By Suzanne Simmons
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of learning about Daniel Fox, who is a noteable up-and-coming photographer, especially of the great outdoors and the wildlife that lives in it. His latest projected, entitled The Wild Image Project, has the mission of “motivating others to alter their perspective on global issues by aesthetically presenting information and ideas to stimulate engagement, involvement and transformation.” His work has certainly been an inspiration to me with my own photography and outdoor adventures and I know it will do the same for you. Here are the first bunch of questions that Daniel answered for me. Check back in the next few weeks as we get more in depth and learn more about his amazing skills.
When did you get started with photography? Do you remember what your first camera was?
I started at quite an old age. In college, I didn’t take art classes either, beside the mandatory ones. Although my heart was one of an artist, my head was more into sciences and being serious. And that was my reality until 2 years ago, when I decided finally to follow my passion and put aside the expectations and logical things you are suppose to do in life.
I always had the travel bug though! When I was younger, my father had a 35mm Minolta. Which I took when I moved out. I kept it for a very long time. I work right now with a Nikon D80. Nothing too fancy. When I started, I didn’t have the funds to buy a high level professional camera. Nowadays, you can do incredible work with low level equipment. I won’t lie though, I am looking forward to get a D700 or D3.
I have to lift my hat to all the pioneers in exploration and wildlife photography. They were carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment and hundreds of rolls, spending so much money on experimentation, and not knowing how their photographs would come out. Today, you can buy an amateur level camera like a Nikon D40, take 500 shots a day, experiment with it, find your signature, and you haven’t had to develop anything and it didn’t cost you a dime.
Who inspired you the most when you were growing up?
Jacques Cousteau and Sir David Attenborough were my childhood heros. I spent countless of hours watching their documentaries on television. The Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was also another show I watched religiously. Documentaries back in those days were a lot different than what is seen on television today. It was all about the content, not about the characters. The idea was not to present a scripted dramatic version of what Nature is. Jacques and David saw what they did as nature journalism. They didn’t see themselves as entertainers. Their journeys of traveling the world and reporting about Nature inspired me and taught me. They showed me Life as it was, as it is.
Can you give me the short list of the equipment you currently use?
Right now in my bag, you find my SLR Nikon, an Olympus Stylus 1030 for when I want to do video on my kayak or underwater. For tripods and bags, I work with several companies testing their equipment – Tech Trek, Clik Elite, and Brunton. I use LaCie’s Rugged Portable Hard disk to store my files when I travel.
What is your favorite gadget or piece of equipment that you bring on all of your expeditions?
Beside my Apple MacBook Pro, which has been with me through everything, I would say that my Stylus Olympus is one fun gadget to have around. That thing is almost indestructible. Shockproof, waterproof, I almost lost it one time, when I jumped in a river in Argentina and it slipped out of my hand. The water was so cold and the current fairly strong! I can tell you that on that moment, everything happened in slow motion. I had a fraction of a second to realize what was happening and needed to act fast, cause the camera was both sinking and being carried away. I was able to barely catch it, right before it was getting out of reach! Ouf!
Do you have any formal training?
Nope. I have always had an eye for design though. I think the beginning of my passion for photography started when I was about 17, when I started to travel. Photography for me is not really a tool to record moments, but rather to express a vision of how I see the world. I look for symmetry and contrast. I love classical composition. I don’t crop or rotate my photographs. I will do simple editing like contrast and saturation with Adobe Lightroom, but that is it.
What advice can you offer to those readers who want to be like you when they grow up? How should they get started on a path towards your line of work?
Find what makes you happy. Don’t settle. One of the best speech I have hear in my life was the one Steve Jobs gave to Stanford graduates in 2005. He said that life was like a painting by numbers. It only makes senses at the end. You might not realize what you are doing when you are doing it, but everything happens for a reason. And when you are following your heart, when you are following what makes you alive, then trust yourself, and trust life. Jobs closed his address with a quote from Stewart Brand, that for me says it all:”Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”.
It is never too late to go back to your dreams. I am now 35 years old and turned my life around 2 years ago. I have heard so many stories of people who wake up one morning and decide to follow their passion. Look at Michele Benoy-Westmorland – after 22 years of corporate world, she made photography her career. Look where she is now. I used to be an agent for photographers and painters and saw so much talent. There is certainly no shortage of talent out there. But no one will come knocking on your door and sweep you off your feet and offer you the world. You need to get out there, promote yourself, be open to new experiments, be ready to fail, be willing to try, be dedicated to live. It is not easy, there is no secret, no magical formula, there is simply a reality, a fact, that when what you do comes from your heart, people feel and respond to it. When your passion is in the right place, the world will connect to it. And if you want photography to be your life, your career, then sit down, establish your strategy. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? How will get there? And then start putting the piece of the puzzle together. If you don’t do it, no one else will.
If you could shoot anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?
I love to go to remote place where humans have not had a dramatic impact. I like the roughness of the wild. I am above everything else an Explorer. And photography is my way to communicate to the world what I see and how I see it. For the next 10 years, The Wild Image Project will take me around the world, doing all Sub-Antarctica Islands, the Arctic, the Kuril Islands – Russian territory above Japan, the Ogasawara Islands and much more. This year, I am going back to Argentina. The Consul in NY is giving me a show in October 2010 and has asked me to go back and emphasize on endangered and threaten local species. The Fundacion Vida Sylvestre and Parques Nacional will be helping by providing me access to protected area and giving me trackers and guides.
You have an incredible list of very awesome sponsors. How did you make those connections?
It used to be called cold calling. In other words, once you have your strategy, start contacting the people you want to work with. When I had the project laid down, I worked with someone to create my first sponsorship proposal. You have to know where your strengths and weaknesses are. Business talk is not my “forte”. But companies need to be talked in a way they understand and which make sense to them. It also shows them that you are serious about what you are doing. Once again, don’t settle, don’t wait for it to come to you. But also, don’t harass them – the line is really fine, but doable. And one important thing, you need to find your niche, you need to distinct yourself from the pack. You need to present something that is beyond your sport, or your work. I was having a conversation with one of my sponsors the other day. She told me that if she had another person asking for equipment simply to break another record, she would throw a tantrum. In other words, companies today are looking for people that are bringing something more to the table. You need to have longevity. Breaking a record is short term thinking, until the next one breaks it. Try make the world a better place with what you do. Then you will get some long term stable attention.
Some of the shots you have of wildlife, such as the one of your front page of your website, seem to be taken in dangerous situations. How do you handle those situations?
The female elephant seal on my website actually was not taken during a dangerous situation. There was a group of 3 females in front of me, and they played together for while, and one made a move which another didn’t like. There was a little quarrel and then everything came back to normal. I don’t impose myself with the animals. I don’t also force a photograph. I crawl on my stomach, and try to get close. It takes usually about an hour, an hour and half. Then the animals start to accept you. It is crucial that you need to be able to read their body language. And you must know when to stop. Remember that animals are extremely physical. They might not want to attack you, but their ways of telling you to get away might be enough to send you to the hospital. Also, you have to master your fears. The animals feel and feed on your emotions. Show respect but not fear.
What has been your favorite animal that you have photographed? Why?
I like strong animals. I am a big fan of predators. In fact, in any documentaries, I have always cheered when the predator caught his prey. There is a sense of depth, of awareness, a sense of intelligence that I love in them. You can see it in their eyes. Predators must relay on strategy to survive while prey subsist on numbers – the faster they can reproduce, the better it is. Predator’s survival is part struggle and genius success. Their hunting attempts fail most of the time, yet, they have to find ways to get it done, otherwise they die.
Whatever animal I photograph, I tried to portray its spirit. I try to see beyond – I try to relate, I try to communicate. That is why I focus a lot on the eye. Eyes say so much.
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