An Interview With David Middleton
Forest Forward is proud to introduce a new series of posts. In between our usual close-up encounters with northern New England’s wildlife, we’ll be talking with photographers, environmentalists, naturalists, and more. Our organization’s focus is to capture the beauty of our landscape and its natural inhabitants in an effort to inspire our followers to be conservation-minded stewards. We hope to teach a thing or two about wildlife along the way.
We couldn’t have asked for a more fitting guest to kick this series off. David Middleton is one of the area’s most accomplished and respected outdoor photographers and naturalists. He has produced 10 books and has guided hundreds of photography workshops around the world. In the world of photography David is a master of his craft, but he likes to think of himself as a story-teller and he does this brilliantly through the images he produces, the lectures he delivers and the workshops he teaches. He also has a terrific blog which showcases his writing skills along with his photographic technique.
Some Advice From David
Chris Mazzarella for Forest Forward: Forest Forward tries to spread its coverage around the region to expose both the beauty and fragility of our forests and its inhabitants. Trying to cover new ground often leaves me starting from scratch when scouting my next shot. What is the best approach to planning a photo shoot in unfamiliar territory, whether it be wildlife or scenic?
David Middleton: Information is everything. I am a very serious information junkie. The more information I have before I photograph the better my photography will be. I get information from all kinds of sources: local post cards and calendars, locals themselves, ranger offices, other photographers, magazines as well as in books and on the web. You must remember that when I am out taking pictures I am doing so with a purpose- I have particular images I am looking for. This allows me to ask very specific questions and get the answers I need. I am also a serious forest junkie having wandered forests all over the world. Consequently, I have a pretty good idea when I get to a forest what is going on and what the possibilities are going to be. If I am not happy I’ll keep moving until I find what I am looking for.
Forest Forward: Vermonters take great pride in the beauty and specialness of our state. You’ve traveled all over the world and have chosen to make this your home. How do you think Vermont stacks up photogenically against the places you’ve traveled and did this influence your decision to move here?
David Middleton: When I left Colorado to move to Vermont my photography friends all asked me what I was possibly going to photograph back east. They all thought that nature and wildlife could only be found out west. I figured that with that attitude there would be very little competition back east. I was right. Vermont is special because Vermonters embrace nature on a daily basis. We have snakes in our basements, mice in our walls, birds in the eaves and deer, raccoons and bears rummaging around our back fields. This makes it easy to photograph wildlife and nature in Vermont- it is everywhere! When I did my first book on Vermont- The Nature of Vermont- my neighbors were my biggest source of information for shots. They told me about the trilliums in their woods, the weasel in the woodpile, the owl at the birdfeeders the lady slippers up the hill. It is the nature of Vermonters to embrace nature. It is the nature of Vermont.”
Forest Forward: I’ve noticed that when discussing photography you’re often describing the characteristics attributed to film but I haven’t heard your opinion on shooting digital. Do you think there is something sacrificed when shooting with a DSLR?
David Middleton: The advantages of DSLR are well known now but seldom do people consider the disadvantages. To me, the biggest one is the apparent ease and immediacy of digital photography. We all get seduced by the quick results and by the apparent power of the computer to fix anything. But we forget that we still have to get a good picture— digital photography lulls us into laziness—we lose our craftmanship. With instant results at no cost we just shoot and don’t think. And then when we get something that is not quite right we think the computer will fix anything. Photography is still the process of capturing light and then processing it just like in the old film days. The best photography is when the best capture is combined with the best processing. Laziness is not part of this equation. It is still hard work despite how easy DSLRs seem to make it.
Forest Forward: We know that you are a pro when it comes to composing a shot. In one of your recent blog posts you say ”If you find the best place to take your picture, a step to either side will make it worse.” When it comes to photographing wildlife however, a subject can be unpredictable and fleeting. What advice can you give for composing the best shot when your opportunity is brief and your moving target controls the backdrop?
David Middleton: I don’t believe that the animal controls the background. If that were the case it would be very hard to get a really nice wildlife photo. When I am shooting wildlife I control the background based on how I approach the animal I am photographing. Moving or not, I will only approach an animal from an angle that allows for a good background. Why would I approach an animal from an angle that was going to give me a bad background? Then again, if I don’t see an acceptable background I won’t take the shot. Bad background, bad photo, no exceptions. BTW, I also usually don’t bother with wildlife that is fleeting, the chances of getting a good shot are too slim.
Forest Forward: I am working very hard to expand Forest Forward’s following and share photos with a wider audience. What’s your best advice for gaining traction within the genre of wildlife photography?
David Middleton: First, write. Writing will immediately set you apart from 99% of other photographers. Combining words with images will make it much easier to get your work seen. Editors will love you because you are making their lives easier. Also work the local and regional markets. Your ego will want to head to the big national markets but the competition is too steep. Write and work locally/regionally- you’ll do well.
More From David
David has three upcoming Santa Fe Workshops —The Oregon Coast, Vermont Fall Color, and The Maine Coast. For more information on David, his workshops, his many books, and his wonderful blog please visit his website: davidmiddletonphoto.com
Here’s a sneak peak at the 2012 Santa Fe Workshops: