A Lifelong Artist: the Landscape and Wildlife Photography of George Wilson

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Please tell us about your start. What got you interested in photography?

My mother is an artist, a watercolorist, and at a very early age, she would take the whole family to art museums on Sunday afternoons. Drawing and self-expression through art was always encouraged. When I was eight years old, I received a small point and shoot camera (size 126 film). For me, it was a window into the world around me. A way to express what I was seeing and feeling. I can say that I pushed that camera to its limits. I discovered how close I could get a focused shot, that if I turned the camera slightly it changed the image a bit. Every day with the camera in my hand was a new adventure and I recorded everything I possibly could. I ran around for a bit shooting everything at a 45° angle. The square images that came back from the grocery store processing were kept in my photo album turned to create a diamond shape – how cool, I thought. I was off on this life long journey of photography! I am 50 now and the sense of discovery and excitement is still there. The excitement I feel today when I see the image appear on my LCD is the same as when that 8 year old boy opened the envelope of freshly processed photographs at the grocery store.

What led you to becoming a photography educator? Have you always wanted to teach?

Technology brought me into teaching. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but let me explain. My first SLR was bought with money I saved mowing lawns, delivering papers and everything else I could do to earn a few dollars. It was a simple one with both a 50mm and a 135mm lens, manual focus (manual everything) and no light meter. That meant I had to discover how film reacted to light, how the Sunny 16 Rule worked and how the three pillars of photography (aperture, shutter speed and ASA [ISO today]) affected the final image. Today, I can still look at the light around me and determine an exposure before I peer through the viewfinder.

Fast forward now to the new millennium: digital cameras, auto focus, automatic white balance – auto everything. Yes, everyone can produce a technically correct image with no more effort than unpacking the camera and inserting a memory card. I found in talking with other new photographers that there was a tremendous lack of understanding into how ISO, shutter speed and aperture affected their images, where the eye was drawn to and that there was an artistic side to each of these elements along with the practical side. Teaching provided me with an opportunity to share my experience with some emerging talent. I did not always want to teach, in fact it kind of just happened. Now, it has blossomed into something I love to do. I teach seven different courses at Walt Disney World in Orlando as well as at art associations, photography clubs and even for the City of Orlando. There is a personal joy I experience with the success of each student, when the “ah – ha moment” happens. It is also very fulfilling to see them being published, starting their own businesses and bringing their skills to new levels.

Tell us about shooting wild horses, how did you become affiliated with the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota?

The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is part of IRAM (Institute of Range and American Mustang) a 501(c)3 organization encompassing more than 11,000 acres near Hot Springs, South Dakota. Several years ago, I visited after seeing an advertisement for the sanctuary in a South Dakota visitor guide. That year I was there shooting and enjoying the Black Hills, Badlands National Park as well as many other places. After arranging my visit, I explained that I had no idea what to expect, what gear to bring and so forth. The sanctuary staff allowed me to go out on a two hour tour to get the “lay of the land” the day before my visit. On the morning of my tour with a member of their staff, I spent four hours beginning with dawn light photographing the herds and walking among them. I was hooked!

After returning to Florida, I produced my annual calendar for my clients, friends and family with the subject being wild horses. I packaged one calendar and sent it to the sanctuary with a short note of thanks for a great experience. A few days later, my phone rang. The program director was thrilled with the calendar and wanted to produce them as well. Since then, I have returned on a yearly basis in September to shoot their advertising images and guide other photographers out into the herds for a once in a lifetime experience and donate my time to more than 700 wild mustangs running free. This dovetails nicely with the teaching I do here in Florida, as many photographers have no idea how to photograph a horse and the small details make equine photography a very unique skill.

What do you enjoy photographing the most?

Wow, choose just one thing? Tough choice! Each subject has shaped my career and my experience in a very unique way. To specify just one is difficult at best. I would have to say landscapes, especially black and white infrared landscapes in my home state of Florida.

Here in Florida tourism drives the economy and I fear that most people look at the state as a giant theme park packed with spring breakers and surrounded by beaches. That could not be further from the truth. Beyond the edges of the roadways, in the swamps and isolated hammocks are wonderful landscapes and truly unique ecosystems. There is a distinct and unique beauty here. We are losing large tracts of valuable ecosystems, which provide habitats for numerous endangered species. The Florida dry prairie once extended for Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee and from coast to coast. Today, less than 10% of that is left. Most of it is under state protection at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. I hope that through the medium of photography I can inspire others to protect Florida’s natural resources.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other photographers who aspire to be professional photographers?

Take the time to really learn the craft, dedicate time to learn how to shoot manually, learn the Sunny 16 Rule and learn to determine what your exposure is before looking through the viewfinder at your light meter display. Photography is a craft, a skill and an art.

George Wilson has more than 30 years of experience as a professional photographer, and his work has appeared in many national and international publications. Now focusing on nature and wildlife photography, George exhibits his infrared black and white landscape work and teaches photography at numerous art centers, botanical gardens and at the Walt Disney World Resort in his home state of Florida. A key element to George’s work is his dedication to traditional photography as his post processing is strictly limited to tools aligning with the traditional darkroom. To see more of George's work, visit wilsonphotographyfl.com

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