The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department's information specialist and staff photographer describes himself as a "science communicator." That is, most of his work involves documenting FWD staff at work, from game wardens tracking down poachers to wildlife biologists radio-collaring bears. His goal, Tom Rogers says, is to "give people that connection to our work and [show] why it's exciting, fun and important."
The 34-year-old Potsdam, N.Y., native, a wildlife biologist himself, has worked for FWD for four years. This Saturday, May 14, Rogers will teach a workshop on wildlife and nature photography at Elmore State Park. The event, cohosted by the Vermont Woodlands Association, will cover the basics of exposure, depth of field and use of camera equipment, followed by a field session in the park. FWD bird biologist John Buck will be on hand to help attendees find actual critters to shoot.
In advance of the workshop, Seven Days spoke to Rogers about his photography, which has taken him to nearly 30 countries.
SEVEN DAYS: How long have you been shooting nature photography?
TOM ROGERS: Off and on since college. After grad school, my wife and I took a year off and worked and volunteered our way around the world. That's when my interest in photography really took off. We were in places like the Ghats of India, the Himalayas and the Middle East, where the potential for photography is just spectacular. I took tens of thousands of photos.
SD: Are you formally trained in photography?
TR: No, I'm completely self-taught. My father-in-law is a really good photographer and has given me some education in it. I also went out for one day with Kurt Budliger, a famous Vermont photographer, who did a one-day personal training for me. But that's the extent of it.
SD: This seminar is mostly for beginners to learn the basics and intermediates looking for some new tricks?
TR: That's right. I've done seminars like this for a few years, since I started working for the department, because photography is a great way for people to connect with nature. Traditionally, [the Fish & Wildlife Department] has focused on hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. But with the digital photography revolution, an amazing number of people are getting out there and taking pictures of birds, moose and other wildlife.
SD: What are some common mistakes that amateur photographers make when shooting nature?
TR: I wouldn't necessarily call it a mistake, but one thing people tend to do is not really explore what their camera can do. Beginners can be a little bit intimidated because digital cameras have all these different functions and features, and people tend to just keep it set on "auto" for everything. My goal is that, within 20 minutes of showing people the basics of their cameras, they'll have an understanding of how to start the next steps to exploring those things, and [we can] take away some of the mystery of those functions and allow them to branch out.
SD: Where do you recommend photography buffs go in Vermont to get good wildlife pictures?
TR: The best one is Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison. It offers fantastic opportunities to see birds and waterfowl, as well as all the things that want to eat waterfowl, like raptors. Also, this time of year in the Northeast Kingdom, if you drive along the smaller roads in Island Pond, you can get out of your car and hike some of the trails, and you're pretty likely to see moose. They tend to concentrate in the mucky ponds and low-lying areas where they get salt runoff from the roads.
SD: How have you gotten some of your best wildlife shots?
TR: I feel like I'm revealing the secrets behind my magic tricks a little, but one of the good things about working as a wildlife biologist is that I get up close and personal with a lot of wildlife. We're banding or radio collaring or dealing with animals that are being rehabilitated, so I get a lot closer to them than most people do.
SD: What are the best times for shooting wildlife in Vermont?
TR: Dawn and dusk. That's when wildlife are most active. The challenge is that sometimes, even when the light is beautiful, it can be a little dimmer, which makes [the shutter] a little slower. So a bird is not going to stay still for long. Even a moose will look blurry if you can't take that fast, well-lit shot.
Wildlife Photography Seminar with Tom Rogers, Saturday, May 14, 9 a.m. to noon, at Elmore State Park. $20 to cover park entrance and benefit Vermont Woodlands Association programs. Bring camera equipment, including a tripod and binoculars. Limited to 20 participants; contact Kathleen Wanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 747-7900 to register. vtfishandwildlife.com
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