Welcome to another episode of Photographer Spotlight. This time I’d like to welcome John Atala, who shows magnificent wildlife images. Step inside the world of John Atala and learn all his tips and tricks!
Tell us about yourself, where are you from, what got you into photography and how long do you have done photography?
John: My name is John Atala. I was born in Beirut, Lebanon. I moved to Colorado, US in 2000. There was wildlife all around my apartment so I bought a Canon Rebel film camera to document it.
What is the favorite photo you took and why?
John: My favorite photo is that of a bison at dawn on my first trip to Yellowstone National Park in the winter. I wanted to capture a photo of bison with frost on its face (the breath of the bison freezes in the winter). I couldn’t ask for a better sunrise and view of how Yellowstone is like. The place is magical in the winter and has very few visitors which adds to the sense of being in a wild place.
Which gear do you mainly use / What is typically in your camera bag?
John: I use Canon equipment. I own two camera bodies. The 7D Mk2 and the 5D Mk3. I use 4 different lenses. 24-105/4, 70-200/2.8, 400/5.6 and 600/4. I also have a Gitzo tripod which I rarely use. I prefer to shoot handheld which is now possible with the good high ISO performance of the cameras and lens image stabilization. I find the tripod limiting when photographing animals.
How do you prepare for an image?
John: I usually have a certain behavior or habitat that I want to capture. I search other people’s work and research to figure out when/where I am most likely to succeed. Then it’s a question of going there and waiting. Waiting is probably the best preparation for an image!
Do you have guiding principles that you follow when you’re making pictures?
John: I like to get close without disturbing the wildlife. I get inspired when I feel accepted by a wild animal. I have developed techniques that convey to the subject that I am not a threat. It takes time to establish this fact but it’s worth it. I often go to areas where animals are protected and used to people. Areas where hunting is allowed usually don’t yield as good a result unless one uses a blind which I rarely use.
How important is post-processing for you? Can you tell us what kind of post processing you typically do?
John: Post-processing is absolutely crucial. The image out of the camera rarely represents the scene as the photographer saw it. The most typical issues are the white balance, contrast, and dynamic range. I do not worry about white balance in the field because I shoot raw so this is the first issue I fix in post-processing. I have a bias for contrasty images so I often find myself boosting contrast sometimes in part of the image. Also, for images that include the sky at sunrise or sunset, the dynamic range of the image usually needs to be expanded in the raw image. In extreme cases, two or more images taken at different exposures can be blended.
What’s the most challenging part about being a photographer?
John: At least for wildlife photography, it is patience. If you want exceptional photos you have to wait. If you’re constantly looking for better opportunities, you often get ordinary images.
Do you have general advice and tips for other photographers?
John: Take photos on sunny days but with no sun! What I mean by that is that the light is magical at dawn and dusk (unless it’s overcast). It may sound counter-intuitive because there is very little light then but often in photography, more light is inferior images. Also for wildlife photography, animals are most active at dawn and dusk.
What are your future photography goals?
John: I would like to take more conceptual shots in the future. What I mean by that are photos that convey an essential quality of the place or animal. Sometimes that means breaking the rules of composition, sharp images, and correct exposure.