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Featured Photographer:
Charlie MacPherson

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  January 4, 2011 12:00 PM

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We usually feature just amateur photographers in this space, but I'm making an exception for Charlie because I want to use this venue to introduce him to the RAW crowd: He has graciously agreed to write tipsheets for us on a regular basis. Watch for his work in both the Gigabytes section and the Tipsheets section on the RAW homepage.

I got my first whiff of photography as a teenager when I discovered my Dad's Argus C3 "brick" camera -- and it was love at first sight!

Argus C3The camera gave me a new way to explore the world around me. It was like a new set of eyes that helped me to see things in everyday life that I had never looked at with more than a passing glance.

Flowers, landscapes, people, drag racing, coins, lighthouses, aircraft, fishing boats, buildings, and trees all became the subject of my early work in photography. I studied as much as I could and was even teaching small photography classes by the time I was 18 -- something I still enjoy greatly.

But somehow, I hadn't really found my calling in photography. I'd shoot nearly anything, but had the sense that there was something more. I just didn't know what it was.

Fast forward to a few decades later, wandering along a nature trail on Cape Cod with my camera in hand. Hearing a sound in the tree next to me, I turned and shot -- almost without thinking. As dumb luck would have it, I nailed a shot of a black-capped chickadee starting to take off. Eyes sharp, wingtip blur that looked terrific -- in an instant, it dawned on me that I found that something more -- wildlife photography.

Growing up as a city kid from Jamaica Plain, I had always thought that wildlife was meant for other people. Surrounded by asphalt and buildings, the only wildlife I saw were squirrels and pigeons, and that assumption followed me into adulthood.

Great EgretBut that chickadee was a wake-up call! I realized that if I put my mind to it, I could actually find and photograph wildlife -- and I was determined to do it.

Since that time, I've traveled thousands of miles across the US and Canada shooting wildlife wherever I could find it, but have developed a specialty in birds. Now mind you, I'm not a birder. I don't keep a life list of birds under my pillow. But I've found that capturing images of birds in the wild challenges every aspect of my skills and equipment.

I've hiked trails, bushwhacked, climbed mountains, and crawled through the woods more times than I can count. I've driven across the Rockies in both the US and Canada, photographed Yellowstone, and have even driven 23 hours north to Chisasibi -- the northernmost road-accessible point in Quebec -- all in pursuit of great images.

My professional work includes commercial shoots for large clients including Dunkin' Brands and Banker & Tradesman as well as many smaller companies. I shoot architecture, location portraiture, advertising, and product photography and really enjoy every shoot.

But nothing lights me up like a moose, bald eagle, red fox or snowy owl in my viewfinder!

Along the way, I've learned a few things about photographing wildlife and I'd like to share them with you. Here are my top 9 tips:

1. Be there. You can have the best gear in the world, but if you don't make the effort to get where the wildlife is, your gallery remains empty.

2. Be patient. Unreasonably patient. I have sat at the nest of baby great horned owls for several hours at a stretch, just waiting for the right shot. This is something you simply cannot rush.

3. Be persistent. Patience doesn't always pay off in the short run. But persistence -- going out time after time, even when you don't get the shot, really does pay off. It's not over until you quit – but when you quit, it's over.

4. Invest in your lenses. Camera bodies come and go, but your lenses will follow you for decades. There is a direct relationship between the quality and cost of lenses. Sorry -- that's just the way it is.

5. Buy a good tripod. If you buy the good tripod the first time, it will save hundreds of dollars otherwise spent on the cheap stuff that you'll eventually dump in favor of a solid support system.

6. Know your gear. If you don't know your camera intimately, you can't react to sudden changes in lighting, subject movement, or any number of variables that conspire to ruin your image.

7. Know where to be and when to be there. Study your subjects as much as possible and learn their habits -- especially feeding and mating. This information will be enormously helpful as you go out on the hunt.

8. Practice, practice, practice. It takes real skill to track birds in flight and other wildlife on the move. You often have seconds to get the shot. It's even more difficult when dealing with backlighting or shooting under deep forest cover or snow. Practice your camera skills and you will be in a far better position to adapt to any challenge you face.

9. Be lucky. There is some amount of luck in any wildlife photography, but the harder you work, the luckier you get. Or as Louis Pasteur famously said, "Chance favors the prepared mind."

Looking back, adding wildlife photography to my photographic repertoire has taken me places and shown me things that I would never have thought possible. I've learned a lot more about all sorts of different animals, traveled to amazing places, and found new ways to explore and enjoy the outdoors.

It's a journey that I wouldn't have missed for the world.

Here's a gallery of Charlie's work.



Charlie has been taking photos since 1973, and teaching others almost as long. His Amazing Image website is one big tutorial for photographers, and where you can sign up for tours, workshops, classes, and one-on-one lessons. MacPherson Studios features portraiture, commercial, and architectural work he does with his daughter Rebecca. And The Wild in Focus site showcases his nature and wildlife photography.

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