Here is this week’s interview with Darwin Wiggett, well known photographer, author and teacher. His beautiful and versatile photos can be found in http://www.darwinwiggett.com. He is also the author of books on landscape photography and pet photography. His books can be found here. He has also written many articles on photography. It was his article on the Canon G9 point and shoot camera which encouraged me to take the plunge and buy one. Darwin also conducts many popular workshops. Information about these workshops can be found here.
Read on to find out a bit more about Darwin Wiggett.
SU: Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get into photography?
DW: Before I was a photographer I was a biologist and all I ever wanted to do from the time I was a boy was hang out in the wilderness with critters. I naively thought that biologists just spent all their time in the bush – boy was I wrong! As a biologist I spent about 8 months a year writing proposals, doing reports, analyzing data and only about 4 months in the field doing biology. In 1986, while doing biological research, I read “The Photography of Natural Things” by Canadian nature photographer Freeman Patterson and was absolutely amazed by the photos. I was 25 at the time and I immediately bought a Canon AE-1 program and a 50mm lens. That summer of 1986 I spent taking pictures of everything I could while doing my field research. I took dozens of rolls of print film. When I got all the stuff back I was hugely disappointed. My photos sucked! But in the stack of hundreds of photos were two pictures that were pretty good! Those few good photos spurred me on to try harder. Soon I became more interested in photography than biology and I spent all my free time taking pictures and reading about photography. After a few years of pure addiction to the hobby, I decided to try and make a living by taking nature pictures – man was I naive about how easy that would be!
SU: Your photography includes a variety of topics such as landscapes, wildlife, people, urban-scapes, pets etc. How do you go about finding a subject without getting locked into the thought mode of say “nature photographer”?
DW: I just shoot anything that interests me. I don’t limit my photography to what will sell or what others want to see. I just shoot subjects that move me. For example, on one of my photo tours we were shooting a beautiful ice-fall in the winter. Some ice climbers showed up and some of my students turned from shooting the ice-falls and began to photograph the ice climbers. Ice climbing is interesting but what I found even more exciting was a Border Collie that one of the climbers brought along with her. I photographed that dog for 40 minutes and was super pumped by the interaction with the dog and the photos I made. I like to engage with my subject and the dog was the most easily accessible and interesting subject for me to engage with at that moment. A real ‘stock’ photographer would have spent time with the climbers, and made images that were more sale able than a border collie in the snow! I shot the dog cause I loved the subject, the dog made me happy and the interaction was great. I got the name of the owner and told her I would send her some photos which I did. A month later she contacted me and told me her dog died of cancer and the photos I made at the ice-fall are among her most treasured possessions. Life is short, shoot what you love. If you can make money doing that great, if not, at least you are not wasting time doing stuff that does nothing for your soul.
SU: Can you tell me a little bit about the work-flow you use in optimizing the photographs to your vision?
DW: I have a vision of the final photo in my head the moment I press the shutter. The camera sees differently than the human eye and so often I need to manipulate the contrast of the scene to match the way we see with our eyes. Film and sensors can only record limited contrast but the human eye sees detail across a large range of contrast. I rely heavily on filters like polarizers and ND grads to help me capture scenes the way the human eye sees. Sometimes in post-production I apply further contrast control (dodging and burning or HDR techniques) to further finesse the image to make it look more like I remembered the scene. Most photographers keep too many of the photos they take. I delete 90% of the images I make. I keep only the top tier images that I think represent what I felt and saw in the field. With fewer images to work, I can spend more time to get them to look the way I remember the scene. I would rather have fewer solid images than many mediocre ones. I think many photographers would be better off by deleting more of their work to concentrate only on the best stuff.
For my work flow in post-production I use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS-3 almost exclusively. For images that have lots of saturated reds or yellows I will use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional to process the images as it does a better job with those colors than Adobe ACR.
SU: What does photography mean to you? And how does teaching photography affect your own personal work?
DW: Photography is about communicating the way I see the world with others around me. I am a shy person and I do not like to draw attention to myself. With photography I can have people look at my work and see who I am with out me having to talk to them!
Teaching is great because in the end I always learn more than my students. I get into formulas and ruts about how things photographic and students always shake up my preconceptions by thinking ‘outside the box’. Teaching workshops keeps my vision fresh and seeing people excited and inspired is contagious and gets me all excited as well. Positive energy breeds more positive energy and after a workshop I am totally pumped!
SU: You are a part of the team at www.timecatcher.com. Can you tell me a little more about the group, and how did your involvement in it come about?
DW: This is a great group of talented and totally inspiring nature photographers. I was lucky enough to be invited when a former member decided to withdraw. I see this group as a the new generation of landscape photographers that are gonna take the world by storm. I happen to be the ‘old guy’ in the group but hopefully I can live up to the reputation they have established and add some value to the group. When I look at the photos by the other Timecatchers, I am totally humbled.
SU: Any recommendations? (like Photographers, Photo techniques, Music, Books, quotes, food..anything?)
DW: Not really, I don’t think photographers should try to emulate anyone else. Rather our job is to find our own voice and our own style – you can’t do that if you just copy what others have done before you. You gotta try out lots of techniques and shoot lots of subjects to find a working method that best expresses who you are. The more you look at good photography, the better you will understand what works and what does not. This stuff is art, so there is no right or wrong – only expression. If as a photographer you are happy with what you created, that is the ultimate goal and reward.
SU: Can you mention how people interested in your work can contact you?
DW: Sure just go here: http://www.darwinwiggett.com/contact.html
For those folks interested in reading another interview of Darwin Wigget, checkout this post in Bill Lockhart’s blog.