INTERVIEW WITH AWARD WINNING BIRD PHOTOGRAPHER DOUG BROWN

INTERVIEW WITH AWARD WINNING BIRD PHOTOGRAPHER DOUG BROWN

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Doug Brown is an internationally renowned professional bird photographer and BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year honoree. His work has been displayed at the British Natural History Museum and a number of other museums around the world. Doug’s images can be found in a variety of digital and printed field guides and textbooks, including the popular iBird app for smartphones. He is also an Avian moderator on the nature and wildlife photography website BirdPhotographers.net. Doug has a particular interest in photographing birds in flight. Although he resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Doug travels extensively to pursue his photographic passion and leads workshops in Costa Rica, California, and New Mexico.

Are you a full time photographer?What do you do when you are not out with a camera in your hand?

Photography is my passion, but it’s not my primary occupation. I am a full time physician (cardiac anesthesiologist) who spends a lot of time photographing birds.

What genres of Photography are you interested in other than Birds?

I enjoy macro photography and also dabble in landscape photography, but I’m not particularly good at either of those disciplines! And I had a great time photographing bears in Alaska this summer. Mostly I like to photograph family and friends.

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What gears do you use?

I shoot Canon, and my primary bodies are the 1Dx Mark II and the 5D Mark IV. I use the 1Dx2 for action because to its incredible frame rate and great AF, but I tend to use the 5D4 for everything else. I’m a big fan of the pixel density of the 5D4 and I also like its light weight. My primary bird lens is the Canon 600mm f/4 II (paired with the Canon 1.4x), and I also use the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary for shooting situations where a zoom lens comes in handy.

What is your take on post processing of images? Is it necessary? What techniques do you use for post processing?

I post process all of my images; I’m a strong believer that post processing can transform a good image into a great one. Having said that I have a good friend who believes in minimal processing of his images, and he has an incredible portfolio! My workflow begins in Lightroom, where I optimize the RAW file using the Basic sliders and adjustment brushes. I don’t normally do any noise reduction, sharpening, cropping, or clone work in Lightroom. Next I export the image to Photoshop, where I first select the bird and copy it to its own layer. That step allows me to both noise reduce the background and sharpen the bird. I also do my clone work (if needed) in Photoshop. Then I crop and downsize the image. The final steps are global sharpening of the bird followed by selective sharpening to areas that need it.

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What is more important for a photographer? Technical understanding of the camera or Artistic Interpretation or his Post Processing Skills?

Good question! I think it takes a balance of all 3 skills to become a complete photographer. As a bird flight photographer who works almost exclusively in manual mode, I need to fully understand my various autofocus and exposure settings. I love the intellectual challenge of rapidly adapting to changing subjects and changing light when I’m out in the field. But artistry and post processing skills are what gives your photos a signature look.

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Are you a self taught photographer? How did you learn photography?

I learned the basics of photography and the darkroom when I was in grade school, and my first SLR was a Canon AE-1. I took a lot of pictures in my youth, but put the camera away during college, medical school, and my anesthesia residency. I picked up a camera again in 2005; my wife was an avid birdwatcher at the time, and I thought that taking pictures of birds would give us a shared interest. We went to a wedding in New York city and I visited B&H Photo, where I bought my first DSLR (a Canon 20D) and long lens (a Canon 400mm f/5.6). A trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge a month later sealed the deal; I was totally hooked on bird photography! But I was awful at it! So I taught myself over a period of years, making slow but steady progress; I learned how to take pictures first, and then turned my attention to post processing. Even though I’ve come a long way, the great thing about photography is that you never really stop learning.

If got a chance would you teach photography to enthusiasts?

I am a teaching pro, and lead a number of photography workshops every year in both the United States and Costa Rica (you can explore my workshop offerings at DougBrownPhotography.com). I love to share my passion for bird photography with my workshop participants. There is no greater reward for me than watching my students improve and capture images they never thought they were capable of taking.

Tell us about the awards you have won.

The award that I’m most proud of is my runner-up award in the Animal Portrait category of the Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. The awards ceremony in London felt like the Academy Awards to me; so many great photographers and incredible images! That was definitely a lifetime highlight for me!

What is currently at the top of photography dream list?

Africa is at the top of my list, as are Iceland and Antarctica.

Any piece of advice that you would like to give to future photographers.

There is no substitute for dedication and hard work. But photography is supposed to be fun too; never forget that! Also you don’t need good gear to take good pictures.

Look at these amazing photos by Doug Brown

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Like him on Facebook or follow Doug on 500px . To learn from him, visit his website.