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Q&A with Wildlife Photographer Moose Peterson

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Wildlife photographer Moose Peterson answers your questions, from typical workflow to what inspires him to his opinion about cropping in post.
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On Tuesday, March 8, Moose Peterson participated in a webcast for the Peachpit Photo Club. As part of the webcast, Moose gave the assignment to shoot a critter in your own backyard and post your shots (without any editing!) to the flickr pool.

Winning shots were desertcottontail by psychiccic1, who received a $100 gift certificate courtesy of BorrowLenses.com; Blue Jay by Mully410, who received a print from Moose Peterson; and moose cow in yard by AK Chickadee, who received a free book and Peachpit photography shirt!

The webcast with Moose was so popular, we weren't able to get to the all the questions you had! So we caught up with Moose afterward and asked him to answer the remaining questions for you here. Enjoy!

Question: Have you taught yourself, or have you had any formal photographic training?

Moose: I consider myself self-taught, though I spent some time at Brooks Institute of Photography back in the ‘70s.

Question: Are most of the wildlife photos taken using a tripod or handheld?

Moose: If we’re talking about just me, I would say the majority are taken handheld. Like I talk about in Captured, I hate tripods.

Question: Do you have any suggestions for must do/see images in Wrangell-St. Elias or must-have equipment for a 4-month trip there May-Sept this year?

Moose: I get these questions quite often, and I really have no clue how to answer them. That’s because what I would do is always going to be different then someone else. Whatever critters I might see won’t be there five minutes later, let alone around the next summer to send someone to that location. I wish I had such a wealth of knowledge I could answer these questions, but I don’t. If you’re heading to any location for four months, you need a whole lot more info then anyone can provide in any forum such as this.

Question: Do you have any tips for photographing in the field with biologists without getting in the way of their work, but still get the shots that tell the story?

Moose: I have a ton of tips. That’s why I used a whole chapter in Captured to cover this topic. That’s a whole lot more space than I can cover right now. If I had to give a #1 tip, it would be leave the camera in the car!

Question: Can you talk about what you current typical workflow is?

Moose: In a nutshell, import with DigitalPro then straight into ACR via Photoshop and then Photoshop. I follow the KISS theorem in about everything I do.

Question: Did your shot of the centered eye include the whole head and then was cropped?

Moose: No, I do not crop an image in post! What you see is what I shot. I am a photographer.

Question: Do you constantly change your angle as you shoot to see what looks good when you get it into your computer, or do you decide ahead of time?

Moose: I probably did in the beginning, but that is truly a guess; I don’t really remember. I don’t anymore, which is a good and bad thing. I look at others' images sometimes and wish I moved, but I tend to stick to my gut.

Question: Do you ever shoot in Minnesota?

Moose: I did one weekend 15 years ago, but I don’t think that counts.

Question: Do you ever use rescue animals as subjects?

Moose: We used to rehab owls long ago, and I used them for testing ideas. I’ve used them to teach folks but not for creating stock images. There was an article long ago in Shutterbug where I recommend folks get involved with rehabbers, and I still think that’s a good idea.

Question: Do you Geo-tag your photos?

Moose: I’ve been recording GPS info for my clicks for over 25 years, but I don’t geo-tag.

Question: Do you get better photos from setup and wait for action to "happen" or get shots on the move?

Moose: I don’t keep those statistics, but you always get better photos when critters approach you the vast majority of the time.

Question: Do you have any suggestions for photographing birds in flight?

Moose: You’ll find videos on my website and at Kelby Training which delve into that topic. There are lots, and the #1 is practice, practice, practice.

Question: Do you primarily shoot with a 600mm lens?

Moose: I shoot with the lens that does the job, which might or might not be the 600mm. So I would answer the question, no.

Question: Do you still do no cropping with your wildlife shots? What about landscapes? if so, are you ever tempted? What determines your actions?

Moose: I do no crop in post. I’m a photographer and get it right, right in the camera.

Question: Do you strictly photograph in the wild, or do you photograph at zoos? If at zoos, are there any tips you can provide to help the photographs not look like they are taken at a zoo?

Moose: I am very fortunate that I can shoot just in the wild where the critter can be itself. I have no problem shooting in a zoo, spent many a day with my dear friend Roger Tory Peterson doing just that, but I’m a wild kinda guy. Sorry, I don’t have any real tips.

Question: Do you work the shot by varying f/stop etc.?

Moose: Nope, I know the f/stop I want from the moment I see the subject with my eyes. That comes from doing it for 30 years.

Question: I almost had the opportunity to meet you a couple of weeks ago in Yellowstone. It was at a bathroom stop. When we were already on our way, and someone asked, did you see Moose? Just missed you.

Moose: I just love those restroom intros! Hope you had a great time there. It’s a special place!

Question: What inspires your photography?

Moose: LIFE!

Question: How do you approach a new location that you haven't shot at before? Do you spend time scouting before shooting, etc.?

Moose: I get out of my truck, grab a lens and go. After 30 years, I just know where I want to be and when.

Question: How do you determine where to crop an animal that is bigger than the frame?

Moose: That’s a great question with no good answer. There is no book, article or guide telling where is a comfortable place to crop or not crop a critter. Wish I had that answer!

Question: How do you go about adjusting your screen resolution on your Dell computer to make sure you're getting the right color correction?

Moose: I profile my monitors using XRite. ColorMunki works killer for notebooks.

Question: How do you set up your dSLR for capturing flying birds? Do you use RAW or Jpeg in capturing motion?

Moose: You’ll find these answers answered in depth on the videos on my site and at Kelby Training, but file format makes no difference.

Question: How many shots do you take to get a keeper?

Moose: My average is 92% of what I shoot. How do I know that? My software DigitalPro keeps track of that statistic for me.

Question: How much post shooting work do you do on the computer for your photos, or do you try to get everything "right" during the actual shoot?

Moose: I do NO post for wildlife; I do post on landscape and aviation. If I have to spend more then 2 minutes with any file in post, I give up on it.

Question: How much research do you do on the animals before you go to photograph them (for the first time)? Do you know them intimately first, or do you just do it? Does it depend on the animal?

Moose: So far I’ve done a lifetime and figure I’ve not even scratched the surface. I would love to think I know them intimately but I’m not that foolish anymore.

Question: How much time do you "usually" spend photographing wildlife? What kind of planning goes into it?

Moose: I don’t spend enough time with wildlife, but right now it’s about 6 months out of the year.

Question: How often do you go out to shoot a particular species and how often do you go out to just see what you see?

Moose: Honestly don’t have an answer for ya, never kept that statistic. It would be nice if there was critter photography on demand, but since being skunked is a big part of the program, no clue.

Question: How was the Giant Kangaroo Rat lighted in this night shot?

Moose: If we’re talking about the photo I showed in the webinar, it was a single flash held above and in front of the krat. Lighting critters with flash is a walk in the park for me, but that took years to get to that point.

Question: I am "new" and consider myself a hobbyist, working to learn and improve. Your images are framed in camera. I am curious how you get so tight with a prime lens vs. using a telephoto zoom. With a prime (and teleconverter) how do you move in/out to frame?

Moose: Getting the framing you want requires you to zoom with your feet.

Question: I have a Canon 7D and 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, and I'm trying to get some wildlife pics. Are there ways to get images despite the limitations of my lens?

Moose: You bet—learn biology!

Question: I hear you mention the locals told you about the quantity of birds locally. In new locations you obviously use local resources to find out what is going on. What kind of people locally do you generally find the most helpful?

Moose: There is no recipe for helpful people. Just get out and start asking questions.

Question: I read your book, and I was wondering, how were recording and organizing settings and images before digital cameras became available?

Moose: Painfully—pencil & paper.

Question: I understand having the eye sharp is critical for wildlife photography, and yet it's also a fairly small AF target. Can you describe some of your techniques to ensure eye sharpness?

Moose: I recommend you head to my website, where there are videos showing exactly how I approach this, which does a better job than some words here to help you.

Question: I would like to know more about how you photograph aircraft in the air. I am a private pilot so it makes me very curious.

Moose: You will find two videos on my website that spend about 20 minutes answering that question. I will also be teaching a class at Photoshop World that might also answer that question for you.

Question: In addition to lots of practice, what is your best tip for tack sharp images using manual focus?

Moose: More practice.

Question: In the first couple chapters of Captured, one gets a good understanding for your passion for wildlife photography. More recently, we have been following your work with aviation photography. Where does that passion come from?

Moose: Making a difference with my images. All it takes is one vet to come up to you and tell you their story after looking at your image and you’re good to go for another year!

Question: Is a majority of your work using manual or auto focus?

Moose: My guess would be 70/30 Auto/Manual.

Question: Is getting into McNeil River Falls still by lottery?

Moose: Yeap, already closed for 2011.

Question: Is it really as simple as you make it seem to get involved with biologists?

Moose: Yeap!

Question: Is the Nikkor 300mm f/4D ED IF AF a good lens for someone on a budget to pair with a Nikkor 2x extender and a D700?

Moose: Oh yeah, baby!!!!!

Question: I've read that you work with a lot of biologists. In these days of budget cuts, do you find them cooperative, and what do you give them to get their cooperation—prints?

Moose: I’ve never found a biologist who wasn’t dying to be helpful, budget or not.

Question: Can't get enough of the F4-U Corsair.

Moose: Me too, which is why I’m on a crew for one.

Question: You say in your book that you keep approximately 90% of your images. I'm not there yet, but I'm guessing that has a lot to do with knowing when NOT to shoot. Can you comment on when you DON'T make the click?

Moose: It comes from knowing what you like from the start and how do you get there? Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot and then shoot some more.

Question: Primary "Critter" lens used?

Moose: 600mm, 200-400, 70-200, 24-70, 14-24, 24f1.4.

Question: Question about tack sharp pictures: Raw is not tack sharp in the camera, so software needs to sharpen. So how do you know you have tack sharp photo if a program in the computer ends up being responsible for the sharpness?

Moose: Get a good program to start with.

Question: Regarding manual focus, do you calibrate your camera for each and every lens?

Moose: Nope, never.

Question: So if you've not made a penny on your projects, how do you make a living from photography? Is it selling stock, writing articles with photos, or some combination thereof?

Moose: And a whole lot more!

Question: What advice would you give for those of us who'd like to make a living at this?

Moose: Start TODAY!!!!

Question: This is a technical question. I recently photographed some bighorn sheep in Banff, and when I got back and looked at my images in the computer, they looked bland and colorless, though they looked great on my LCD. Why is this, and what can I do about it?

Moose: You need to learn light, camera settings and your taste. I would run my Teddy Bear test. It will help you answer this question for your own photography.

Question: Can you give any suggestions on how to shoot in the grey cloudy light to optimize for the images?

Moose: Try Vivid, try flash, try changing WB.

Question: What advice can you give to us to become much more aggressive/selective in our culling process?

Moose: I think photographers delete way TOO much and don’t learn from their own mistakes. You wanna cull less, do better at the point of capture.

Question: What animal, do you find, has the most difficult story to tell photographically?

Moose: My arch enemy with the White-tailed Jackrabbit that literally lives in my backyard. I’m seriously thinking my next shot at him with be with the 410! The Bastard!

Question: What focusing mode do you mostly use?

Moose: 21 dynamic.

Question: What is the best way to start marketing/selling wildlife photography?

Moose: Taking great photos…seriously!

Question: What is the flickr group called?

Moose: Sorry, no clue. You need to ask the Peachpit folks. [Editor's note: It's the Peachpit Photo Club Flickr Group.]

Question: What lens was used for the shot of the bear cubs?

Moose: 400f2.8AFS.

Question: What metering modes—spot, center weighted, matrix—do you typically use? Same question about auto focus—21 point, 51 point, etc.?

Moose: Matrix 100% 21point.

Question: what photographer inspires you?

Moose: My son, Jake.

Question: What role, if any, does HDR play in your photography?

Moose: It’s a tool, no more, no less.

Question: What's a typical day for you when you are in field?

Moose: There is no typical day, which is why I’m a photographer.

Question: When shooting wildlife do you burst shoot with a high frame rate or use a more conservative approach and try to time the perfect moment to trip the shutter?

Moose: I shoot with a D3x. Crayons are faster so burst is not an option.

Question: You have beautiful, moving photos of little pikas in your book, but then there's a photo of their dead bodies. Were these beautiful animals trapped and killed? Also, why do you sometimes refer to their fur and hair as a ""pelt," which sounds like hunting?

Moose: Science isn’t always saving fluffy. Marking and taking specimens is part of learning and oddly, saving a species. It’s called pelt because that’s what a mammal skin is called.

Question: You just commented that it only looks like you are near the Kodiak grizzly bear, but how far away are you, really? What lens/equipment did you use to accomplish that vantage, or was it something else that shortened the distance?

Moose: I’m no more then 60 feet away from my critters. The Kodiak bears are at a reserve on Kodiak and they tend to be about 30+ yards away. You cannot approach them. They come and go on their own schedule. You’re stuck at one locale for the whole day and have to hope they come up to you.

Check out the recording of the Moose Peterson webcast and sign up for future events at www.peachpit.com/photoclub.

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