Wild Kingdom

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From the Editors: Howard Smith is a wildlife photographer based in California. Whether he is photographing big cats, birds or, other wildlife in their natural habitat they seem to “perform” for him.

Exclusive interview with Howard L. Smith

Howard when did you start getting into photography and what inspired you to pick up a camera?

I was introduced to photography at the age of 10 years old by my 5th grade teacher Mr. Arthur Brulette. That same year I got a Kodak Instamatic camera and a Kodak Super 8 movie camera for Christmas.  As a youngster I would photograph the family outings for my parents. However photography was a fun hobby, a joyous past time activity, music was my primary creative outlet and, it remained that way up until some 7 or 8 years ago. I no longer write or play music so I needed another creative outlet and photography became it.

Why did you choose wildlife and landscape photography?

I grew up in the Connecticut River Valley outside of Hartford, Connecticut in a small town with one high school and one movie theater. We lived a quarter mile from the river so I spent most of my time outside playing and fishing off of the river banks, hiking with friends and such so, Landscapes were a natural fit. With regards to wildlife one of my favorite television show as a kid was “Wild Kingdom”, I was fascinated with the animal kingdom so I naturally gravitated to wildlife.

Do you consider ‘getting the shot’ vs. the animal’s welfare an important question? If so how do you make decisions based on this?

First and foremost safety is paramount for both one's self and the animal. I feel very strongly that there is no shot/photograph worth endangering your life or the animal.  Therefore I try to survey the area that I'm working in to it make sure that it's safe and to insure that I'm not crowding the animal making it feel threaten or nervous. Secondly, I make sure that I have a good exit strategy in case things get a little harry.   

When intending to photograph a specific animal how do recommend preparing? How would you go about learning about the animal and what technical obstacles would you consider? Have you any specific stories?

When I'm considering photographing any animal not just a specific type of animal my go to source is the internet. There is a wealth of information that can be found on the internet on just about any thing, this includes animals. Once I've done my homework on the internet I'll seek out articles, videos and photographs by other photographers such as Moose Peterson, Art Wolfe, Art Morrison and others read about and see what they have done or have to say about a particular animal. I read books and magazines pretty anything that I can find on the animal for things like it's habits, habitat, food sources, its behavior, etc.

What has been the single most important technological improvement for your photography, and why?

For me I would have to say “metering”... If you look back 25 or 30 years ago those cameras that had built-in light meters, the meters didn't work so well and in some case not at all.  You had to carry around a hand held light meter to insure that your exposure was correct.  With today's cameras the metering systems are superb and for me its one less thing that I have to worry about carrying around.

What do you think makes a memorable landscape photograph?

Number one would have to be LIGHT! After light I would say composition because what you decide to remove from the scene is equally as important as what you decide to leave in it. The image must make the viewer want to visit the location was it was made at.  In other words it must make the view say “I want to go there!” rather than saying “I was there.”

What are your thoughts on raw images vs images that have been worked on (photoshop)?

I view Photoshop as nothing more than a tool to finish an image. Photoshop and other programs like Gimp or Lightroom has more or less replaced the wet darkroom which is where one would go to develop or finish his or her images. With that said I don't think that it should be used to fix an image. I believe that every effort should be made to get it right in camera and not take the attitude that “I'll fix it in Photoshop”. 

Is there a place you’ve shot that you would like to go back and shoot again? Why?

Yes, the area that I really enjoy spending time and making picture is Northwest Arkansas along the Buffalo river in the Ozark mountains and my favorite time of year to shot there is in the fall. During the fall the colors area very much like New England which is where I grew up however the terrain is a bit different. This rural area of Arkansas has so much to offer, wildlife is plentiful with Bears, Mountain Lions, Elk, Deer, River Otters and much more. For the landscape photographer in me there are waterfalls, mountains, lakes and of course the untamed Buffalo River.

How do you promote your work, and is it important part of your photography?

First off, I would have to admit that I am terrible at self promotion, it isn't one of my strong suits. However I try to stay active on Social Media, use my web site, exhibits and sometimes fortunate enough to get published, very rarely do I ever enter contests.

Do you think photography will change in the future and how, if at all?

Yes... I do think that photography will change as photography is no different than music or any other form of self expression.  Mankind is forever changing and therefore ideas and the tools to support those changing ideas will change too. How it will change I have no idea as its difficult at best to predict the future but, I will say this. While software has gotten increasing better at recovering highlights and opening shadows I'd like to see the dynamic range increase in camera. And yes many of today's camera have the ability to create HDR images in camera but I'm talking about increasing the dynamic range of a single exposure.  The cameras used today are extremely feature rich and with the release of the new Canon 50 megapixel 5DS and Nikon's 36 megapixel D810 we don't really need more in the way of megapixels but I do think that if the dynamic range can be increased and the cameras remain affordable for the average consumer we'd really have something to cheer able.

Thank you Howard for taking the time to do this interview.
We are happy to welcome you on board among other photographers.
Your photography is very valuable in this community and very beneficial for our readers.

Camerapixo Team

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