20 Questions – Weldon Lee
It's my great pleasure to start out a new series on this web site with an interview with Weldon Lee. Weldon is a master wildlife photographer, published author, speaker, workshop leader, and I'm proud to say, a personal friend.
1. How long have you been a professional photographer?
Going on 30 years.
2. What got you started in photography?
My parents gave me a camera for my birthday when I was in the 3rd grade. It was plastic and featured the likenesses of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. It used 127 film and I've been shooting ever since.
3. What was it that steered you in the direction of wildlife photography?
My love for animals. I've always had animals around me ever since I can remember. e.g. dogs, a couple of pet raccoons, a pet skunk, alligator, rock dove, many different snakes, turtles, tortoises, and even catfish. I even raised and sold tropical fish when I was in high school. I remember going rabbit hunting at night with my grandfather when I was about five and six year old. He would use an old carbide head-lamp to find the rabbits. Their eyes would glow in its light. He gave me my first gun and taught me how to shoot it when I was around 7. It was a single shot .22 rifle. Although I've eaten lots of fried rabbit over the years, I quit hunting many years ago. With the up close and personal encounters I've had with my wild brothers and sisters over the years, I find it impossible to even consider shooting one of them now days. Heck, I can't even eat wild animals.
4. What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started wildlife photography?
How to locate wildlife and work them once they had been found.
5. What’s some advice you’d give to someone with an interest in wildlife photography?
First and foremost, know your subject. Not only the species in general, but the particular animal filling your viewfinder. Watch it and learn its behavior. Every marmot is different. Every moose is different. Every eagle is different. Animals are not unlike people . . . each has it own personality. Move slowly when making your approach. Initially, do not get too close. Most people rush this process, which is why I tend to prefer working alone. Once your subject gets to know you and recognize that you present no harm, more often than not, they will approach you. Our wild brothers and sisters are as curious about us as we are about them. Sometimes, I even think even more so.
6. Do you have a favorite wildlife subject?
I love them all. However, there is something very special about bears that draw me to them.
7. Do you have a favorite location?
In general, I would have to say Alaska is my favorite. I've photographed exotic hummingbirds in the cloud forests of Ecuador on numerous occasions. Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands has filled my viewfinder many times over the years. Africa is without equal when it comes to species diversity. I love photographing wildlife in Botswana's Chobe National Park, Savuti, the Okavango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve. Having said that, there is absolutely no place on Planet Earth that, for me, even comes close to Alaska. Locally, Mount Evans is my favorite location.
8. What tools do you use for image editing?
Photoshop, Nik software, and my Wacom tablet. It's my belief, that every image needs to be edited in Photoshop, or a similar program, before it's ready for public viewing. According to Ansel Adams, the negative is the composer's score and the print is the performance. What comes out of my camera is the score. Editing in Photoshop produces the performance. Any photographer not editing their images, for whatever the reason, is only fooling themselves and shortchanging their images.
9. What’s your image editing workflow?
Basically, it goes like this: camera>computer>Photo Mechanic (delete the bad, rename, add IPTC data)>External Hard Drives. Editing is typically done at a later time when a particular image is needed. This question can not be answered fully in a paragraph or two. It needs an entire article to be explained properly.
10. What lenses do you use most often, and why?
The versatility of Nikon's 80-400mm VR lens is without equal when it comes to photographing wildlife. I use this lens 99-percent of the time. Those times when a wide angle shot is called for, my 18-55mm lens does the trick. That's it!
11. Besides a camera & lens, what’s the one piece of gear you can’t do without?
My PackSeat. It weighs 26 ounces, comes with its own carrying bag that always stays attached, and folds into a compact package. Best of all, it's 21-inches high - higher than most three-legged camp stools.
I'll always have it with me when photographing elk, Sandhill Cranes, and Snow Geese. In other words, any place where there is a lot of waiting.
12. When you’re making an image, what is it you’re trying to achieve? What specific things are you trying to accomplish?
Although I love portraits, I'm always looking for action and new ways of portraying my subjects. I really love, what I call, the environmental wildlife photograph . . . an image of one of my wild brothers and sisters portrayed in the midst of a breathtaking landscape.
13. Are there any books, videos, instructional material that you would recommend to new photographers?
I very seldom read how-to photography books or magazines any more. Therefore, I'm not able to offer any recommendations along that line. However, any of the books written by Ansel Adams would certainly be worth while.
14. What’s the image you’re most proud of?
I currently have two - Winter Fury and Distant Thunder. The former features a wild horse stallion running in the snow. The later depicts a brown bear, back lit and standing alongside a stream with dark clouds overhead, indicating an approaching storm.
15. Do you have a particular “look” or style to your images?
Yes. Can I tell you what it is? No! I believe that is something others see when they view the work of an artist.
16. What’s the best piece of nature photography-related gear you have?
My Nikon 80-400mm VR lens.
17. Who were your photographic inspirations?
Leonard Lee Roo III and Erwin Bauer. I've actually had the honor to know both of these individuals. I first met Lenny many years ago in San Diego at a NANPA Summit. Joe, and his wife Peggy, were shooting in Denali when I met them. Peggy invited me into their RV where I had the opportunity to sit and talk with both of them.
18. Anyone’s work you find particularly impressive today?
I love the environmental wildlife photography of Tom Mangelsen, who happens to be a good friend. I also like some of Art Wolfe's older wildlife imagery.
19. Any embarrassing photography stories you’d be willing to share?
The only thing that comes to mind is sometimes forgetting the names of participants on my workshops. I may know them at the beginning of a workshop, but on occasion have forgotten them a few days later.
20. What’s in your camera bag?
Nikon D2xs (primary camera), Nikon D1x (backup), Nikon 80-400mm VR lens, Nikon 18mm-55mm VR lens, SB80 flash, Flash X-tender (aka: Better Beamer).