Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Working Free . . . With A Camera

I recently received a copy of my New Zealand buddy's newsletter. Brian Morris and I have been friends for a lot of years and I'll tell the story of how we met one day in the future. But, Brian owns a correspondence school from his home and office near Auckland. He usually keeps me up to date with his doings and that of many of his students through this newsletter.

As a side note, I might point out that my son is a graduate of Brian's photo and travel journalism course and is currently working his way around the world using his Internet skills (he's been a highly paid professional Web designer since he graduated high school) and his writing and photographic skills he gained from Brian's course, to work free as he explores the world.

That being said, this article from a recent issue illustrates how a man and a camera working free at something he loves has made an exciting life for himself.

There is a moment when you become a real photographer

by Brian Morris
Graduates Club Newsletter #812
Reproduced for educational purposes.

Just as we recall where we were when we heard the news about John Kennedy, Neil Armstrong or Princess Diana, there is also a moment when you become a real photographer.

Thomas Mangelsen (no link with NZIBS) had photographed lions in African game reserves, but he had never seen a cougar in the wild. That changed for him on 14 February 1999 when a friend telephoned to say, “There's a female cougar with two cubs in a cave at Jackson, Wyoming. Come quickly, and bring your camera.”

As soon as Mangelsen got there he began taking telephoto shots from 100 metres away. (Nikon F5, 800mm lens, with 2x and 1.4x teleconverters.) He needed two tripods to steady his assembly.

That was a lot of glass” he said, “so the images weren't as sharp as I'd have liked.”

But Mangelsen was at the point where he became a real photographer.

Once the word got around hundreds of people came to photograph the cougar and her cubs. But it was Mangelsen alone who returned to the butte every day for 43 days, taking dozens of photos, inching ever closer. When he wasn't actually photographing the cougars he was immersing himself in the biology of mountain lions. He became an expert on cougars.He and local writer Cara Blessley produced a book of images featuring the Jackson lions as they became known, called 'Spirit Of The Rockies'. They founded and funded an organisation to protect the natural environment of all wild animals, but especially the cougars.

Mangelsen now spends about 60 percent of his time working on the wildlife fund projects. “People want to banish the cougars for safety reasons. They cite 18 human deaths due to cougars since 1890. But 26 people were killed (in USA) by dogs in 2001 alone" he replies. ”We have to keep things in perspective."

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Besides his wildlife preservation efforts, Mangelsen also speaks up passionately on the artistic ethics of wildlife photography.

For instance, he now refuses to photograph wild animals in game farms. “Yes, it's so much easier to get closeups of carnivores after some keeper has jerked them out of a cage, sat them on a rock and manipulated them with a cookie to strike a vicious pose." But he refuses to take the easy way.

He also objects strongly to wildlife photographers who digitally manipulate their images.

The crux of the matter is people stop believing what they see in pictures" he says. So Mangelsen never ever manipulates his images. What you see is exactly what he photographed.

To take great wildlife photographs is all about preparation. Building the right blind (maimai) so it looks natural. Then sitting and waiting for your one chance at a great photo to come."

Mangelsen's natural yet artful approach to making wildlife images was recognized when he became BBC Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 1994.

One of his most popular images '
Catch Of The Day' features a salmon leaping into the jaws of an Alaskan brown bear. This resulted from Mangelsen waiting beside the Brooks River in Alaska for many, many days. He knew the shot he wanted and he waited patiently until he got it.

He uses a 600mm telephoto for small birds and distant animals. A 17-35mm zoom and a 28-70mm zoom for nearby animals and landscapes. He also takes a 80-200mm zoom and a 300mm telephoto with extenders.

I rarely crop an image. Not because I'm against it but I do my cropping when I frame my shot. I'll choose a particular lens and move myself to get a better angle.”

His advice to wildlife photographers is to learn about the species they are photographing. Know the habitats the animals prefer. “If I get a great shot somewhere I remember the date, the place and the time. Then I can go back sometime in the future and expect to see great things again.”

Mangelsen is a professional photographer. He sells his images as framed prints from 16 gallery shops. The salmon and bear shot alone has earned him more than $2.5million. His other shots also sell well. That's how he can afford to be away from home for six months of each year.


A good example of living and working free – and earning an exceptional income at the same time.



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