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Interview: Andy Biggs #38823
05/31/12 08:10 PM
05/31/12 08:10 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
James Morrissey Offline OP
James Morrissey  Offline OP
Carpal Tunnel

Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
Flashback Interview with Andy Biggs! Andy performed this interview with NWP in 2006. Andy recently went through it with me to make sure that the content was 'mostly current.' :P

Re: Interview: Andy Biggs [Re: James Morrissey] #38824
05/31/12 08:11 PM
05/31/12 08:11 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
James Morrissey Offline OP
James Morrissey  Offline OP
Carpal Tunnel

Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum
Artist Showcase: Andy Biggs
by James Morrissey

Part I: About Andy Biggs
JM: Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about yourself?
AB: Sure. I was born in 1969 in Texas. I was raised in a relatively traditional American nuclear family. In this, I mean that I grew up with 2 parents and have 2 other siblings that I am close to. My parents are still happily married. I got married 6 years ago, and we had our first baby in February, 2006.

Life was pretty easy for me growing up. I encountered no real barriers or crisis in my life growing up in Houston. My interest in the outdoors was planted by a seed on a summer camp trip to Alaska and back when I was young. It was a 5-week trip, and I spent every evening sleeping under the stars. Looking back I have to say it was a time when a light went off in my head regarding my love for the outdoors. We didn't get enough of it in Houston growing up, as summers are overbearing with heat.

JM: When and how did you first begin to photograph?
AB: I started my photography, at least on a serious basis, when my wife and I moved to Northern California for my day job. I certainly had all of the inspiration around me for landscape photography, from the coast of Big Sur to the Redwoods North of San Fransisco, and to the landscapes of Yosemite that inspired Ansel Adams. I was truly bit by the bug. These were the days before digital, and I first started out with a 35mm film camera. After seeing absolutely stunning photographs from Ansel Adams, Morley Baer, John Sexton, and William Niel, I moved on up to a 4x5 large format camera.

JM: Who were your photographic influences, personally and professionally?
AB: I have to say that Galen Rowell has had the greatest impact on my photography, along with Ansel Adams, Art Wolfe, John Sexton and William Niell.

JM: Do you wish to cite any photographic resources that speak to you?
AB: I often ask my safari travelers this same question at night, after a long day of photography. I ask it in a slightly different way. ďIf you could only own one photographic book, what would it be?Ē I get a wide array of answers, but my answer is always the same. I would have to say Galen Rowell's 'Inner Game of Outdoor Photography.' I find Galen's short stories offer points of inspiration to be a better photographer, writer and instructor. These three areas are all areas that I strive to be much better at than I am now.

JM: What other types of professional photography have you done outside of Nature and Wildlife Photography?
AB: From time to time, I accept editorial jobs from magazines. These assignments have had me covering professional sports teams to out-of-the-way restaurants in historical buildings.

JM: What do you feel motivates you in your photographic work? What are you looking for in your photography?
AB: When I think of my photography, my African wildlife work always pops up first in my head. I strive to create simplicity in my photographs. I like to boil down elements to the simplest form. I think a good example might be a single animal in the landscape, with minimal trees or any distracting elements. We as photographers are story tellers, and I am always thinking of how a composition tells a story.

JM: Do you feel like there are any consistent themes that come up in your stories? What does this say of what you are trying to capture in your nature photography?
AB: Good question, and one that I could talk for a long time about. I am constantly trying to create photographs that tell a story of the wildlife in the landscape. This all started because I wasn't interested in creating a series of images that looked just like the other images out there, of which many are from zoos or game farms. Here is an example. If I have a majestic male lion in front of me, standing on a hill with the wind in his face, I would rather capture the photograph with a composition that took in the sky, grass and trees, as they are all part of the scene. It tells the viewer that this is a photograph from a specific place in Africa, and not from a zoo.

I could just as easily pull out my longest lens and create a few images that are tight head shots, but that tells a completely different story.

I always approach a photograph with a sense of purpose. I have to ask myself a series of questions, such as: "do I have to tell my story with a single photograph, or through a series of photographs", or "Will this image be for stock photo purposes?". These types of questions dictate how my story is going to ultimately be told.

JM: Where do you like to photograph the most? Why?
AB: I definitely consider myself primarily as an African nature photographer. I don't want to back myself into a specific genre, such as wildlife or landscapes, but I am most interested in anything African.

JM: How does the photography that you do impact your choice in gear? This is not necessarilly a 'brand' question, but a format question. eg Digital, 35mm, medium format, etc.
AB: Argh. This is where I seem to be changing the most. When I started my African safari workshop business, I shot 100% chrome slides on 35mm Nikon equipment. Then, digital came along and I moved over to Canon Digital SLR equipment. I have been extremely happy with the change, but I have been developing this 'look' in my head that I cannot seem to get with my current digital gear. So, I have added a 4x5 large format camera, used hand held, into my arsental. My goal is to create very large black and white prints of combined landscapes and wildlife on the Serengeti plains. At the end of the day, I am pretty agnostic about gear - whatever tool it takes to arrive at a final print stirs the soul.

JM: What do you think about the digital format is preventing you from getting the 'look' that you need? What is it that keeps drawing you back to film (specifically, 4x5)?

AB: There is something about the smooth tonality of a print made from a 4x5 negative, even if the print is quite small. I love the detail from large negatives, but I am more enamored with the smooth tonal transitions from mid tones. Even though I am shooting some of my wildlife images with a hand held 4x5 Speed Graphic, I am shooting with wide open apertures most of the time.

I don't expect or want everything perfectly in focus, and the smoothness of the final image is quite addictive.

This article is Copyright 2006, 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 Andy Biggs and have been licensed to James Morrissey and the NWP Photo Forum for the purpose of this interview.

Re: Interview: Andy Biggs - Part II [Re: James Morrissey] #38825
05/31/12 08:12 PM
05/31/12 08:12 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
James Morrissey Offline OP
James Morrissey  Offline OP
Carpal Tunnel

Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
Part II: Andy Biggs on Business

JM: Please describe what your business looks like currently - what are your primary sources of income photographically?
AB: For the most part, my photographic business is made up of African photo safaris and domestic workshops. I also have print sales, as well as limited editions of my portfolios. I recently produced a set of 10 limited edition portfolio boxes, and they are mostly sold out. I plan on releasing another portfolio box, made up of only black and white photographs from my African safaris. I have the best job on earth, and I am thankful each day because I have developed wonderful friendships with all of my safari travelers. My biggest asset in my business is my recurring customer base.

JM: Let's talk more about the limited edition portfolio boxes. What is it that you are providing a customer? How are you presenting the material in the boxes?
AB: I noticed that many of the people who purchase my prints would like to own more, or a series of images. Many of my customers find that they don't have the wall space to dedicate to photographic prints, so I came up with the concept of offering a portfolio of images together as a complete set of work. These boxes are hand-made, covered with lined, foil stamped and all have an inset photograph on the front. The clam shell design allows me to put 18 images, along with interleaving sheets, presentation gloves and an artists' statement.

From the front cover:
"This portfolio contains 18 hand made prints, representing countless hours out on safari in the east African countries of Tanzania and Kenya. All of the parks visited to capture these photographs are open to the public, and need to be preserved for future generations.

These hand made prints were printed on archival paper, using an Epson Stylus Pro 4000 printer with Ultrachrome pigment inks. The paper is 100 percent cotton rag Moab Entrada natural 300gsm paper. The prints are printed using Ergosoft's Studioprint, and profiles were created using the Gretag Macbeth Eye-One spectrophotometer. The purpose of this portfolio is to share my love of Africa; its people, landscape and of its wildlife."

JM: How do you market your portfolio boxes and other materials? What do you find to be the most significant challenges?
AB: I only market on my web site, and through casual conversation with people who ask me about the portfolios. I am building up more images for another 2 portfolios, and will offer these sometime in early 2007. The biggest challenge in these portfolios is taking the time to process, print and assemble each box of prints. It takes a ton of time!

JM: Would you like to talk a bit about your first experiences with having your work published?
AB: This is an area that I have neglected so far, unfortunately. I spend most of my time teaching workshops and leading safaris, as opposed to chasing publication opportunities. I forget what my first published work was, but I suspect it wasnít related to what I am doing currently.

JM: What do you feel that the key pieces for running a successful photographic business are (besides taking great photographs)? What other angles do you feel that you need in order to make it work professionally?
AB: I know many incredible nature photographers. The ones that are the most successful are the ones that spend an appropriate amount of time on marketing. So marketing, along with great photography, can often be more important to the sucess of a business than the product itself. Being a good marketer will make or break you. If people donít know who you are, how are they going to use your services or do business with you?

JM: How does your website play into your business?
AB: I have a tendency to like simple things, and this has made my web site follow the same path. My website is my main marketing tool for my business, and I don't want my marketing message to be watered down through an overly complex website.

JM: You were saying that you don't generally chase publications. How do you feel you are best able to promote yourself and to get people to come to you and your website?
AB: My main promotional efforts come through lectures to photography-related clubs, online photography forums and referrals from past safari travelers and students. I also get invited to do lectures at private homes of past travelers, and they invite many of their friends over for a night of dining, photographic slideshows and talks about Africa.

JM: Would you like to talk about the seminars you work on?
AB: Absolutely. I run workships here in the USA as well as in Africa. These workshops are mostly field workshops, where I teach concepts consistent with the level of knowledge of my participants. I believe that no questions are off limits, and no questions are too basic or advanced.

JM: This is a great answer. People come to you for something particular. What do you feel makes your workshops different from Artie Morris or Arte Wolfe (etc)?
AB: I suspect we are all similar in many ways, but what makes each workshop leader different is their personality and how they relate to people. Some are outgoing, some are not. Some prefer to teach the nitty gritty details of the mechanics, and some prefer to teach the creative aspects of photography. It all comes down to being comfortable with who you have selected to be your workshop leader.

JM: What other sources of income do you live off in the photographic business?
AB: I also license my images in the stock photography area. This is an area that I am spending more time on, so my customers can search and locate images in my stock library without having to send me an e-mail or call me to tell me what they are looking for.

JM: You are selling your own stock photography as opposed to through a stock house? How have you found the experience? How have you marketed yourself?
AB: The amount of work can be a burden, but I find that working directly with an art director or art buyer is as rewarding for me as it is for them.

Personal service definitely matters in the market today, as well as competitive pricing. Most of my customers are asking for rights managed images, as opposed to royalty free images, and this made a difference in deciding to handle all of my own stock business myself.

JM: Photographically, can you describe what your 'darkest' days were like? Did you ever consider giving it up professionally?
AB: I havenít really had many dark days so far, as I consider myself new to the game. My biggest challenge to date has been the knee jerk reaction to having a paycheck every few weeks. Being a professional photographer is much different from my old day job as a software consultant, thatís for sure. I used to have a healthy paycheck every few weeks, which was quite nice, but I wouldnít trade my current experiences for a paycheck. Donít take this the wrong way, though, as I love the freedom that working for myself has brought to my life.

JM: Where does your professional education come from?
AB: Well talk about extreme left brain/right brain. I have a few business degrees, one in accounting and one in information systems. I knew when I graduated from college that I had something else in store for my life, but I really had no clue what that would be. I had a successful career in financial software systems consulting.

JM: Is what you are doing today remotely similar to what you had planned? If not, why?
AB: I am doing exactly what I had planned, which is focusing on African safari photo workshops, as well as domestic instructional workshops. I have focused my business around helping other people capture exceptional photographs.

JM: What are your goals looking out 18 months?
AB: With the birth of our first child, I suspect my African safaris will be cut back some, which will allow me to run more domestic workshops. My biggest challenge will be the time spent away from my family, so in a perfect world, we would run a few workshops from a particular location and I could bring my family for the ride. We really love the outdoors, and I will make an effort to remain an outdoors enthusiast after our baby is born - incorporating our lifestyle into our baby's life.

JM: You have a lot coming onto your plate with your new baby (Congratulations, by the way!). Do you think it will be tough to reposition yourself from doing predominantly African Safaris to doing more regional ones?
AB: Thank you! We are excited to have our new baby at home now, and I look forward to the day when he will be out on safari with binoculars or a camera in his hands. I am planning my 2007 and 2008 safaris at the moment, and I am not scaling my trips back quite yet. I will have three trips to Africa in the year, with 2 safari groups on each trip. So my mix will be six safaris a year, and a few domestic workshops sprinkled here and there to fill in the year. In 2007 I have a Galapagos trip that should also be quite exciting.

JM: What advice do you have for people in terms of developing a successful financial strategy for running a photographic business?
AB: Definitely find a niche and be the best at that niche. This helps support whatever marketing message that you have.

JM: You talk about marketing being a key piece in running a successful business. How did you market yourself when you first started? If you had to do it all over again today, what advice would you give on 'where to start?'
AB: When I first started my safaris, my friend Michael Reichmann of Luminous Landscape helped give me some plugs for my safaris. I also had an online presence in some photography internet forums, so people already were familiar with me at that point. If I had to start all over again right now, I am not sure where I would start, because it is a very crowded field right now in the photographic workshop business. Just like in any business, specialization is the key to being successful.

JM: In order to make it professionally as a photographer in our business, do you see having a 'side business' as being essential? In this case, you are doing photo-tourism, which probably makes a significant chunk of your income.
AB: I have to say that most professional photographers need to have multiple business approaches. My main business is teaching workshops in Africa, but I also run a domestic workshops, I sell photographic prints and portfolios, and I am also coming out with my own camera bag product later this year. So I try to have many things going on at the same time, which keeps me very busy.

Re: Interview: Andy Biggs - Part III [Re: James Morrissey] #38826
05/31/12 08:12 PM
05/31/12 08:12 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
James Morrissey Offline OP
James Morrissey  Offline OP
Carpal Tunnel

Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
Part III: Tips/Techniques

JM: Do you consider yourself an environmental activist? If so, why?
AB: I guess I don't think of myself as an activist, but in many ways I am. By taking people on safari, I am educating people on how ecosystems can be at risk from human encroachment. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a single national park or wildlife preserve in Africa that is not currently going through challenges associated with human interference. I am very sensitive to this because I want these areas preserved for generations - hundres of years from now.

JM: Are there any community organizations that you feel are very effective in terms of results?
AB: I am a huge fan of hte African Wildlife Foundation, as well as, the World Wildlife Fund. You can visit their websites at <a href="http://www.awf.org" target="_blank"> www.awf.org and <a href="http://www.wwf.org" target="_blank"> www.wwf.org.</a>

JM: Can you talk about what your photographic day looks like? How does your family fit into it?
AB: I guess this all depends if I am in Africa or not. My typical safari day consists of an eary morning wakeup, followed by a quick breakfast and we are off for a day of wildlife viewing and photography. To get the best light, we need to be out before sunrise. We are often out in the bush until around lunchtime, and then return back to camp for a nice lunch. After lunch, I download images to my laptop, and take a quick nap. We are back out on safari around 3:30 until dusk. Around the dinner table, we all share our wildlife experiences and stories, followed by after-dinner photo reviews and perhaps a workflow discussion. Back to bed, so we can be ready to go for the next day!

JM: Do you have any techniques/tips for people who are doing an African Safari?
AB: 1) Bracket the difficult exposures if shooting film, or learn how to read histograms on digital cameras. When photographing wildlife, you typically have dark bodies against light backgrounds, which are one of the most difficult situations to expose for. An incident meter is also a great idea.

2) Know your equipment before you depart for your safari trip. Learning to use a new camera in the field will most likely end up as that: a test.

3) Bring along a bean bag, or some other means to support your camera. A stable camera platform is preferable to hand holding. I prefer the Kinesis Safari Sack product.

4) Bring the longest lens that you can afford. There will be many shots that will be close, and there will be many that are far away. Having the best tool for the job will definitely help. In 35mm terms, a 400mm lens is a great starting point.

5) You should try and take your best photographs within the first hour of sunlight, and the last hour of sunlight. The closer the sun is to the horizon, the warmer and more dramatic your shots will be.

6) Try to practice the 'rule of thirds'. By offsetting your subject away from the center of the frame, you will create nice negative space that has balance and harmony to your images.

*Note: For some reason this file is not embedding. Please feel free to click on the link to see the image.*

7) At the very end of the day, when the sun is below the horizon, flash photography is a must. I have found that a Better Beamer or Flash X-Tender attached to your flash can illuminate wildlife farther away than you might think.
Better Beamers are also great to put the catch light in the eyes of a far away mammal or bird.

8) Learn more about the wildlife you would like to photograph. You will be amazed at the abundance and variety of wildlife in east Africa, and how they interrelate.

Thank you again to Andy Biggs for having performed this interview with us. You can learn more about Andy by going to his web site: www.andybiggs.com.

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