What’s your background?
It’s eclectic. My main expertise is writing, and I excelled in it even in early elementary school. I have written a few hundred published articles on a variety of subjects, and think research and interviewing people for an article can be fascinating. Being the interviewee here feels weird since I am usually the person asking the questions!
I have also worked as a copyeditor, held administrative jobs involving writing, and for a few years owned a boutique filled with creations by local and national artisans.
My interest in outdoor photography began several decades ago. With a basic 35mm film camera I learned how to take excellent photos without auto-focus, auto-exposure or a zoom lens. My photogenic little girl, dog and cat served as my models, as did an increasing array of birds, animals and other elements of the natural world.
Nature photography remained just an active hobby until I bought my first digital camera about a dozen years ago. It was at that time many print publications began merging or closing, and those that remained soon had a Web presence. Contract writers like myself were asked to submit digital photos along with assigned articles. For a while I had an online weekly column, including photos, about the outdoor connections people enjoy in their everyday lives.
I wound up enjoying digital photography so much that I created my current domain and website, “Up Close With Mother Nature,” which focuses on outdoor subjects I find appealing. My journey with nature continues.
Does your artwork come from that background?
What are you trying to say with your work?
I initially wanted to showcase my photos as a way for both kids and adults to appreciate nature. Lately, I also want to influence people to put down their ever-present phones –or perhaps even turn them off for a while – and really experience the sights and sounds of the natural world around them.
Most of my images are taken within a half-hour of what I consider to be “civilization.” I do not venture into the middle-of-nowhere. As I observe nature I usually smile a lot. The drama of thundering waves, for example, is mesmerizing to me, especially since no two waves are alike, just like snowflakes and clouds. When I watch cute baby sea otters safe with their mothers in the wild near Monterey, I am grinning from ear to ear. Pelicans awe me, and after a pelican allowed me to stand an arm’s length away from it for a photo, I was giddy! (I made that image my “Up Close With Mother Nature” profile photo.)
Unfortunately, I sometimes also witness sad situations involving wildlife. Amazing wildlife rescue organization members try to capture sick or injured birds, sea otters, sea lions, and other critters for possible treatments. The outcomes are often poor and make me appreciate the happy times even more.
What made you choose the medium you work with?
I always loved seeing full-color photos in magazines, so I was drawn to photography.
Do you work in a studio?
I do my photo editing in my home office, which is a small bedroom facing a quiet backyard.
What is the one thing in your studio you just could not be without?
I need central air-conditioning in the summer since my home office faces southwest. A well-tuned furnace is a necessity in the winter since California gets cold. Keep in mind that for a Californian “cold” means below 60 degrees!
I can’t imagine what life was like before photography. If you weren’t wealthy you couldn’t hire an artist to paint portraits of your family members. Vivid memories of your children as babies or other life events all but disappeared with the blur of time. We are so lucky today to be able to preserve photos of our lives for ourselves and future generations.
Who are your biggest influences?
Rather than giving individual names, I will say I am inspired by the high-quality work of many photographers and artists I see in-person and online.
What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?
I have a few, but one near and dear to my heart is “Twin Baby Mourning Doves and Papa.” It was the result of two Mourning Doves turning my fern-filled window planter into their baby nursery. I noticed a single egg in it one year in late February, and within a couple weeks a teeny downy baby bird hatched. I named it Pisces.
Daddy Dove was an involved parent, sitting for hours with Pisces while Mama Dove was off taking a break. (In case you are wondering, I learned that male Mourning Doves have a slight blue hue on top of their heads.) Pisces fledged into the front garden about a month later. I was initially horrified that his parents left him alone for hours at a time. But I’ve learned that nature toughens up its young quickly, and he had the good sense to stay under a shrub when he was alone. He survived and grew quickly, being fed by his mother occasionally for some time after he fledged. I guess it is like weaning a human baby.
A couple weeks later two eggs suddenly appeared in the same window planter. Before long, I was besotted by adorable twin Mourning Doves that drew my camera and me to the window every day. Daddy Dove did his parental duty again, but one day he took a break with Mama Dove when the babies were no longer downy. That was the day I happened to be looking at them when I saw a flash of blue by the window. A Blue Jay was trying to grab one baby as it shrieked in fear. I pounded hard on the window glass while screaming at the jay, and it flew away, leaving the baby uninjured. The parents showed up a short time later, after the excitement was over.
After the twins fledged, another egg soon appeared in the planter. My husband and I went on a trip for a few days, and the egg was gone when we returned. The parents didn’t come back to the planter although I saw them occasionally at our backyard bird bath.
How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?
Editing a photo can take me from a few minutes to an hour or more, depending on whether I had time to set up the shot. Moving critters don’t understand the concept of holding still, much like little kids, so I often have to gauge the shooting situation quickly and use the shutter in continuous mode. I shoot using RAW, which often allows me to make various edits later, but my being a perfectionist adds to the completion time.
How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?
I don’t think a work is ever really “finished.” I can look at it a year later and still find something I think I could have done differently.
What project are you working on now?
I recently came across hundreds of my old 35mm negatives in a box, and I am planning to scan them into my computer. Some of the negatives’ envelopes are marked with descriptions of the subjects while others will be a surprise trip down memory lane. I know I took some photos of wildlife in tropical locations and will include them on my website.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
This is related to the question about knowing when something is “finished.” The advice was given by a journalism professor, and, for me, it pertains to writing and photography: When you think you are done with the work, set it aside for at least a few hours. You need to look at it with fresh eyes to catch anything you might have missed. Chances are excellent that you did miss something. You then need to fix it and move on to another project.
What was the first piece of art you sold?
It was a photo I had taken in Washington, DC of the National Columns. The lighting caught their reflections perfectly in the pool below them.
Do you find it hard to navigate the artworld?
Like many other people, I find marketing to be a challenging, time-consuming necessity.
What are you personally doing to advance your work career?
Currently I am working on my new business page on Facebook and actively marketing elsewhere as well.
How do you price your work and why do you price it that way?
It varies with the work. I don’t use a formula.
Do you use social networking in your day to day life?
Is there anything that really annoys you about the artworld?
I get really annoyed by the rampant misuse of copyrighted work on the internet. Kids need to be taught about internet copyright laws, and many adults need to educate themselves as well.
What advice would you give new artists?
I would advise new photographers to choose a camera that feels comfortable in their hand. When you add a longer lens to the camera, the overall weight can increase substantially. I rarely use a tripod since what I shoot will probably move erratically, so weight is a major factor for me.
I would also suggest they turn off most Auto settings on their camera, with the exception of Auto Focus for moving subjects. They will then learn first-hand about taking good—and bad—photos.
Have you got hobbies?
I grow Paphiopedilum and Cymbidium orchids. They have taught me patience because they will not bloom until/if they decide to do so. Some are especially stubborn, but I excuse that because they are so photogenic when they finally make an appearance!
A lifelong hobby is reading. Dean Koontz, Catherine Coulter, and the late Sue Grafton are three of my favorite authors.
Where are you based?
CONTACT SUSAN by using the form
or scroll further under to comment direct on the interview on this site
I live in Manchester, UK and try to promote other artists and writers when I can.I'm so pleased you found our community and I hope to chat to you soon!!Please comment on my posts if you like them 🙂