For Jon Friedman of Ashland, his lifelong dream was always to become an expert on the identification and habits of wildlife, then become a good enough professional photographer that he would "get called to jump on an airplane and go photograph leopards."
After 30 years in photography, the last half of it leading expeditions into the wild outback, Friedman has achieved both aims. "I absolutely love it," he says of his career.
Friedman takes groups all over the wild world, including Africa, Central America and South America, not just to bag pictures, but to teach people the technology of photography in the wild, as well as the "psychology of photography" — finding the soul of the animal, as he puts it.
His images of jaguars, lions, exotic hummingbirds and countless other species are stunning — and they are attained not by luck or doggedly pursuing a creature, but by a three-part shaping of one's photographic work:
1. Persevere. Be willing to work till it happens. Remember, it's just a failure till someone pays you for it.
2. Learning the technical skills of long lenses, fast shutter speeds and digital imagery. "Shoot all day long till you can feel the buttons in your sleep and the camera melts into your face and becomes an extension of how you see the world. You'll transcend the camera and start realizing the vision of what you want to show."
3. The vision thing. "Your vision is a direct reflection of your soul. I do wildlife photography to express the animals' beauty, so when they see it, people gasp at the beauty of the organism."
The vision part of photography is why Friedman takes students trekking through Central America, puts them on land rovers in Africa and fly-fishing floats in Alaska, though most of the trips come with luxury resorts in the evening.
"How do you teach someone to be an artist?" asks Friedman. "I attempt to almost teach them the psychology of photography. It's almost an emotional and technical process together. I try ultimately to teach them passion, by loving the animal and then expressing it in their picture."
When he takes people to Ecuador, Belize, Botswana and other places for intimate contact with wildlife, Friedman first evaluates clients for photographic knowledge, equipment and orientation to nature. He teaches how to choose proper equipment, how to safely approach and interact with wildlife, the theory of color, the character of light and how to capture animals in action.
For wildlife photographers in Southern Oregon, Friedman offers encouragement, but with these caveats for the wildlife:
As you become more interested in wildlife photography, you'll find yourself buying the field guides to birds and other animals, amassing knowledge and moving up to more sophisticated equipment, starting with a 500mm lens, shutter speed of 1/500 of a second or faster, the minimum required to freeze action and (necessary for the darkness of forest) an f/stop of 2.8, says Friedman.
Much of this equipment is expensive, but you can get manual focus and good used equipment at more reasonable prices, he notes.
Friedman had no special entrée to professional photography. He grew up in Middletown, Conn., loving two things — cameras and animals. He got his degree from Vermont's Marlboro College in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, earned his creds shooting the political scene in New England, then, working for Oxfam, covered a war in El Salvador.
A wildlife photography trip to Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley — and studying bird behavior and flight mechanics through binoculars — got Friedman "absolutely hooked" and that was soon followed by a job as a birding guide in Ecuador and natural history guide in Alaska's Denali National Park.
The launching of his own business, Expedition Wild (www.expeditionwild.com), came five years ago.
His personal cameras? They're Nikons, a D300 and D200, with 400mm, f/2.8 lens and "they cost more than my truck, over $10,000."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.