Jess Findlay is a young Canadian photographer who won the International Youth Photographer of the Year award back in 2011 when he was just 18. We bring to you our exclusive interview with the passionate lad where he shares the tips and tricks of the trade!
- Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where do you live and where are you from? How long has photography been a hobby or career of yours and what motivated you to get started?
My name is Jess Findlay. I’m 23 years old. I was born and currently reside in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Photography has been my greatest passion for the last 8 years or so. I received my first camera when I was about 15 years old; a hand-me-down DSLR and 75-300mm lens from my father. Growing up in a family with a big passion for the outdoors, it seemed very natural for me to gravitate towards photographing the natural world, though in the early stages, I photographed a whole assortment of different subjects. It wasn’t long before my love of nature steered me towards photographing wildlife and landscape full-time.
- Are you a self-taught photographer or did you take any of the professional courses in Photography?
I would say for the most part I’m self-taught. During my first years I joined a camera club and reached out to many professionals, receiving some valuable guidance. Much of my knowledge has simply come from many years of trial and error. My entire photography career has developed alongside my closest friend and fellow photographer Connor Stefanison. We definitely pushed each other to get better and continue to do so today.
- Artists you looked upon in your initial stages in this field?
Many of the photographers that motivated me to pursue nature photography in the beginning are the same people I continue to look up to right now. Paul Nicklen, Art Wolfe, Frans Lanting, Jim Brandenburg are some of the big names that really inspired me when I first started to delve into wildlife photography. As my interests and style continue to evolve, so does my inspiration.
- Tell us about your Photography Equipment?
I shoot with Canon equipment. My two bodies are the Canon 5DM3 and the Canon 7DM2. I recently acquired a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II which replaced my aging Canon 400mm f/5.6. For my landscape and wide-angle wildlife work, I use a Canon 17-40mm f/4. I also use Canon speedlite flashes for some images.
- Do you have eyes on any particular new equipment which you would like to acquire?
At some point, no matter how reluctant I might be, investing the money in a super-telephoto lens is going to be necessary. Until that day comes, I’m very happy with my current equipment.
In an industry that is becoming more and more saturated with those willing to work for free, it’s not an easy task.
- How did you get into wild life photography?
My parents fostered my appreciation for wildlife and the outdoors from a very young age. Much of my youth was spent birdwatching, hiking and just generally being consumed by nature. My father is a hobbyist nature photographer which is how I developed my initial interest in taking pictures.
- What advice would you give to a person who is just beginning his career in Wildlife photography?
Don’t become too worried about having the world’s best equipment or traveling to the world’s most exotic locations. Amazing images can be made with fairly basic equipment and in all parts of the world. Shoot locally and concentrate on learning as much as you can about your equipment and subjects first and foremost. If you work hard and learn your craft, the rest will fall into place.
- There is a considerable amount of danger in this field…
When photographing in certain areas or with large predators, there is definitely an element of risk involved. That said, I think that learning more and more about animal behaviour – the same knowledge of habits and body language that can help you predict when an amazing moment might happen – can help keep both you and the animal safe. Without being naive, I try to approach situations in hopes of discovering how animals truly behave, not how we’re made to believe they are. As someone who is very active in sharing their work online, I think it’s easy to publish very clickable content about the big bad bear, but that only serves to perpetuate the innate fear much of the world seems to have with the very creatures that need our reverence and help the most.
- How do you set up for and take the image?
Some of my images happen more spontaneously when I’m reacting to changing conditions or the activity around me, whereas other are more preconceived. A lot can come into play when planning a wildlife photo. Often there is only a brief window to capture a certain behaviour each year. Weather conditions, animal activity and an element of luck all have to align in order for the image to come together.
- In 2011, you were awarded with the International Youth Photographer of the Year award from Nature’s Best Photography which was soon followed by BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year accolade. What was that one thing that made your photographs stand out?
The two images of mine that have been awarded in large competitions are very different from one another. The photo that won Nature’s Best is a fairly basic animal portrait where I happened to catch a unique moment. It’s very obvious and elicits an immediate response from the viewer. The photo awarded in Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the complete opposite in that the composition in much more complex and the subject matter is left as sort of mystery until the viewer slowly navigates the image, discovering the small details. As much as having an identifiable trademark style that makes the photos stand out would be nice, I really enjoy being able to take images very different from one another.
- Which is your favorite image? Could you explain the background story behind it?
My favorite photo is of a Coastal Giant Salamander in front of a waterfall, taken during the springtime in Oregon, USA. After seeing a couple of photos online of a beautiful waterfall in a remote part of the Columbia River Gorge, I was determined to access it. With a very vague description of a route that traversed tall cliffs with no trail, it ended up being one of the most unnerving hikes I’ve been on.
Once I arrived at the waterfall, I was amazed at the area’s beauty. As I started to explore, looking for compositions for landscape photos, I found a Coastal Giant Salamander. Where I live in British Columbia, they are extremely rare and range-restricted. I had previously spent part of a summer surveying for this species as part of a conservation effort to protect the creeks where they can be found. Having only seen one before, I was understandably very excited! I composed this photo with a wide-angle lens to show their beautiful habitat. By focusing down to my lens’ minimum focus distance, I was able to keep the salamander quite large in the frame.
- You also show a soft corner to the Landscape Genre. What, according to you is the key to make a great landscape photograph? Is it the same as making a great photograph in general?
A great landscape photograph to me can really transport the viewer into the scene. There is a growing trend of heavily processing images to a point where landscapes look totally surreal. While I absolutely respect the vision of those artists and the work that goes into creating the final product, I’m very partial to more natural photographs that make me feel like I’m really there. I wouldn’t say that landscape photography is my forte by any means as I still have so much to learn. It’s very different from photographing wildlife in a conventional way. When shooting with long telephoto lenses, the narrow angle of view in which you see the scene can really simplify things. Switching to a wide-angle lens means there are often many more elements to organize within the frame. Learning to compose more complex scenes has in turn really helped my wildlife photography and encouraged including more environment along with the animal.
- How important is the role of Photoshop in your final images? What are your views on “Editing being termed as cheating”?
I use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop to process all of my images. I would be lying if I said I don’t “edit” my photos. However, I think the reality of photo processing is a lot different from how the general public might perceive it. My end goal is to restore as much realism in the image as possible, to give the viewer the experience of seeing the animal or landscape in real life. Often, this requires some computer work as RAW files typically do not accurately portray reality. My editing is limited to minor adjustments to colour, contrast, sharpness and cropping. Authenticity is very important to me, therefore I do not remove or add anything to and from my photos.
Amazing images can be made with fairly basic equipment
- Photography is a Great Hobby but a Bad Career. Your views?
I agree that photography is not the easiest career. There are truly no guaranteed pay cheques and there is a lot of competition. As nice as it would be to have the security of a regular 9-5 job, I wouldn’t trade it. I think that having gone through quite a few years of very hard work, waiting and wishing for the opportunity to be a self-sustaining professional photographer, makes it that much more rewarding to be in that position now.
- According to you what is the most challenging thing in pursuing a career in Photography?
The most challenging thing for me has simply been finding ways to make the money necessary to live as a photographer. The passion, and drive is never something I found difficult to find within myself. That said, the long hours and determination necessary to succeed can only get you so far if there isn’t a viable way to support yourself financially. In an industry that is becoming more and more saturated with those willing to work for free, it’s not an easy task. For a few years before going pro, I worked as a field technician on conservation biology projects to fund my lifestyle of travelling to take pictures. I would be nearly as happy doing that now but thankfully some opportunities came my way that meant I could pursue photography full-time.
If you’re truly very passionate about something and have the determination and patience, there’s no stopping you.
- You’ve learnt the most from?
Traveling. Having the opportunity to travel throughout different parts of South and Central America, Canada and Alaska, guiding photography trips has really taught me a lot and helped to shape who I am as a person.
- If you could ask yourself one question about your photography what would it be and why?
I’d be very curious to see where I’ll be and what I’ll be focusing my efforts on in 10 years time. I feel so inspired by many different facets of nature photography and still feel like I’m finding my way.
- If someone says “How can I be next Jess Findlay?” What would you say?
I think the most important thing that has brought me to where I am today is passion. When I wake up, I’m thinking about photography and nature. There are very few moments when I’m not feeling excited about my next adventure or envisioning a new image. I feel that will continue to keep me going for many years to come. If you’re truly very passionate about something and have the determination and patience, there’s no stopping you.
- Why don’t you show our viewers your 5 photographs which are closest to your heart?