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Interview by Inga Yandell

The delightful abandon experienced in the ‘open wild’, sadly vanishes when we return to our reality of work and society. But, it is possible to resurface that ‘feeling of freedom’ through photographs which capture the tranquil abundance of nature. Wildlife photographer Richard Badger reflects this sentiment with visually engaging images that connect people to the raw beauty and serenity of the wild - in essence his images express ‘a conversation with mother nature’.

How did your photographic journey begin? I have had an interest in photography since my late teens. For six years, while I was in school, I worked summers in the Olympic National Park in Washington State. I would spend a week or two at a time in the back country working trails and, occasionally, fire fighting. I carried an old and not very sophisticated camera with me most of the time.

Although I really did enjoy the process of picture taking, I obviously didn’t understand much about what I was doing as I took a lot of really bad photographs. For the next three decades my career as a veterinarian and my family consumed all of my time and I almost never picked up a camera.

Ten years ago, as I began to ease out of my veterinary career, I purchased my first SLR and began taking photography workshops. One thing led to another to the point that now photography devours a large percent of my time.

What do you love about wildlife as a subject focus? Prior to my venture into photography I was a veterinarian. As with most in that profession, I choose the career because of my love and my empathy for animals. It was only natural that, as a photographer, I would continue to seek out the animal world. I would like to believe that my emotional attachment to wildlife has made me a better photographer and is reflected in the images that I capture.

Do you adjust your skill set, equipment or style to accommodate other mediums (landscape, travel)? Of course, there are the obvious differences in equipment. Long telephoto lenses, fast frame rate and a really good autofocus are big pluses with wildlife photography. For landscapes, a good wide angle lens is important while frame rate is not. I don’t care too much about the speed or sensitivity of the autofocus since I usually manually focus my landscape images. A good tripod is particularly important with landscape and macro photography (though I use a tripod or other means of camera support for a large majority of my wildlife images as well). Knowledge of the concept of “depth of field” is most important with landscapes although useful with all types of photography.

With travel photography it is most important to be mobile and, when photographing people, not too conspicuous. Most of my travel photography is done with one small zoom lens. This is also the one time that I don’t always use a tripod. Once people know that you are photographing them all spontaneity is gone. I have learned the hard way that vacations and “good” photography don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

It is difficult to have the kind of patience one needs when non- photographers are impatiently waiting and, by its nature, most vacation exploration is during the worst time of the day to obtain a good photograph.

Wildlife encounter’s can be sudden and intense. Sometimes there just isn’t a lot of time to prepare. This is when it is particularly important to know your equipment very well. When doing wildlife one must be mentally and technically prepared for a fast response. I have missed many a good shot by not being fast enough on the trigger either because I wasn’t paying enough attention or because my camera wasn’t set up correctly.

What is your most treasured wildlife encounter? I traveled with some friends into the Great Bear Rain Forest of British Columbia, Canada in search of the Spirit Bear, the only white, black bear (not an albino) in the world.

I was prepared to be disappointed as I understood that this bear could be very elusive and I felt that I would have to be lucky to get a worthy image of one. We hired a native guide, who took us to an island known for having a population of Spirit Bears.

We followed the guide up a small river for about a mile where we set up our gear along the river bank and waited. Although our guide seemed fairly confident that we would eventually see a Spirit Bear, all of the bears that we initially saw were black. As time went on, I became apprehensive.

However, the guide’s confidence was proved justified as he quietly pointed downstream to our first Spirit Bear. The bear was leisurely working its way up the river, fishing for salmon. We watched as the bear lunged into the shallow river, caught a fish and devoured it not 100 feet from us. Over the next few days, we had several encounters with the Spirit Bear.

In the end, I came away with many hundreds of images, many of which were taken at close range. The Spirit Bear is sacred to the native people of The Great Bear Rain Forest and I was honored to be able to witness and to photograph this beautiful animal.

Any ‘to-close-for-comfort’ encounters? My only really nervous moment occurred in my youth, while I was working in the woods. I was charged by a black bear which came within a few feet of me before stopping.

Convinced it had scared me half to death (it had indeed) the bear slowly turned and walked away. Fortunately for me, it was a “false charge” but had I tried to run from the animal, things may have ended differently.

As a photographer I am very careful not to get so close to wildlife that I interfere with their life, or trigger another incident.


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