Kevin's love for the outdoors drove him from his blue-collar hometown of Buffalo, NY to the mountains of Steamboat Springs, CO. His keen eye for stunning wildlife and landscape imagery is inspiring. We got in touch to learn more about him and his creative process.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started in photography.
My initial interest in photography was in high school when I took an image of a Great Egret hunting in some wetlands in southern California with a disposable camera. The pure white of the Egret contrasted so well with the vivid green of the wetlands that it amazed me I could get that with a disposable camera. I still have the image somewhere in my desk. About 15 years after that image, I started to shoot photos again of wildlife. I purchased a small point and shoot and was impressed with the quality but the zoom was minimal. I then upgraded to a professional camera and a landscape lens. While photographing beautiful landscape opportunities I realized how much wildlife I was encountering. This prompted me to purchase a telephoto lens and the opportunities it opened up was impressive. I began traveling around the country in search of wildlife in natural environments and was soon addicted to the rush of capturing a moment of an animal surviving in nature. The addiction drives my daily routines and travel plans. I truly enjoy sharing my images with others as so many people are unable to travel or get out in nature as much as I can.
What is it that draws you to wildlife photography?
Wildlife photography is truly my passion. I am often approached to shoot various types of subjects other than animals. (people, weddings, real estate, babies, products, food, etc…) I turn those proposals down because there is nothing like photographing a wild animal in its natural environment. Each animal has a particular set of skills that allows them to survive in the wild. I am truly impressed with those skill sets and enjoy being able to study and watch those skills in action. Being able to learn the habits of an animal allows me to obtain better images of the subject. Sometimes, I am able to predict a pounce, a jump or some other indicator that allows me to capture a unique image. One of the biggest draws to wildlife photography is the reward I feel when locating an animal in the wild. Taking a long sunrise hike into a remote area alone is truly therapeutic for me. I'm often accompanied by my black lab, Sawyer. He has become so accustomed to seeing wolves, moose, elk, bobcats, etc… he has become my trusted partner. When we are able to locate an animal during one of our hikes, we both feel a sense of accomplishment. Once the animal is located, the fun begins as we attempt to capture an image.
What advice do you have for becoming a better photographer?
I'm always happy to share what I can with others about how to get better or more unique images. There is no secret to getting my images. I receive questions almost daily about how I got an image. I often sarcastically say, "Not from the couch". Then, I usually explain the story behind the image, which is what I enjoy most. Once the client or friend realizes the amount of time and effort I put into the photo, they appreciate it more.
I recently completed my fourth trip to California to obtain a bobcat image. I spent about a week each time from sunrise to sunset attempting to obtain a unique image of a bobcat. The moment finally happened on the last trip and the photo has been a client favorite ever since. I'm not able to share a lot of tips about photoshop or settings or technical stuff. Those are not my strong points as a photographer. I process my images very quickly and often send to print the same day. I certainly take the time to read up on all my gear and understand what all the settings are for, but I don't stress about the little details/settings. Just shoot!
From a technical aspect you need to learn your camera without having to look at it. When you have a subject in the frame you need to be able to change the settings such as exposure or shutter speed without looking down. This WILL create better images. If you're able to keep your eye on the subject and change your settings by feel, it increases your chances of capturing the special moment.
The only way to get incredible natural/wild images is to get outside and explore. I get up early and stay out in the field late looking for those truly amazing moments that happen in nature everyday. The more time you spend outside you more you'll see. I focus on certain subjects at certain times of the year. In Steamboat, the bears are currently enjoying a wet summer season and the berries are in full bloom. I'm conscious about where there are good berry patches and I focus my efforts on those areas which increases my chances of seeing and photographing them.
You have to be able to adapt and get out of your comfort zones often to find new species. I guess the bottom line is figuring out what animals you'd like to photograph, study where their habitat is and then be prepared to spend as much times as possible in their environment.
Walk us through your creative process. What happens before you click the shutter?
My creative process starts long before the image is taken. It starts with reading about a subject, researching where they live, scouting areas, looking at others images of the animal and making a plan on how to obtain the image I'd like. My goal is not only to photograph wildlife but to present in a manner that others have not seen before. Displaying an image of a bobcat is fun, but displaying an image of a bobcat doing something very few - if anyone - has ever seen before, is exciting. Once the homework is done I get out in the field and start searching for the animals. This may involve looking for tracks or signs on a tree, broken limbs and sounds. If everything works out, I'm able to find the subject and get into a position to photograph.
I often snap a few shots just to have documentation. Sometimes you only get one second and one chance. If the animal accepts your presence, then you can get more creative. This is when I start to look at the sun angle, background, foreground and anything else that will enhance the image. I feel too many photographers try to get too close to animals and they lose sight of the moment. Often the best photos are those that show the whole picture, not just the close up. Not only does the image get enhanced, the impact on the animal is less. I am truly a purist when it comes to obtaining my images.
I only photograph animals in the wild and without any baiting, calling or the use of hounds to track them. This allows me to be more focused and creative when I'm with an animal and the story I share with clients is that much better. It's unfortunate the amount of publications today that print images of captive or baited animals. Most consumers think those images are wild and most likely wouldn't support the image if they knew the creative process behind the image or lack thereof.
Do you have any upcoming workshops, books etc?
I'm currently working on a new book which will feature images and the stories behind them from Alaska to New York. I hope to have that out in 2015. We are also working on a new series of images that will focus on the other side of wildlife photography. It will be called the "Hunger Collection". These images will not be the mainstream images one usually sees in a gallery. They will be images that show how difficult nature can be. The survival of the fittest might be a good way to describe the collection. I am currently on permanent display at 509 Lincoln in Steamboat Springs, CO.
During the next 3 months, Kevin will also be traveling to Canada and California with hopes of obtaining some new species, including a spirit bear, lynx and grey fox. You can find more images and info about Kevin on his website.