The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum - Fine Art Landscape Photography

NWP Interview - Artie Morris

Posted By: James Morrissey

NWP Interview - Artie Morris - 08/31/11 03:46 AM

This Interview was initially published in 2005 and was lost during our Forum Migration. It is with pleasure that we re-publish it.

Posted By: James Morrissey

NWP Interview - Artie Morris - Part I - 08/31/11 03:53 AM

The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum
Artist Showcase: Artie Morris
by James Morrissey

This article is Copyright 2005, James Morrissey, and may not, in part or in whole, be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. The images in this article are the property of Artie Morris and have been licensed to James Morrissey and the NWP Photo Forum for the purpose of this interview.

Editor's Note: A link is at the end of the interview if you wish to learn more about Artie Morris and his work.

Part I: About Artie Morris

(c) Artie Morris

JM: Can you tell us about yourself and what life was like growing up?

AM: It was, in many ways, a nice childhood. I did not realize how messed up my childhood was, however, until I was an adult <smile>. When I was a kid, I was having fun.

I had no early photographic interests. My parents had no interest in nature. I lived in Brooklyn. When I was a young boy, my great aunt Alice and my uncle Frank would go to Keyport, New Jersey where my great grandma Smith lived. By the time, I was 12 or 13 I would go by myself to Keyport with my aunt and uncle to the small farm. I would collect butterflies, bugs, and box turtles. I used to cut the lawn. This was my first experience in nature. I would have told you that bird watching was for sissies when I was young.

JM: What brought you to photography then?

AM: I had two daughters by my first marriage and I wanted to take pictures of them... I purchased a Canon AE-1 and was doing snap shots of the kids and some scenics when I went on vacation. I shot perhaps 10 roles of film during that time. People had told me in the past, when I was in Junior HS, that I was artistically talented, but I had pretty much ignored it, so whatever talent I had had lain dormant within me. In 1976, when I was in my early 30s, I started birding as a means of exercise as my knees were shot and my back was not in great shape.

I was inspired by a fellow named Bob Elliot Kutner from the South Shore Audubon Society in Long Island, NY. He was infectiously enthusiastic. He met a bunch of teachers from our school and invited himself to our school and did an assembly program with his back-yard movies of Warblers. They were terrible, but he was so into it that it rubbed off. I wound up doing a few field trips with him, and that is how I got started.

JM: So your photographic education started well after you were a professional with the board of education?

AM: Yes. I had a camera, but rarely used it. I was influenced by two local guys - Tom Davis, who is dead, and an older Eastern European man named Tony Manzoni. They were both into photography. Tom was a recluse - 6' 9”, 149 lbs. One time he took out his book of 'baby pictures.' They were juvenile shorebirds; he called them his “babies.” After I went to a slide show by Toni Manzoni, I said, “I can do that.” Then, I went out and purchased the Canon 400 f/4.5 FD lens.

Birding was something that developed in me over time after many seeds had been planted in my brain. The first seed was planted by Elliot Kutner, and the next by Tom Davis. I used to work at a pool club in Brooklyn and I would see Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets fishing. I was getting bored with just birding and took up photography as the next step.

My first marriage ended in 1985 after 18 years. We had two beautiful daughters - Jennifer and Alissa. Soon after my divorce, I married Elaine Belsky, a fellow teacher who had been my best friend for 15 years. I talked her into getting out of teaching in 1992. We got a sabbatical from the board of education, bought a small motor home, and drove twice around North America. Being married to Elaine was like being in heaven. After the sabbatical we returned home on June 30, 1993.

If anyone had told me that she was going to find a lump in her breast the next day and that she would be dead in 15 months, I would never have believed them. I would have said, “I am Artie Morris and this does not happen to me. I am blessed with complete happiness.” That is, however, exactly what happened. It was a horrific blow to me. Elaine died peacefully at home on November 20, 1994.

Ten days after Elaine died, I flew to Bosque Del Apache NWR in New Mexico and began the long, slow process of healing. It took me more than 7 years to get to the point where I could look back and think about how wonderful she was without crying. It was hard for a long time.

A few year’s after Elaine’s death I moved to Indian Lake Estates. My daughter, Jennifer, is the office manager at Birds As Art; her husband, Erik, works as a biologist at a nearby state park.

(c) Artie Morris

JM: How do you feel that this has affected your photography?

AM: Elaine had great confidence that I would succeed as a professional photographer. Many wives might say, “Oh my God, he is crazy. He gets up at 5 in the morning and stays out all night. He is sick. He has some kind of disease.” Elaine would say, “My Arthur. He gets up at 4 in the morning and he works so hard, and he stays out all day and photographs. He is going to be the best bird photographer some day, you’ll see.” Her support meant the world to me. She was the first person to tell me, “You are good, you are handsome, you are loyal, you are loving, and you are smart.” I have done a lot of work since then and learned that I am all of those things and more.

JM: A lot of people never get to that point.

AM: I have done a lot of great self help stuff. There is a great book entitled “Seeing Your Life Through New Eyes.” In addition, I have studied the work of Byron Katie [][/url] – her great program, “Loving What Is,” has helped me find a great degree of peace.

JM: What drives you?

AM: Primarily, the fact that bird photography is fun. It is what I love to do. On another level, I have realized that my father influenced me positively in a convoluted way. He was a WWII veteran who had been severely injured on Okinawa. He was bitter about his war injuries and we did not have a good relationship. He rarely had anything nice to say to me as I was growing up. (I sometimes joke that the nicest thing that he ever said to me was '”Take out the damned garbage.”) I didn’t realize how deeply this affected me until I was in my forties.

Why did I want to be the best teacher in the district? Why would I rather have died than lose a game of 3-man basketball? Why did I practice golf for 12 hours every day while playing on my college team? With everything that I have ever done, I have been driven to push myself to the max. In middle adulthood I realized that all along I had been trying to get people to say the nice things about me that my father never could. A few years before his death, I wrote him and thanked him for withholding praise, for being responsible for so much of my success. My sister Arna read the letter to him and told me that he had a huge smile on his face. My Dad never quit. He worked in the same luggage store for more than 30 years and wound up as the manager. Many folks would have simply stayed home and collected their disability payments. (I know that I got my determination from him.) He was well respected in the industry. Stamps were his hobby. I can remember seeing him in the basement holding up the little squares of perforated paper and examining them with a magnifier. When I turned to photography and found myself sitting for hours on end editing slides with a loupe I chuckled at the similarities.

I am now at the point that I know I have an incredibly wonderful life. I don’t have the need for approval or the need for people to say nice things about me. When it happens though, it is certainly a nice part of the job.

Part of me is still driven to prove Elaine right. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I felt that I got ripped off in that I had no great talent. I would listen to Simon and Garfunkle singing some great song, or I would go to a show and watch talented people perform. I was envious. I wished that I had a talent. I started doing bird photography in 1983 and soon afterwards began doing slide shows. I would click up one of my images onto the screen, and people would gasp. It was amazing; I was able to move people. I started adding humor to my shows. Since then, I have done more than 250 programs. When people marvel at my images or laugh at my jokes, it sure feels good.

(c) Artie Morris

JM: What kind of slide shows were these?

AM: As you know, I am a Canon contract photographer. People call me up and say, “We would like you to speak at this or that festival or event.” People ask me how it all got started and I trace it all back to the first slideshow I did in 1985 for the Queens County Bird Club. I got paid 10 dollars. Every bit of networking can be traced to that first show. It just grew.
I began adding humor to my shows. One time, I spoke before 700 or 800 people in Cape May, NJ, Paul Kerlinger, the director of Cape May Bird Observatory, got up and said, “This is Artie Morris. It is hard to tell if he is one of the best bird photographers in the world or a standup comedian.” It helped that I had had a few whiskey sours before that program… Now, I have spoken several times to audiences of between 400 and 700 people and have always found them to be enthralled with both the photographs and with the spiel. It was great to discover that I had had these gifts. And it was quite a thrill that to discover them rather late in life.

JM: I would imagine that you always had to be on stage when you were a teacher.

AM: To a degree teachers are on stage, but teaching was less satisfying and was much harder work, much harder than photography. The first 6 or 7 years I did not know what I was doing. For the 10 years after that I was a great teacher, but for the last 6 or 7 years I was burnt out. Now I speak at a lot of birding and photography festivals. I get paid for these appearances and speaking has become and important part of my good business. I get paid. I get a sales table for the books, prints and photo accessories that we peddle. And I get a plane ticket and a motel room for a few nights. Canon chips in a bit more. Speaking engagements have become a great source of income for me, and I enjoy doing them immensely.

Tours are another facet of my business that I thoroughly enjoy. At a NANPA conference I once heard my friend John Shaw say, “If you think that you are going to make any decent money leading tours, forget it.” But he talks about it in terms of leading a tour for a big tour company and getting a free trip and $150 a day. The trips are good ones and he gets to make lots of great images, but the money is simply not there. Not to worry, John Shaw is one of the world’s great nature photographers and he makes money in other ways.

Now, there is no question about it, if you go on one of those expensive tours they can take you to great places, places where I could not go because of the complex logistics involved. You are, however, paying those big tour companies for a large color catalog and a staff of 25 people. If you were going to Bosque with me, you would learn a hell of a lot more from me than you would by joining a glitzy company tour. I put my heart and soul into my IPTs (Instructional Photo Tours). Ellen Anon, a very competent instructor and Photoshop expert, helps me out on several IPTs each year, and Robert O’Toole, a talented young fashion photographer from LA helps me out on others. I have an amazing amount of repeat business. 50-60% of the folks that join us wind up coming back for more. If you are getting people back, it means that they are loving the experience and that you are doing things right.

I push myself because I love what I do. I am a people-person and I enjoy photographing with others. I would rather photograph with someone else than by myself.

JM: This makes you very different from a lot of other nature photographers.

AM: Yes, I know. A lot of photographers need solitude. I don't even like photographing by myself. I almost never do it.
Another thing about my chosen profession is that the schedule can be somewhat grueling. The way things worked out, I had been killing myself with Oreo cookies for 40 years (and doing a great job of it!) I met a doctor from San Diego who changed my life by getting me on a program of good nutrition, exercise, and a healthier lifestyle. I have been following this program for 7 or 8 years now; working with Dr. Cliff Oliver has enabled me to maintain a grueling pace.

Another big factor in my success has been my determination (thanks Dad!) It is the number one factor - even above self-promotion and the quality of my images. If you believe you can do it, then you can and will do it. Many people say “Oh, it is so hard to break into professional photography.” I say “Good. Fine. Keep on believing that.”

Another thing in the same vein: People read “The Art of Bird Photography,” and say, “Oh. I am going to find out how Art photographs birds.” People who like basket weaving might say, “Oh, look, here’s Millie Thompson's book on the best basket weaving techniques.” Instead, folks need to look into the hearts and souls of those who have achieved great success. In every case they will find that those who have made it were driven to succeed and that they worked very hard to achieve that success.

There are so many talented people out there that it is incredible. I am working with Scott Bourne on the “Avian Beauty” book project. He is gathering collection of superb unpublished images from folks who post on various web sites. It will be one beautiful book.

JM: I know that when I learn more about the individual, it does amazing things for me in terms of appreciating their work and their success.

AM: That makes sense to me. I forgot to mention that whenever I push the shutter button I do it to create something beautiful, something dramatic. The greatest compliment that you can get is when others are moved by your work. I never push the shutter button thinking, “This will be good for a two-page spread because they will have room for text.” I never shoot for the market. I make images to please myself. Looking at the overall picture, it makes me laugh: I am just a regular Jewish kid from Brooklyn. I don't have any more talent then the next person.

(c) Artie Morris

JM: You have had such longevity. You are doing something right - I am not sure if you even know what it is.

AM: Oh, I know what it is. Busting my hump and working hard. That’s all it is. That, and loving what I do. Why do I love the birds so much? I don't know for sure. They are free, they can fly, and they are colorful. There are so many species (identification is often a challenge) and lots of great behaviors to learn about and photograph. They migrate incredible distances, even the tiniest ones. Those are all the standard answers, but what matters to me is that they have gotten into my heart and into my soul. It is my passion to be out with them. I went out with a friend to DeSoto yesterday morning. I came home and processed the pictures. I said, “Oh My God. I made so many great pictures - and in only two hours. Photographing birds is a kick and I just love it.

I have been so, so blessed. I am going to Galapagos next week for the first time. I am starting to like the international trips. I lead most of them for others and don’t make a cent. I do get to go to great places, and I strive to make the trips educational for the participants.
Posted By: James Morrissey

Re: NWP Interview - Artie Morris - Part II - 08/31/11 03:56 AM

Part II: Artie on Business

(c) Artie Morris

JM: Do you remember your first published photograph?

AM: It was pretty quick - about 1985 or 1986, I think, but I cannot remember the details… I did sell a few single images, but had great success selling photo-illustrated articles soon after that.

I tell folks who are just starting out to skip the often exalted query letter. Man, if no one has ever heard of you, they will throw your query letter in the trash in about 8 seconds. The way to get started is to write a tightly focused article accompanied by 20 good images and get it in front of the right editor. Do that and you have a chance. They want to make their jobs easier. At first I sent out individual images, but, then I thought, “This is ridiculous. Why should I try to sell one picture to fit in someone else’s article when I can sell 6 or 7 pictures to go with my own piece and get paid for both the article and the images?” I started doing some writing and submitted an article to Bird Watcher's Digest. I remember getting a letter from the editor promising to publish it.

JM: So, you did it your own way?

AM: Yes, but I quickly realized that I was going to starve for a while. For two years I checked each issue of BWD to see if my article had been published. It wasn’t. So what did I do? I sent then a second article! They published it almost immediately. Then they published the first one. The nicest part of the story is that the editor, Mary Beacom Bowers, became a great friend. Over the course of a few years, she published more than 20 of my stories, each one with several BIRDS AS ART images.

JM: So you created a resume out of this?

AM: It helped to pay for film, and helped to get my name known. After I got to know Mary she once said, I have never seen anyone with such determination. Sending me that second article after I did not publish the first one for so long was a pretty amazing move. You were so determined.”

JM: How long was it until you were published regularly?

AM: I don't even know if I am published regularly now. I mean that. There are—obviously--lots of great bird photographers out there now. I know that through the book and through our on-line Bulletins that I have had something to do with that, but still, you can see more good stuff on-line than you do in many magazines. I honestly feel that my work would be published much more if photo editors were more aware of the technical and artistic qualities that make a great photograph. I often see stuff in books and magazines that is clearly inferior, yet it still gets published.

JM: Are there factors that prevent 'the best' images from getting published?

AM: Absolutely. I hear from editors all the time that “Johnny Smith sent us a whole bunch of pictures; we had to use some.” I wish that the photographs were chosen solely based on their quality. The thing that rubs me is that people assume that because I am Artie Morris that people are coming to me begging to publish my images. Nothing could be further from the truth.

JM: You were saying earlier that you feel that a lot of inferior work is often published.

AM: Absolutely. Getting published is only a matter of hard work and getting your images in front of editors. People go into the bookstore and pick up a book on insects. They will say, “Oh my God. Look at this book. This guy has 75 pictures of insects and they are all terrible. I have better pictures. I sometimes have the same initial same reaction when looking at bird books, but I always add, “Good for them. They are getting their pictures sold while mine are sitting at home in a box.”

(c) Artie Morris

JM: The trick then is trying to figure out HOW to get them to the markets.

AM: That is part of it. When I was talking to guys about quitting teaching, one of them was Bill Thompson the III, the editor of Birdwatcher's Digest. He said to me, “If anyone can make this happen, it is you. You are smart, funny and have good people skills. You can write. You can teach. And your images are top-notch. You were born to be a bird photographer. I believed him.

My success in part is due to the fact that I have been able to wear many different hats. I wear hats now that I never thought I never could or would, those of an advertiser and a marketer. I NEVER thought I could do that stuff.

JM: Do you feel that in order to make it in the business that you need to market well?

AM: People say, “You are great at marketing.” I chuckle. We are HORRIBLE at marketing. We are very good at self-promotion, but as far as selling the rights to photographs, we do NO marketing. We NEVER contact new markets. The website does not even have a searchable database. We hope to change that over the next year or two after the next book. This is our weakest link. We should be contacting new markets, but we do not. This is our weak link.

JM: With regards to marketing and markets and how you are not marketing at all: if you were just starting out today, how would you go about it (outside of writing the articles as you mentioned earlier)?

AM: I will start off with a story. A month or two ago, a young man came up to me and said, “I am really interested in nature photography and want to make a living at it. Can you give me one really good tip as to how to get started? I answered, “When I started 22 years ago, there were only a few good photographers around. There were only a couple of good magazines and I developed some personal relationships with two or three editors. Now things have changed. There are more photographers and more magazines. It is harder.” The truth is that it wasn’t me answering those questions, that was me asking those questions in 1985 to a guy named Glenn Van Nimwegen. He used to have 20 pictures in a single issue of Audubon Magazine. That is what he told me and I did not believe him. People will give you the whole gloom and doom. You cannot succeed, the market is too tight. I say, “It is only a matter of how hard you want to work. The quality of your images is really secondary.”
To get started, I visited bookstores with a notepad, saw who was publishing bird photographs, and then contacted them by mail. As I said, it is all about hard work. And I would do the same thing today, but would do lots of the same stuff on-line.

JM: How often are you sending out your submissions to other magazines? How often are you published?

AM: We do regular submissions to the birding magazines every month or every other month. Sometimes Jim Litzenberg, my right-hand man, spends several hours on a submission, sends forty images, and not one is used… We also respond to the want-lists of several other magazines like Ranger Rick and National Wildlife, and lots of folks contact us with their photo needs via e-mail. In the last couple of years, we have not had a single field guide project. They used to be good for sales in the $10,000 to $20,000 range, one or two projects a year. Sales of photographs are probably down 15 or 20% for everyone post 9/11, and down lots more than that for some. Oddly enough though, we are selling fewer images but making lots more money. This is because we have diversified our business.

JM: Diversified your business?

AM: I hear many folks complaining that picture sales are way down, griping that they cannot make any money in photography. Teaching accounts for about 1/3 of our income and our mail order business does very well; it has been going berserk lately. My mail order business began after I met a fellow named Walt Anderson about 9 or 10 years ago. He manufactured a flash multiplier for use with telephoto lenses that we wound up calling the “Better Beamer.” We have sold many thousands of Better Beamers to folks all over the globe. In time, we added other products, hard-to find items that I used and depended on every day. We strive to offer our customers great advice and to price everything competitively. Before we knew it, we were selling a whole bunch of stuff, and when we began accepting credit cards over the phone, business really took off.
About two years ago, I took a gamble with a firm developing a big line of bird-related items, key chains, screensavers, and lots more. Two weeks ago we received a royalty check for more than $17,000.

(c) Artie Morris

JM: With your mail order business, it seems that you only sell the stuff that you believe in…

AM: That’s right. I pretty much sell the stuff that I use and depend on every day: Wimberley products, Panning Ground Pods, Hama Double-Bubble Levels, Gitzo 1325 Carbon Fiber tripods, Delkin Flash cards, their CardBus 32 adapters and replacement batteries, and the Mongoose M262 and M363 tripod heads for intermediate telephoto lenses. Plus, we carry my books and sell quite a few prints on line. I try to sell everything for at least a penny less than everyone else - including the big shots like B&H.

JM: I was wondering how successful that part of your business was.

AM: At present it is extremely lucrative. We work hard to fill all of the orders quickly and accurately, and Jim does a great job of doing just that. Many people would call our business practices and book-keeping methods shabby at best… Nothing surreptitious, but if you asked me what percentage of our income comes from each part of the business, I would have no idea. I simply do not care. All that matters to me is the total package and the bottom line.

The real secret to our mail order success has been the Birds as Art Bulletin. The first bulletin was posted in 1999.

JM: They are clever in that they are educational while at the same time advertising your IPTs, your seminars and appearances, and your mail order line.

AM: Yes. A friend from California said to me, “Hey, if you want to sell people a better beamer, don't just say, “Here is a better beamer; buy one! Teach them about flash and explain how to use a Better Beamer.” That is how we market all of our products, by teaching folks how to use the equipment and by telling them exactly how and why I use it. Once I started doing the bulletins, people began to see us as the authority on bird photography. They started e-mailing me for advice. I get dozens of questions each week. And I have tried for more than a dozen years to answer each and every one of them graciously. Sometimes folks want me to re-write the books and Bulletins just for them, which I cannot do, so once a year we send out a note reminding folks to check out a wide range of resources before e-mailing me their questions. I am, however, always glad to answer new and fresh questions relating to all aspects of bird photography.

JM: So the Bulletins have been a key piece of your business success?

AM: Yes, but it has not been just the Bulletins. When folks write asking for advice and receive a prompt personal response from me, they are far more likely to purchase what they need from us than from the next guy. If you sent the 20 biggest names in nature photography an e-mail asking them what lens you should buy, you would receive very few responses from the photographer… Most often you would get a form letter from the office manager saying that the photographer is either unable to answer or is in the field. The personal touch that I have given to the business is paying off. A photographer might say, “I can buy this from B&H or I can buy it from Artie for the same price and he has been answering my questions for the last year and a half.” What would you do?
Posted By: James Morrissey

Re: NWP Interview - Artie Morris - Part III - 08/31/11 03:58 AM

Part III: The Environment

(c) Artie Morris

JM: Where are you with environmental issues as a bird photographer?

AM: I donate images to Florida Audubon and to Manomet Bird Observatory among others. I know that people seeing my stuff will be motivated to do something for the environment. I guess, though, that at some level you can call me a bit of an environmental pessimist.

JM: What do you mean by that?

AM: Let me give you an example. They recently found an Ivory-billed Woodpecker and they are going to try to protect some of the land in Louisiana and Texas from development. Maybe a couple of pairs will hang on, maybe not. (The bird was thought to be extinct for decades.) But whether or not they save a few ivory-billeds, the fact is that humans, as a species, are destroying the planet. With regard to over-population, air and water pollution, and the greenhouse effect and global warming, we are just sticking our head in the sand while thinking, “We are humans. When the problems become really severe, we will be able to fix them. I do not believe that that is going to happen... We are driving ourselves towards extinction.

I know a woman photographer who claims to be an environmentalist, but she lives in a huge, obscene condo complex. It is ironic. She lives in this huge glass and concrete and metal condo, one of many, right in the middle of the mangrove swamps that she is trying to protect. “I have my condo, but don't you try to build another one within 500 miles of here.”

JM: You mentioned NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association.

AM: NANPA is a great group, not just photographers but editors and publishers and industry folks among others. And NANPA is starting to get involved with environmental issues. I have been to all but one of their Annual Summits and have made lots of great contacts at them. I try to do all that I can to contribute to this fine organization. At a NANPA Summit you have a chance to chat with lots of the world’s greatest photographers: Art Wolf, Tom Mangleson, Dewitt Jones, George Lepp, Darrell Gulin, Joe and MaryAnn McDonald, John Sexton, Jim Brandenberg (my hero), Franz Lanting, and too many more to mention.

(c) Artie Morris

JM: So would you say there are any decent community organizations that do great work?

AM: There are lots of great local organizations doing great things - and they are succeeding. However, the over-all picture does not look good to me. Look at what is happening with air and water - and with toxic poisons in the water, in the air, and even in the food that we eat. There are lots of great people standing up to save local places, but to me, the problems seem to be insurmountable.
Posted By: James Morrissey

NWP Interview - Artie Morris - Part IV - 08/31/11 04:02 AM

Part IV: Tricks and Tips

(c) Artie Morris

JM: I was looking at some of your articles on different websites about how you like to travel light. Yet, I keep seeing these photographs with you porting these huge lenses...

AM: I never said that I traveled light. I like to travel light, I travel heavy out of necessity. I believe that it was a bit of a misquote. When I travel, I take the 500 instead of the 600.

JM: What bodies are you currently using?

AM: I use Canon EOS 1D cameras.

JM: Would you say that you are using all large lenses.

AM: I use both the 600 and the 500mm a lot, but I almost never travel with the 600 - it is just too big and too heavy. I sold my Canon 100-400mm IS L zoom lens recently and have opted for the 70-200 f/2.8 L IS lens, often with the 1.4X II teleconverter. I use the 300 mm f/4 L IS or the 400mm f/5.6 L for flight and for lots of other stuff. I also carry the 28-135mm IS lens which I use for scenics and bird-scapes.

JM: Bird photography is something I have tried only recently. I find it very difficult. I would like to have a longer lens!

AM: For years I was making a living at 840 mm (about 17x). Then came Canon’s remarkable Image Stabilized lenses. Then came the digital multiplier effects. If I am using the 600mm with a 2x extender times the 1.3 for the multiplier effect of the camera that brings me to 1560mm at f/8. That is roughly 31X!

JM: Are you using a lot of flash for freezing action?

AM: I rarely use flash to freeze the action, but I do use a lot of fill flash. I have a love/hate relationship with flash. There are periods when I think it looks horrible and fake. There are other times when I think, “I could never have made this image without flash.

JM: How do you handle your workflow with flash?

AM: Any time that you photograph a bird with flash, especially with digital, you will have to do some work on the eyes. I have, however, been doing some really cool things with flash recently. For fill when working at close range, I use the flash at -3 stops. If the subjects are point-blank, I slip down the diffuser on the flash.

The other thing I have been working on is using manual flash when I am working at a given distance. I have gotten some great results using this technique.

JM: How close are you to the birds when working with flash? My experience has been that the flash gives you perhaps 50 feet indoors.

AM: The biggest misconception about bird photography is that we are able to make good images of single birds while working at great distances. For the most part we are working from 20 to 70 feet and often at 15 to 20 feet for the smaller species. We get pretty close.

(c) Artie Morris

JM: How are you able to get that close?

AM: It really depends on the bird. I do a segment at all my seminars that deals with getting close to free and wild birds and animals. There are a million tricks of the trade. For the most part, I travel to places where the birds are relatively acclimated to humans. Then, I simply move slowly.

JM: Do you find that you go to the same places then?

AM: Yes. I am different from most other bird photographers. Most of them always want to go to new and different places to find different birds. I just go to the same places year after year. Check out my IPT locations: San Diego; several locations in Florida; New Mexico; and Lake Martin in Louisiana. I just learn the birds, learn the places better. Learn and light and the angles. I learn the tricks and get better and better. You can do the same thing in your backyard.

JM: Do you want to discuss any of your current tours?

AM: Folks can learn about our Instructional Photo Tours here:

They should also check out the Bulletin Archives here: and subscribe if they like what they see. They are free.

You can also visit his home page at

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