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The Art of Wildlife Photography

Lesson 1 of 24

Tom's Story: Early Life and Cranes


The Art of Wildlife Photography

Lesson 1 of 24

Tom's Story: Early Life and Cranes


Lesson Info

Tom's Story: Early Life and Cranes

and thanks for all of you in the audience I just talked a couple that uh came along ways georgia wherever a couple blocks thanks for being here and thanks for creative life for inviting me and teo brandon my good friend here who helped put it together brian who who's organizing director who came to jackson had a great time in jackson uh ran round the tea towns for a couple of days and we had great luck one beautiful day of uh sort of indian summer weather and then the next day it rained all day so it was the luck of the draw but least we actually both days were great we saw a lot of wildlife and had a good time and brian his film crew were really fun to be with really professional and they worked my butt off so they had a lot of questions um brian came with the script pieces you know that's what we want to do and he said we want to do birds in flight and I said well the all the birds have migrated way to take that out of the script and then it's just terrible script we're going to just...

go with the flow we just kinda how I operate basically you know I have certain things in mind do you go back to places often times and we did some of that and we did some scouting um I go out up from pretty much every day when I'm at home on the tee towns and yellowstone when my favorite places on earth and one of the great places for wildlife and nature photography and so we went to some of my favorite places and we actually had really great look you know they say they're going to come for two days without a god you know something anything you know sometimes you are lucky and we were quite like it so you'll see that religion in the sessions and I'm going to start off with just kind of my journey um and how I got to hear how he got from nebraska to here so with that um and that's about oh seventy eighty ninety minutes depending how long I blab on um and then we'll do a gere gear session after that and then talk about some other things kind of introduction of what we're gonna cover in the next couple of sessions so uh we'll just start with my story so these air what we're going to do it in the first session like you just talked about um respecting well tomorrow the next session animal's environment animal's environment part two and then about galleries in books and things like that so my journey takes me from the pot river nebraska I grew up on the prairies in a little town near grand island central nebraska along the platte river and uh it all started in but um gwendolyn is a town of about twenty five thousand people only grandparents lived there my parents live there I grew up there and um we always had cats and dogs and I was always fascinated with animals from the smallest uh two years old um always cat cats and dogs are on the house and um a dabba is a real avid sportsman he he lived to fish and hunt and those bigger catfish are the ones I caught and my older brother billy you're two years older than I am he was well my mom there figure out what I mean they're fairway my mom didn't put a vest on him too but I guess he was older bill um you know we all have siblings were different always well not always but usually we do everything's bill was like age twelve he was subscribing to the wall street journal and at age thirteen he started the company called midwest trading where he was he was buying and selling importing exporting and his goal was by the time he turned thirty years old he would be a millionaire and actually that's we kind of diverged after that but my dad had a little cabin one room schoolhouse in the platte river and uh that's where I spent my summers on a lot of time and it didn't have electricity or running water we had a hand pump and took bows and river and the plat um every summer would go dry and this is my brother billy in front of me back there of my canteen and um it was a big lesson for me in the early days thinking back on how it became kind of a conservation of something the platte river was being diverted for irrigation mostly for corn in nebraska all the way from colorado the south platte comes out of the mountains in colorado in the north light comes on the mountains and in wyoming and they joined at north platte in western nebraska and they form the platte river after that I also spent a couple years in ogallala on the south platte when I uh was about this age and those are probably my most formative years running around the river my both my parents were working in the data at a dime store five and dime if any of you remember that uh department store come thing and that was too young to be really working since they had worked really hard to keep going so I spent all my days on the river and with my buddies and my brothers and uh just footloose and fancy free and what the plat in the fall in the water will come back um we actually when the first water came down it wasn't me totally dry for two months in the summer time um not only was irrigation water but there was water a lot of water from from place like denver they needed water for keep the green grass growing and and they took a lot of water so what time we got to grand island it was dry we would dig down in the summer time see how far I would you know had to dig for water and then when the water came back in the fall we would get a call from our friends up west nor platini said the water is coming the water is coming and we'd run out and wait fortune on it was like manna from heaven so where we would go out and make decoys my dad was like said have a goose under mostly duck on her and way made all our own decoys we learned how to call ducks and geese and uh it's a freshman in college I won the world's goods calling championship on when I was a junior wanted again and that that envelope sticking out of my pocket was actually a thousand dollars u s savings bond which was what I want the price uh which may not seem like a whole big deal but that took me to europe for a month five dollars a day to europe you know used to be europe's five dollars a day bed reckless and all that and I squeaked out at least twelve weeks in the summer of traveling around europe had never seen the ocean before and obviously europe was a long way from nebraska so that was very formative in my early experience of while there is another world out there and that's probably really winning that goose going there but the last it's a funny kind of thing but actually give me that thousand dollars cash in and it was six hundred sixty eight dollars one hundred thirty seven dollars icelandic air to go in europe it's interest so it changed my life but my early uh um years in the plot watching animals took a few classes in high school and college art history that sort of thing but basic composition and gesture texture and all that but I never thought about ever being a photographer or being a painter but I was that someone should be here to paint this you know somebody why aren't they here so it took um me until I graduated from college undergraduate my dad wanted me to stay in the family business it was called harold w mandelson and sons and he had four sons and he meant we would he thought were always going to stay in business and the three brothers did accept me I was the black sheep and I left and I went off to college it was the first man wilson to go to college and actually stay in college graduated and um my dad's a reliable well we'll send you to college if you take business administration because that will somehow help you in the dime stores and I said well okay in my second year I transferred my major to biology and when I graduated the degree in biology and my dad was in the audience he's with how you take biology for that you're taking business administration well I forgot to tell him so then I went to graduate school and met a guy actually what about a man named paul johns guard he was the world's authority in waterfall duck skis and swan's in those years he's writing a book on on waterfall of north america and I'd read an article in omaha world herald about this book on die eh I called him and I said if if I don't end up going to vietnam that was nineteen sixty nine tied to the war boaster but he was you know four years deferment and then most of people that were warm bodied you would go to vietnam that was sort of the way so I called policy if I don't get you know if I don't get thanked for get a deferment or a high number of lottery at the time basically is what happened um would you take me under your wing and and could be one of your graduate students and he's well come on down we'll talk bring your transcripts and so I went down and he's really you looked at my transcripts and they're basically c plus b minus he says you don't really cut that mustard on grace has usually just take five students in there straight a students and this is where I won the world's goose going championship twice on dh and I have a cabin on the platte river and he said well we do make exceptions so he went to the board of the dean of students and said hey I think this kid has promised totally b s ing them but we became great friends great friends today we email almost every day we just did a book on yellowstone wildlife last summer working on a book on cranes in the world would tell the photographs he'll do some pen and ink you're out drawings and this will be his fifty eighth book and they're all major major books we've had this really pretty much lifelong friendship he's now in his eighties and he's trying to dream up you know what other species written about every group of birds in the world but anyway he's the one who taught me how to take pictures when I wanted to leave um nebraska did a semester to semester with him um he said uh I want to go the mountains always want to go the mountains uncle lived in estes park in the rocky mountains and and I want to move out in nebraska didn't want in the store and he said well a device of course for you that you khun you can count ducks different species of ducks and sex racial study it was important those days you could get there more males and females you could shoot you know they're nine males one female you could shoot eight male saying a count of ten points and so I spent the whole semester at the cabin sitting in duck blinds uh this is one of our blinds down here you see the decoy sitting there and this is a kind of sight I have most days and I would count pin these are mostly pin tails and mallards and there's tio and uh this what I look like and from basically february march in april and I would just sit there and identify what kind of board and start taking pictures so this is one of my first pictures ever of and I get really interested in flying birds I had a gun I gonna paul to help him as an assistant to work on his new book we went to obviously to the flat and into some great famous refugees now here in oregon and we came to the coast of here to vancouver shooting see ducks etcetera but and ahead of dark rooms I made the moment prints and did my own development on film and things spouted became fascinated with birds of flight paul taught me two things you know focusing I everything was manual in all the exposures of us you know auto focus and he said you could buy you know basically by a four hundred millimeter camera in the penn tech spot matic which is slr of the day and the three hundred and twenty five and that was my kid cost about five hundred dollars at her friend from vietnam who came back went to guam px pothole kit so that was a lot of money in those days of course but that was my whole entire kit for about five years um I saw this scene sort of developing as much quote for environmental photograph of scene with animals and the landscape and I saw the deer coming across the river from the cabin window ran down about a quarter mile got set up and waiting for the deer to cross the you know this little river it's pretty deteriorated is pretty crappy picture but that was made me think this is what I do today so I had a penchant for animals and environment when we will talk about that a lot in the later sessions but first I realized black why didn't work through well for colorful birds like ducks and mahler's in teal and in general ah love black and white but for wildlife uh color was a better choice I thought and of course you saw thousands of it's about nineteen to twenty million ducks geese in another five hundred thousand cranes come to the right route during these three months so it was fascinated by so if you haven't gone there make sure you go there any time from bid february toe bit april the prairies we're a huge influence on me of course and I shot everything's that I knew and I would recommend any of you you shoot what you know first and then you could branch out on goto place like africa if you want her in deer you know better going here all these exotic places which I happened to look out and go to over the years but I started with what I knew that influences like andrew wife um more painters thin photographer um brutal little affords a famous bernard um oh and grammy who became a mentor um but also of course loved the work of mental adams and edward weston and um another artist robert bateman so moved to the mountains but doesn't have a job and have no idea what was going to but I knew one thing that wanted live in the mountains I want to study biology I want to continue my studies and continued my master's university nebraska and colorado state university in fort collins I found little cabin in the woods had eighty acres this eighty dollars a month it was mining cabin had no electricity no running water but had labrador english centre and the record and a big garden and a lot of my friends who lived nearby my hippie friends in those days we would work the garden and spend a lot of time at the pain in your bar this is the first print I ever made um canada goose actually photographed with paul johns guard my mentor then and we went to city park in denver and there's this place where all the b we're in denver a couple days ago for thanksgiving and uh uh a great place for just practice shooting birds in flight specially geese you're thousands of coming to the city park there's a lake and thousands of dock system but I always go back to the platte river every spring because of this great scene and I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of pictures I have of ducks geese on dh it's my only annual migration and uh I think I've only missed one year since I can remember which some sixty sixty seven we'll just leave it at that um I was fortunate not to meet jane goodall about twelve fifteen years ago and I was asked to introduce her at a lecture in jackson hole and we got to talking and shit a day off we ended up going to yellowstone spending a day and became great friends and she uh she asked me about the cranes nebraska she heard about the grand we talked about everything her life and what I was saying and she said I always want to see that crane migration and I said well what are you doing in march and she's still in coming to you see the cranes so this year will be her thirteenth year so it's got its her little vacation she's doing lectures and and about three hundred travels about three hundred days a year on dh she's very little time up she's she's so fascinated with this bird as I am my favorite bird that um she comes every year and brings friends with their bringing support members usually two to four people last couple years he's brought dave matthews to great singer songwriter great guy fun guy he's fallen in love with birds he walks around with his iphone just taking sounds doesn't take pictures just sticks out took a few through a scope it he wants it sounds you know because that's how he is music sound so um I became more and more interested in crane's I want to do something um to save help save the flap because it was again being threatened of going drive every year uh my dad fought the irrigators when I was a kid he was probably first conservation to say actually we didn't have the term conservationists or environmentalist that was not or biodiversity or any of those words but he was you know a conservation since he was trying to say the river I picked it up even after I went to colorado I start working for a small film company called west wind productions made educational films for uh university of colorado andi after my two or three years of being hippie in the mountains I met this guy that was making films and he said do I was taking pictures but stills and he was also a duck hunter and I was taking this stills of mostly doctor he said let's have a beer talk about it good job you're working a so know you're looking for job sort of so he hired me as a cinematographer an editor and I wear for him for about five years but every year I would go back to the plot film doing cinematography then so I I uh started shooting cranes but I want to see them under nesting grounds and want to see them on their wintering grounds she went to all these places see where they lived in the winter and the spring and all their migration stopover and I'm doing a film called platte river of life um for the nature conservancy basically you'd be surprised how many people are in nebraska and don't realize what an incredible resource the pipe rigorous so I want to bring a first of nebraskans and make it more nationals the nature conservancy pick that up then end up doing a film um color cranes the gray wind for bbc um in a film with whooping cranes hooping princes off off also really important stop for whooping cranes so I started getting involved with cranes for about fifteen years I'm one of these guys they get stuck on things I didn't know I realize I should have moved on quicker but this is a miranda's where there hooping cranes winter and when I was filming uh this is about nineteen eighty eighty one for national geographic they're doing a film called flight of the whooping crane and they had heard that I'd spent ten years filming cranes so that was a go to guy kind of and sitting with the aeroflex and again all these manual lenses and films of s o sixteen imagine eso sixteen we talked about sixty four hundred now sixteen with a movie camera so things have changed a lot technology wise and I did a film it's called flight of the ruby grain there's a national geographic special uh it was nominated for an emmy and when I was telling jane we had a picnic in yellowstone talking about the cranes and things it's flashed on me that her film my life with chimpanzees also was nominated for an emmy that same year and of course your film one so it's kind of fun we had it was great to you know it's a small world stuff so I followed the whooping cranes for three hundred flights this is these were one of these birds that bird on the top this bird here you can see it it's the young birds lebron is shed and it has an antenna here so it had a radio transmitter on so this is a family here and this is a pair that they picked up along the way but we flew in a small single engine plane from the gulf of mexico and texas to the northwest territories and can about thirty six hundred miles and they stop every night to rest and water and feed and then the next morning the weather's right the tail winds right the fly with tail winds um they're very efficient they spiral up these big thermos mid morning and then a glide down down wind and some days it just easy when they might glide ten miles if there's a face when they don't go very far maybe two miles if there's a forty fifty more when'd we tracked them one day nine hundred miles I wasn't made from northern kansas to texas but I spent three seasons uh following cranes mostly from there we had a ground crew that was following this you want to seek a look a look of the film play that would be great but I spent three seasons an airplane for about three weeks each season both going north and south and I have to say that was probably one of my great great experiences of actually feeling like a crane you know these air not improved a bird you know we see these birds you know the fly along the edge of the plane and and that's a different deal so you know the imprinted on the on the pilot and they think they're part of that family but these are wild birds atticus ten days get for them to get used to the plane and it was an incredible experience these air crane since the sketch women the way south and a family of crane hoping kranz has picked up a flock of large block of sandhills and just to see the great landscape of america from there like that um and looking down and you know seeing the prairies of sous catch one or texas or oklahoma we got to nesting grounds this family landed within a hundred feet before it nested the year before we were so lucky a hundred feet in this musket marsh it you wouldn't believe you can I could not tell the difference from it was just just a solid ice when they got there and the biologists with ernie kite he was he was working on a grant for fifty years he said that only a hundred yards from where they nest last year so they have this uncanny ability to recognize home obviously after thirty six hundred miles flying so that was exciting but anyway cranes if I spent a lot of time with cranes but one of the great thing is the cranes did from me they took me to alaska they they fly over mom mckinley over the last arrange underway toe teo nebraska they cut across the coaster harriet bristol bay and let him go just like twenty thousand feet over the over the alaska range and they begin sandals end up in texas and mexico and oklahoma and eastern new mexico but they brought me to mckinley denali and introduced me to things like caribou double sheep things I've never seen before course canadian lynx grizzly bears chasing ground squirrels first wolves oversaw renton alley and it opened up a whole new well for method caused you all this time with cranes there's other stuff so that's the eagles because they're really you know for me from brask we had a few goes along the river that would be hunting usually wouldn't didn't weaken water following springs I you know it seemed bald eagle before but I never saw him up close you know really the roars flying by so they spent a lot of time in alaska and uh um so I get I got kind of hooked on eagles for a few years and then went to all the places that in one glacier river there mississippi uh uh well the coast here washington state a lot of time in alaska then I got more more interested in the big mammals especially to fall color and then allie um change these red beautiful red colors and the caribou are in their prime and I started the more and more about landscapes on animals in the landscapes um of course behavior with the grizzly bears fascinated me and I'm sort of stuck in grizzly bears for a while I tell you about down a bit of course everything's huge moose there in the fall there in their prime on uh there's fishing for salmon like clark uh talk talk more about this image a little bit uh but bears catching osama were kind of fasting but seen eighteen thousand the pictures literally thousands of pictures was working for burton campers it was his name a good filmmaker and boulder we talked about making a film one bears who started researching bears and film this isn't the eighties early so we're talking quite a while ago but we thought all the bear pictures have been done kind of butt while I was working on the crane film about a week in between prince william sound is trying to figure out how to get the cranes visually from prince william sound across bristol bay to going over tonality and so the linkage was prince william sound but I had a week in between so I was looking at an airline last airlines magazine um a cat my books river where the famous falls air where a lot of people have gone to goa what then brooks falls and radio mcneil river kept my coast etcetera but brooks falls are very famous for for watching bears fishing and in the alaskan magazine a solid these bears fishing and I thought I wonder um if you could actually photograph er bear head and fish immediately going into its mouth kind of thing just a head and shoulders which had never seen before I don't think anybody actually done maybe they have but I had never seen that uh this is a mother with three cubs obviously one of the bears of the falls the falls is the key spot for the large bears to catch salmon that air jumping the falls and some of the bears blow they'll be snorkeling diving they'll have different tactics and they teach him to their to their cubs and but this bear I honed in on a bit first of all I wanted one eye is not just go there I got the anchorage is still in the airport I didn't know I was gonna do for you week that maybe I'd drive to din al or something but so I called the parker called cam isis camping so I knew you had the the camp where you had to stay at the brooks lodge which is a fishing lodge was too expensive for me but so says there any campsites available ranger said no there no campsites available uh man I really want to come see the bear and he said well there's one site it's it's on the bear trail and nobody wants it I'll take it I'll take it you know naively at the time I know more about bears now might question that decision now but I was young and dumb and it's nineteen eighty seven not to you but I went to kmart but tent sleeping bag and some parts of pans of freeze dried food and flew to examine the next day and then throughout to cat mind and captain was not knowing exactly what no idea actually what the situation was it wasn't like a research did earn anything I just thought I should go see that bears it everything's been done but there is one shot I'd like to maybe get but other than that I don't think I'm doing different so the falls or maybe a mile or a mile and a half away through some woods and there's a little in those days was a very small platform about size of this rug about ten feet off the ground and you it's about oh from the platform to the to where this bear standing it's maybe sixty yards I figured out okay I'm just going to shoot the head and shoulders deal that's what they came here for so I concentrate on his head and put on the six hundred with a one point four and I watched these bears fishing in most days it rained a few days there didn't somedays that salmon are running some days they were depending on the temperature of the water and the chemistry in the water effects where the salmon are running or not so um this is about the fifth day and then on on the sixth day look at this no I didn't know that I actually got that because I was trying to be one of shooting when I was looking through the camera lens and hitting the shutter of course by the time they saw the fish coming into the frame your mind and I finger didn't quite coordinate quick enough it was too late so I hooked up uh cable released I'm just telling you this because because somebody somebody was going to shoot this again I think there's been a couple of tribe but awfully close and getting awfully close now you know all the tech technical stuff right um so this has become my most iconic shot never probably they go so I got you the guy with that theo yeah that'd be me problems become also kind of most controversial in a way they say always so he photoshopped you know it's a fake fish isn't there well it's ok nineteen eighty eight before photo shop it was a thing called scitex where you kind of do that sort of thing but it was kind of crappy anyway so in today's people again so that's not really but it was one of those serendipitous moment the battery was this right dead enough for that milli second there's only about a quarter inch between them the mouth and that salmon which it makes a huge difference little teeny teeny space right here you know and though the fish didn't go in the mouth fish went right here and then the next shot that there's a two frames a second on a nikon f to our one or something wasn't very fast lightning speed in those days though compared compared to whitening anyway that's the story of the fish

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Learn wildlife and outdoor photography from one of the most prolific nature photographers of our time in The Art of Wildlife Photography with Tom Mangelsen.

Drawing lessons from his 40 years of observing and photographing the Earth's last great wild places, Tom will discuss the complex process behind his breathtaking wildlife photographs. You’ll learn:

  • What it takes to be a great wildlife photographer
  • How to capture wildlife in their natural environment
  • The best places to find animals
  • How to increase the visibility of your work
  • The importance of respecting wildlife and wildlife ethics

Tom will cover the basics of gear and scouting and teach you how to think about lighting when capturing animals in the wild. Tom will also offer a critique images and portfolios submitted by viewers.

If you have a passion for outdoor photography and want to capture the spirit of wildlife in your camera, join Tom Mangelsen for this inspiring and educational class.


a Creativelive Student

There is probably just one word that comes closest to describing Tom Mangelsen’s photography. Glorious. There are other good words too, of course. And they are also inadequate. Mangelsen’s panoramas are (cumulatively and separately (any one of them)) the best I’ve seen. Mangelsen teaches by example and his examples are exemplary. I’ve seen several photographers giving courses on CreativeLive lately many of whose photos I would love to have taken - but with Mangelsen I envy his possession not just of his photos but of their subjects too. And he does possess his subjects in ways many outstanding photographers fail to - possesses them and then leaves them to continue on with their lives. There are other reasons I’m grateful for this course too - his field trips and critiques have shown me (as with other CreativeLive courses) just how lazy I’m being with my work. And if his critiques aren’t motivation enough I only have to view his slide show ‘Last Great Wild Places’ for more inspiration. The photos in this series are revelations all on their own - even without commentary. Thank you CreativeLive for continuing to bring us the finest wildlife and nature photographers at work today - and thank you to photographers like Tom Mangelsen for giving us a look at the way they work.


I could not stop watching this class and set aside time each day until I finished it. I guess you could saw that I binge watched it. Then I was really sad when it was finished! Like a good movie that stays with you and that you don't want to end! This is a wonderful class and the best I have taken at CreativeLive. I learned so much and have a great fondness for Tom Mangelsen. He really knows how to pull you into his passion. I am so grateful to have taken this course and grateful to Tom for all that he has done in his career to further his craft and to share it. I am inspired! If you are going to purchase and course from CreativeLive, this is one to be sure to take!!! Thank you again.

Dub Maitland

Excellent class! An incredibly talented photographer who has a vast knowledge of the subject matter as well as an outstanding ability to deliver the information. It was as enjoyable as it was informative. I first saw Tom's work in an office in Denver in 1991 and have been inspired by him ever since. Thank you Creative Live, for giving us the opportunity to spend this time with the Master! And thank you Tom for your willingness to share your talent with us! Dub Maitland, Missoula, MT.