Episode 29: Nature Photography ft. David FitzSimmons

Peggy Farren 2017-03-24

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Show Notes for Episode 29: Nature Photography ft. David FitzSimmons

David FitzSimmons has an extensive education in English (verbal communication) but taught himself and learned from professionals about photography and the communication aspect of photography.

"Photography is a form of communication."

- David FitzSimmons

His writing education helps influence the way he creates images. It also helps in the creative process of producing books!

He has experience in all types of photography, but eventually started focusing on nature photography. Around that time, Sigma realized that he was using their equipment and sought him out to represent them and become an educator to teach people how to photograph different subjects. He attended a nature photography conference in Destin, FL and he had written an article on using circular fisheye lenses. Dave Metz asked him to join the Sigma Pro program as one of the founding members.

David had written an article for Popular Photography about how to take a 30-inch light ten into the field and take pictures of wildflowers right in nature to control the lighting. When David wrote a book called Animals of Ohio's Ponds and Vertal Pools, Dave Metz suggested he take those animals and put them in a light tent! When they saw how his photos with the white background were turning out and being received, they knew they were on to something big.

He ran those first few pictures (green frog, bullfrog, box turtle) as ads in Outdoor Photographer magazine. Then they put together an exhibit of the photos, which were a hit. So many people suggested he make a children's book with the photos.

His daughter Sarah found the gray tree frog that was on the cover of his first Curious Critters book, which was published in 2011. His goal was to sell 50,000 in 2 years, and they sold out the first 5,000 copies in 4 months! After they won their sixth book award, Scholastic picked the book up for the book fairs.

"If the first book goes well, then you should work on a second book."

- David FitzSimmons

He travels around the country and works with zoos and aquariums to take these photos.

"They're doing what you'd expect: moving all over the place and not sitting still; it's a lot like photographing children. You never know what they're going to do!"

- David FitzSimmons

For most land-based animals, Lastolight 36-in Cubelite tent, the outdoor version (with a sealed bottom). He uses a couple of Dino light studio lights to get soft lighting.

For aquarium shots, he builds his own custom aquarium for the subject. He uses non-reflective, anti-glare glass on the front to avoid light bouncing off. He uses Dino light strobes, 4x6 pop-open translucent Lastolight panels, and places one on each side, and shines lights through them. He places a third in the back behind aquarium for the white background. There is light shining through the back and lights from the front, and if everything is positioned right, you won't get reflections on the front of glass and while will get a plain white background.

He says that it's all about brainstorming about the capturing the shot you want. For example, when he photographs a seastar, he used a 5-gallon white bucket and placed the seastar in the bottom with a little water. He would shoot from above, so there's a shadow above subject and no glare on the water, but light bounces around the white bucket and produces a white background.

"It's always just brainstorming."

- David FitzSimmons

David has three large picture books for readers age 3-10, as well as look & listen board books for younger readers. All of the books are self-published and they're available internationally. He's also working on fictional books, with 20+ books in the series.

He also created a large animal rig. It includes a roll of super bright white paper 107 inches wide, with a piece of plywood on the ground of the enclosure. They bring the roll of paper, stands, lights, etc. into their enclosure and pull the paper and letting it sweep on top of the plywood.

"Some animals will sit perfectly for you, and sometimes ones that you think will be easy to photograph are difficult."

- David FitzSimmons

Brand development is very important. He used the green tree frog from his first book cover for symbolism and as a logo for the project. He has a tie to match the cover of each book!

He also developed audio books to bring the characters of his books to life.

He is currently working on Curious Critters oMinnesotata, and Curious Critters for Dogs (including dingo, coyote, wolves, etc.) and Birds.

The traditional publishers can drop the ball (marketing, design), so he decided he had a greater chance of success if he took all the responsibility of the book. He also leads workshops on how to self-publish. The first question to ask is, how many books do you want to sell?

Contact David FitzSimmons:

See you next week for episode 30!

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