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Monday, October 1, 2007

The Wild Life

Heather Angel got her start as a biologist photographing whales and has become one of the leading nature photographers of the past quarter-century, communicating her enthusiasm for the natural world through her writing, workshops and lectures

the wild life
Travertine terrace at Huanglong, Sichuan, China, a World Heritage Site.
Outdoor Photographer: You’ve seen nature photography evolve over the years. In your view, how has it changed?

Angel: When I turned freelance in the early 1970s, being a nature/wildlife photographer was a novel occupation. In the early days, few clients used 100% color reproductions. If they wanted black-and-white, they either requested monochrome prints or converted color transparencies. For many years, we spent a huge amount of time pulling transparencies, doing tight edits for clients. Now, with digital supply, our post and courier bills have plummeted, but the deadlines have become tighter and tighter.

The heyday for me was the 1980s when neither royalty-free images nor direct downloads via e-commerce sites had been invented. Then when large stock agencies with mega-websites offered instant downloads 24/7, they had the edge over small specialist sites, even those with searchable databases. Micro-payment sites such as iStock, which sells images from as little as $1 per shot for low-res files to $15 for high-res files, was initially used by web designers, but it has now been discovered by editorial outlets.

In recent years, easy travel and digital photography have made working in far-flung locations such as Antarctica much easier for not only pro nature photographers, but enthusiasts as well, with the result the world is now awash with good-quality nature images.

But I’ve never put all my eggs in one basket and relied solely on image sales for my income. Writing articles and books helps me fuel ideas for new images, while running photo workshops and lecturing to university students keeps me in touch with photo enthusiasts.

Outdoor Photographer:
What do you see as challenges for the younger generation? What advice would you give?

Anyone looking to make a mark in nature photography today needs to come up with an original approach or else produce an in-depth coverage of a region or a species. Otherwise, their work will not stand out amongst the plethora of nature images up on the Internet.

Organize your workflow to ensure speedy retrieval of images. Be sure to back up both on location—on a laptop, burn DVDs or download to an external hard drive—and back up the keepers after editing. Complete IPTC fields in the metadata of the photo so the information travels with the image. This not only identifies the copyright owner, but also provides useful information for the user. More and more stock agencies are making this an obligatory requirement for image submission.

Outdoor Photographer:
How has your photography evolved over the years?

Originally, I captured nature as I saw it. Now, given the time and opportunity, I will visualize a more creative approach, such as panning moving animals to achieve creative blur, framing a subject askew, popular for advertisements, or shallow depth of field for soft-focus effects.

Given a choice, I prefer to work on location where I can take wildlife and plants in their natural habitat. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve departed pre-dawn only to be confronted with a bank of gray clouds, but I never lose that sense of anticipation, which drives me to at least give it a try. Then, on those rare occasions when everything gels—the lighting and the animal in the right place at the right time—that’s what excites me.

the wild life
From Left:
King parrot silhouette at dusk, Lamington National Park, Australia. Hoverfly feeds on lily pollen. Captive-bred giant panda walking in natural habitat beside the Pitiao River with reflection in pool, Wolong, Sichuan Province, China.

Outdoor Photographer: China seems to be one of your favorite places to work.

Since 1984, I’ve worked in China countless times, and I’m currently working on three books associated with Chinese wildlife, including my third on pandas. I’ve already made three trips to China this year, with another three planned.

It’s such a vast country and spans such a wide latitude, from 18°S to 53°N. I can only cover a few locations on a single trip. I’ve worked in tropical rain forests in south Yunnan close to the Laos border and on Hainan Island, as well as in amazing bamboo forests, high-altitude travertine terraces even more colorful than those at Yellowstone, and caves and mountains.


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