual images in support of global change has never been more apropos. This has been a very satisfying meeting, my first with this organization. I’ve enjoyed the smaller, more collegial size of the gathering and especially the approachability of the stars of nature photography. In a profession full of individuals exploring their own paths to story telling, it’s reassuring to find a forum for collective learning, encouragement, and relationship building.

NANPA Summit, Day 2

Started out the day with an address by George Lepp, professional photographer and printer extraordinaire.  He reminded us that our technology has always been changing, even when it appears to be the same day after day.  His challenge to all is to embrace the change, incorporate elements that fit our unique view of the world, and optimize our images to stand out from the crowd.  He impressed everyone with an image he made by stitching 66 images together using HDR and panoramic tools, which he then printed on at 60” wide by 15 foot long print.  With startling detail.  Simply amazing.

As part of the business track the next session was titled “Who are you and why should I do business with you?” which was a chance to focus on professional portfolios – what to put in them, how to design them, their uses in an overall marketing plan.  In spite of all our online connection with the world, it’s still important for potential buyers to have a tangible, physical example of your work in their hands for review.  The presenters were a dentist to turned to fine art photography less than 10 years ago and is showing in several galleries now, and an artist advisor who counsels photographers on their overall marketing plans.

Afterwards I attended a brief display of a set of software tools that work in conjunction with Photoshop to develop and enhance photographs.  Very impressive.  The company has several patented image processing tools that make image work faster, more precise and creative.  I was so impressed I purchased the whole suite.  Can’t really expect to stand out from the crowd if I’m using tools commonly used by the crowd.

At times it does feel like I’ve just entered the photography profession only to see it receding away from me at light speed.  Digital has unleashed so much new technology across the industry that I’m convinced an individual is incapable of keeping up with it.  Hardware, software, media, tools, etc. are showing up on the market at the rate of early personal computer days – daily it feels like tried and true tools and practices become obsolete while the learning curve of replacements guarantees you’ll find yourself behind the next essential must-have toolkit.  Right now I’ll swim with the current as best I can until I can nail down my style and the specific toolbox needed to present it effectively.

This really came to a head in the next presentation on video for photographers.  Not only are the basics of video different from still photography, but technology changes ensure that only those people immersed in this daily will be able to claim they are capable.  I’m still unsure whether video will improve appreciation of still images or whether still images will improve the quality of video.

The day closed with presentations around a conservation theme and how photographers are making a difference in policy decisions.  The power of visual images harkens back to William Jackson and Thomas Moran with their images of Yellowstone, the Tetons and Grand Canyon – works that influenced the creation of the US national park system.  In this regard, technological change reinforces the message of pictures used to promote conservation.  By linking the message of words with images across the network of the internet, photographers can enlist previously unheard voices in protest of poor economic and political actions in the mission of protecting and reclaiming our stewardship of the earth.

NANPA Summit, Day 1

This is my first “convention” attendance as a photographer so I picked the organization that’s most representative of my interest of outdoor photography.  This group holds a Summit each year in a different location, holding workshops, seminars, product demonstrations and a product expo, all geared toward photographers creating images of the outside world.

Today’s session started with a keynote address by Phil Borges – Documenting Issues and Solutions.  He’s a dentist who practiced for a decade or so and then turned to photography.  He said his work was commercial for about three years but then he wanted to do more, use his images to advocate for causes both natural and human.  His presentation discussed books he’s published about cultures and their place in the environment, stories he’s telling of how civilizations change as they collide and the impact it has on individuals.  He said his goal is to personalize to the individual level.  His images are beautiful portraits of people, tinted to focus the viewer’s attention on the person and detailed to connect the viewer intimately.

My next session was Katherine Feng describing her path from amateur to professional, and the way her journey has brought her to new places.  She’s building her niche with photographs of China – culture, people, environment, wildlife.  She admits that China is a pretty big niche so she focuses her work on those specific areas, showing how they interact for good or bad.  As a veterinarian her interest goes to animals so she has amazing photographs and videos of panda’s at a research institute in northwestern China.

Next was more business focused – what is this stock photography thing and how can it work for me?  Three agency representatives showed examples of outdoor photography currently selling from their shops, discussed how they look for photographers and clients, and went over some details on how to present to them so the work gets noticed.  With thousands of people submitting to stock on the web and professional photographers having personal relationships with agency decision-makers, this feels like both a good and difficult opportunity to grasp.  It is another way to get images out for consideration, and possibly income.

Finally, a brief discussion and slideshow about photographing in the Galapagos.  The gist of the presenter’s message is animals there generally aren’t afraid of people, so leave the long lenses at home and prepare to get up-close and personal with a wide range of tropical wildlife.  They recommended going with a small photography tour in order to have more time to shoot and not be crowded or pressed for time.  Got me excited and interested in a place I’d never considered going to, especially when they showed photographs of birds sitting on their hands and sea lions coming up to nose around their ankles.

Many side opportunities to just look at people’s images and get involved.  Several photos were displayed and attendees were asked to submit captions for them – funny captions.  A door prize was offered to encourage participation but I think most photographers would rise to the challenge regardless of incentive.  At the end of the day 12 or so photographers gave 3 minute presentations of their work around a common theme provided by the Summit.  It was great to see the range of people exploring distant, exotic locales as well as their back yards and local parks.