Photography copyright © Darwin Wiggett. All rights reserved.
1. Let’s start with the usual question – there must have been an inflection point in your life that motivated you to transit to Nature Photography. Tell us more about how it all started.
I have always been into nature. Even as a small boy I wanted to be a ‘forest ranger’ or a ‘mountain man’. When I was in university studying to be a biologist I needed a camera to document my research. As soon as the camera got into my hand, something ‘clicked’ (bad pun, I know). I think the camera allowed me, as an introvert, to share what I saw in the world without me having to talk or draw attention to myself. The photos did all the work!
2. 25 years of Photographic experience; not a small time at all. You have seen a sea change that Photography has undergone. Most importantly film world to digital. Your thoughts?
Film or digital; it’s all the same. The tools have changed but one thing remains constant; great photographers stand out because of their personal vision. Hand any kind of guitar to Neil Young or Eric Clapton, or Carlos Santana and they will still make their unique signature music.
3. Canadian Rockies! You have portrayed it at its best. Being from a tropical geography, we are not that exposed to extreme cold conditions. What precautions do you take in handling your equipment both on field and off the field?
Mostly with the gear you just have to be careful coming in from the cold into a warm car or room.Condensation is the enemy and a cold camera hitting warm air will frost up and potentially fry the electronics. To prevent problems simply keep your camera in your zipped photo bag and let the bag warm to room temperature before bringin the camera gear out of the bag. The second biggest problem are batteries. They die fast in the cold. The secret is to keep a spare camera warm next to your body in an inside pocket. Once the battery in the camera begins to die, swap it out with the warm one. Once the warm one in the camera gets cold, the first battery in your coat will be warm and ready to put back in the camera. Swapping batteries this way will let you shoot all day even when the temps drop to -30
degrees or colder.
The gear has the least problems, the real tough thing is keeping hands and feet warm and that is a another topic entirely!
4. What is oopoomoo all about and what made you start the site ?
oopoomoo is a site that my life partner, Samantha and I started to put the fun back in the business of photography and to try to make a difference in this world. We want to protect what we love to photograph. One day, we woke up and realized that, as photographers, we were doing less creative and fun stuff and a lot of soul-sucking things to scrabble out a living. Why couldn’t we be photographers, writers and teachers but only photograph, write and teach about the things that were important to us? Why not photograph the vanishing natural areas where we live, the delicious, fresh produce of local farms and teach how to walk lighter on the Earth? oopoomoo is a way of living that seeks to balance our need to consume as part of an enjoyable life with an awareness of how very finite this blue planet is. ‘oopoomoo’ strikes just the right mix of fun, quirky and happy to describe our new approach to life. Be serious about living, but don’t take life too seriously.
5. Being a Editor-in-Chief of NPN and being exposed to hundreds of inspirational images everyday in the field of nature photography – how does it feel like to be part of such talented community and how much does it drive or motivate you in your photography work ?
Seeing so many great photos daily is a humbling experience. It keeps you from getting an ego and thinking your all that! These great photos always inspire me so that photography does not become stale. Just when I think I have seen it all, someone comes out with a fresh way of seeing.
6. You are very active in the field of Nature Photography workshops – how do you balance your time for workshops and your own personal shooting and assignments ?
It is hard to do the balancing act. Workshops and tours are demanding to set up, market and execute. They suck up tons of time. The rewards are great in helping others but it does eat into your own artistic time. I try to give myself one of two personal assignments per year to keep up on my personal artistic growth. Setting aside time for yourself is hugely important; if you don’t you’ll get burned out!
7. Unlike other Nature photographers, you also do other non nature related work. According to you,how does the vision and execution differ in different genres of photography and how do you switch context?
I have always been more of a generalist shooter. The differences in photo genres might be in tools (e.g. studio lights) but all the same rules still apply (good light, good comp, good story). Sometimes being naïve about how a certain type of photography is supposed to be done is a good thing. Naivety allows you to try things you ‘not allowed’ to do and sometimes you come away with something really fresh (e.g. shooting wildlife with a tilt shift lens, or doing flower photography with a wide angle lens, or hand-held night photography).
8. Your “Impressions” collection is very colorful and mostly abstract. How do you visualize such creations?
There is no magic there. It comes from practice. How does a musician come up with a song? They have the tools (scales, chords, notes) as an extension of themselves. The music flows inside them and they have the ability to translate that music through their tools. The same for photography. All the controls and tools need to be second nature so they do not become a barrier to seeing and expression. The more time you practice the easier it is to see abstractly.
9. Given the wide themes you cover which is your most favourite theme that you like to shoot the most? And why?
Rather than subject matter or genre, I like emotion as a theme (usually I go for wonder, joy, amazement, curiosity etc).
10. When we talk about Nature photography, it is all about technicalities, creativity and most importantly – timing. How do you rate them in order and your thoughts on it if you think any one of them supersedes the other?
Creativity is first; you can make amazing photos in crappy light (bad timing) and with crappy gear if you know how to see and are open. Second, great light can make things much easier to make wonderful photos. Lastly is the technical stuff (too many photographers give this priority number one!)
11. Since the time we have followed your work, we believe Freeman Patterson influenced you deeply when it comes to Photography. Do you mind sharing some of your thoughts on how did you come across his work and what gripped you into his work?
In 1986, when I was 25 years old I seriously got into photography and joined Images Alberta Camera Club in Edmonton, Alberta. I was undertaking postgraduate research into animal behaviour in the Department of Zoology at the University of Alberta and I bought a camera to document by my research subjects – Columbian Ground Squirrels. I remember at the time I was getting a little frustrated with biological research, because I discovered that it entailed far too much time spent in the office and not enough time outdoors. Around this time I read The Photography of Natural Things by Freeman Patterson and this book totally inspired me into ‘learning to see’. Not only did I use the camera to document my research, I also began to use it to capture what I saw around me in nature. The inspiration of Freeman’s book and with the guidance of talented camera club members, I was soon making fairly decent images. Freeman’s images captured me because they told me more about him as the artist than about the subject he was photographing. Photography was a way for him to communicate his ‘feelings’ about a subject. I found that incredible that that could be done with a camera.
12. You include a lot of man made elements amidst your Nature Photography work. Any specific reason for choosing those elements?
Sure; two reasons, they add to the story and they are everywhere. Humans have a huge impact on the earth, we can’t ignore this impact so I include it in my photos.
13. Your wife Samantha is a renowned photographer too. How much of each of your work has influenced the other?
I can only speak for myself but Samantha has hugely influenced my work. since I met her I have begun to photography less ;trophy’ landscapes and more local, more intimate, more quiet landscape. It is harder to do this well. It is pretty easy to go to a grand landscape in big light at the right time of year and make a decent shot. It is way harder to be plopped down in a local park or back alley and come away with something evocative. I love the challenge of making something from nothing. Samantha’s influence has been huge in this regard!
14. Finally, 3 most important pieces of advice you would like to share with budding Landscape photographers ?
Practice, practice, practice… nothing else will get you where you want to go than practice (gear, courses, software won’t help). Just get out and do it!
We sincerely thank Darwin Wiggett for being very patient with us despite the delays from our side and for being so kind in answering our questions. Really appreciate his time and thoughts.