P. Brian Machanic: Insights on a Career in Wildlife and Nature Photography
P. Brian Machanic’s wildlife photography has been published throughout the world, and we’re privileged to have had the chance to ask the native Vermonter a few questions about his career. He offers valuable insights to aspiring wildlife photographers, and reminisces about the film era, shooting wildlife around the globe, and his personal relationship with nature.
You started Nature’s Eye Studio
back in the film-era of photography. What are the challenges you’ve experienced shooting wildlife with film versus digital?
Brian Machanic: I began serious wildlife and scenic photography over 35 years ago, prior to the advent of digital photography. As the digital industry evolved, the advantages quickly became apparent. You were exonerated from the tedium of choosing the appropriate ASA film for the project at hand and hoping that you captured the quality image(s) that you sought before the interruption of having to put in a fresh 36 frame roll of film. I can’t tell you the number of times that I missed a great image while in a film-changing interlude. Then, too, there was the huge advantage of being able to see immediately on an LCD panel the image that you had captured, rather than having to wait until you received the developed slide film back from the lab. As a corollary, it was far less expensive to shoot digitally, where you could immediately delete unsatisfactory images and make adjustments in exposure and composition before tripping the shutter again. Also, as memory cards evolved from a few hundred MB to 16 or more GB, it became possible to shoot hundreds of images on the card before storing the pictures on a remote hard drive, reformatting the card, and starting all over again. Bonanza! Gone, too, was the need to scan the print or slide film before making computerized image adjustments.
Your wildlife photography includes subjects from all over the world. Do you have a favorite place to shoot nature photography, and how does the Northeast stack up against the other places you’ve traveled when it comes to shooting wildlife?
Brian Machanic: I’ve been privileged to be able to do nature photography on many continents, and have found myself totally captivated by the subjects at hand, whether it’s a back yard hummer, a polar bear in the Arctic, or penguins in the Antarctic, etc. Nature is so diverse and exciting! From a business standpoint, magazines and stock photo agencies will accept a diversity of subject matter, and web sites facilitate the sale of the same, but there’s no question that local retail sales are largely driven by the clients’ desire to acquire images of scenes and wildlife indigenous to the area. Also, we are blessed to have a diversity of wildlife and topography here in the Northeast, and one could easily spend many years photographing just in this area. Bottom line is that you’ve got to go where the desired birds and animals are, whether it’s finding a bog in Vermont that a big bull moose is frequenting, or a river in Alaska where brown bears are gorging on salmon.
Forest Forward: Many of Forest Forward’s readers are amateur photographers and nature enthusiasts. What advice would you offer to young photographers in this field seeking a career in the profession today? How has the business changed since you established Nature’s Eye Studio in 1990?
Brian Machanic: To make a profitable business out of wildlife and scenic photography takes a great deal of devotion and willingness to cope with hardships and frustration. You have to capture top quality images and be able to merchandize them. It’s all about establishing a name for yourself. There are millions of folks out there now who are eager to see their images in print, and are clicking away with everything from cell phones to sophisticated professional gear. I’d recommend getting the best camera bodies and lenses that you can afford, since that gives you a leg up technologically. Do as much internet research as possible, both on photographic technology and techniques, as well as on recommended sites for photographing your desired subject matter. Be prepared to spend hours and days waiting for that “magic moment” when you can capture just the right pose or just the right light, etc. The adage that “patience is a virtue” certainly applies to nature photography. Also, to minimize non-productivity, be sure to know the locales that your subject matter frequents. You won’t find a ruffed grouse in a cow pasture or a bobolink in deep woods!
Forest Forward: Forest Forward’s primary goal is to share the beauty of our region’s natural landscapes and wildlife in an effort to advocate for conservation and stewardship. How has your photography career influenced your relationship and appreciation for the natural world?
Brian Machanic: Our ecology is fragile throughout the world, During the years which I’ve spent photographing nature, I’ve witnessed a progressive usurpation of both woodlands and wetlands, as well as pollution of lakes and streams. The coexistence of man and wildlife is a delicate balance. There is no question that unfettered development of land is a serious threat to wildlife. Individually, we all can play a beneficial role in protecting wildlife by curtailing littering and polluting, and by encouraging conservation. From a photographic standpoint, be respective of your subject matter. Such activities as frightening birds off their nesting sites or pursuing animals throughout their natural habitat is both disruptive and counterproductive.