I met R. Dodge Woodson through Picture Social, an online photographers' networking site. By the time I arrived there, Dodge had already contributed much helpful information to other photographers' inquiries at the various message boards and topical discussion threads.
Dodge is a multiskilled professional and has racked up accomplishments in most of these trades: plumbing, real estate development, home building, law enforcement, book and magazine writing, and Web site launching. Oh, yeah, and he's a longtime photographer whose work has appeared in books, magazines and many online sites.
Dodge lives in Maine, where he has an expansive landscape to explore and indulge his wildlife photography hobby and passion ... and where he stopped recently to answer some questions I tossed at him.
Dodge, I know you've been shooting pictures for many years. What got you into the craft, and was it a sudden thing or something you worked into after practice and repetition? Do you have any favorite photographers whose work you follow closely, or ... from whom you've drawn inspiration over the years?
I can’t remember my first photo or my love for it. My passion for photography started at a very early age. The first camera I can vividly remember was a Kodak InstaMatic that used MagiCubes for flash.
I carried my camera proudly and took photos of everything from scenics and landscapes to embarrassing photos of family members and sunsets.
My love of photography was instant and grew year after year. When I got my first “real” camera, a Minolta SRT 101 with a black body, my father told me it was a fad that would pass. Dad passed away a few years ago, and I was still taking photos. He and I joked about it in his last days. My mother, who is also deceased, always supported my photography.
There are several photographers who have impacted my life. Far and away the most prevalent, big-name pro was Leonard Lee Rue III. His true excellence in wildlife photography was a perfect tie-in to my interests. I am now 53, and my idol is 83 and still shooting. We have recently begun exchanging emails, and Lennie has joined the World Photographers Organization. Having such an international icon accept me and my group was almost unbelievable to me.
There are many photographers I followed over the years. Richard Avedon was my favorite “people photographer.” Ansel Adams is a part of every serious photographer’s life. Richard Witmore gave me my start as an assistant in his studio and darkroom. There are countless others who have impacted my photography, and I truly thank them all.
Since you're been a photographer for so long, talk to me a bit about how your choice for gear has evolved through the years, beginning with the very first piece of film equipment you owned and used, your "favorite" lenses and/or camera-body upgrades you've made through the years, what digital equipment you use now ... and last, but not least, how easy or difficult it was for you to make the transition from film to digital (and when did you finally bump up to digital). Do you ever shoot film anymore?
A Minolta SRT 101 was my first single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera. I later changed to a Canon AE-1. Then I went to Canon A1 bodies. I could not afford the F series or the L lenses, but I used mostly Canon lenses. When I went digital, I went with a Canon 10D. It was okay, but I upgraded to a Canon 5D. I still have that one and now use a Canon 5D Mark II most of the time.
My favorite lenses have always been macro lenses and strong telephotos lenses. I love macro, nature, and wildlife photography, and these are the tools of my trade. Presently, my lenses are as follows:
All Canon L lenses
180mm F 3.5 macro
65mm MP-E F 2.8 5X macro
17-40 zoom F 4.0
70-200mm F 2.8 zoom
400mm F 5.6
100mm macro F 2.8
I was resistive to change to a digital format. It seemed like there would no longer be “real” photographers. Instead of having a split second to catch an image on KodaChrome slide film, digital photographers could take mediocre photos and fix them on a computer. I was against it. But now, I love it! And no, I do not even own a film camera at this time.
I see from your biography at your Lone Wolf Enterprises Web site that you are multi-skilled. You are savvy in plumbing, remodeling, real estate, book-writing ... and you've even logged time as a law enforcement officer. How did all of those pursuits evolve, and how do/did you find time for them? How did your photography fit into the mix?
This is a question with long answers. I left high school and went into law enforcement for three years. I was shot twice, stabbed once, and sliced open once for $8,040 a year. Money was not my motivator. I loved the job and served as the department’s crime-scene photographer in addition to my undercover work. At the time, I was one of only three officers in VA who were 18 years of age. Due to my youth, I was a perfect operative in the drug world.
When I left law enforcement I went into plumbing. From there I went to owning my own business in 1979 and never looked back. Photography was always there. I was represented by Globe Photos, in NYC as a stock photographer. My local activities were occasional paid shoots. The camera provided a stress-reliever for me throughout all of my other professional aspirations.
I have always built on one thing to create another. This took me from plumbing 365 townhouses a year to bath and kitchen remodeling and plumbing. They tied together nicely. Then came home building. In 1983 I was building 60 single-family homes a year in VA. During this time I began creating and presenting photography seminars.
In 1987, after the tax-law changes, I moved to Maine. The wildlife photography opportunities are great, and the nature shots are outstanding. Presently, I live on about 150 acres of wooded Maine forest with Leona, my wife, have my office building on site, and enjoy the private life with our children stopping in when they can.
Along the way I wrote and illustrated magazine articles by the dozens for such magazines as Outdoor Life. That led to writing how-to books for consumers. Most of the books were home related, but I also did travel books and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Photography (the film version).
My photography was out there as stock photography throughout the years. I also did weddings, magazine covers, pet photography, nudes, boudoir photography, portraits, advertising work, model portfolios, in-home photography and the other routine commercial photography assignments.
After writing many books, I established Lone Wolf Enterprises, Ltd. as a book producer that has grown into a publisher. Personally, I have published more than 100 books for major publishers, such as Simon & Schuster, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill and others. As a book producer, Lone Wolf has probably done 75-100 professional reference books for major publishers. This work has allowed for me to shoot book covers and do inside book photos.
You're currently living in Maine. Talk to me a little bit about all the things Maine has to offer for a photographer looking for an intruiging outing ... or a resident, just in need of a photographic getaway. Have you "seen it all" ... or is there plenty to discover?
As a macro photographer, I could easily spend the next decade in my backyard without seeing it all. Maine is an outdoor photographer’s dream. Coastlines and beaches are expansive. Wildlife is abundant. Wilderness is often less than 3 hours away from almost anywhere in the state. Lakes, rivers and streams seem to be everywhere. Snow comes early and stays late for great winter shooting. Mountains are scarce, and I regret that, but the mountains of NH and VT are not too far away. Anyone who says they have seen it all must have had their eyes shut or their lens cap on. There is far more than a lifetime of photo opportunities in the great state of Maine.
At what point did you get into wildlife photography? What percentage of your shooting entails wildlife? Did you have the necessary gear to handle such work before you got into it, or did you have to acquire things -- long-focal length lenses, filters, special tripods or monopods, weather-protection gear, etc.
I went after robins and squirrels on the lawn as soon as I had a camera. Wildlife photography has never been a profit center for me. It is a passion. Guessing, I would say 30% of my work is with wildlife. As to having the equipment, have you ever met photographers who had all the gear they needed? Or is that wanted? Umm. I built my system over the years to include what I felt was necessary. This meant buying and selling some items and keeping others for life.
Is there a certain kind of wildlife work you're most interested in? Birds? Exotics? Beasts? Insects, Reptiles? The African wild? What advice would you give someone who realizes they would like to do more of that kind of work but isn't sure how best to develop their skills? Would it help to be able to spend one or more outings with someone who is skilled at it?
I tend to photograph animals of all types. I suppose moose and deer would be my big game and insects would be my macro hunting.
Spending an outing with an experienced photographer isn’t going to get the job done. Study and experience are needed first. Learning how to read and anticipate nature is essential. A great wildlife photographer has either been a hunter or a naturalist.
I would suggest a quality course to start with and then an excellent workshop to follow it up. After that, I would hire a professional guide to get me off on the right foot if I am not familiar with an area, my subject, or the general needs of a photo expedition.
I don’t recall any particular outstanding shoot, but I can tell you a lot that I learned the hard way.
- Alligators are faster on land that you might think.
- When a bull moose is swimming towards your canoe, don’t wait for the perfect shot, start paddling in the opposite direction, and do it quickly.
- Timber rattlesnakes are sometimes completely black. This is a good one to remember.
- If you have allergies, don’t belly down in poison oak, ivy, or sumac for that great macro shot.
- Cameras don’t float well.
- Insure your equipment with a special rider policy to cover it under working conditions as a photographer in the field.
- Swooping owls look like stealth aircraft up close.
- A deer or a moose pawing at the ground is telling you to vacate.
There are hundreds of these to tell whenever someone is interested in what not to do.
Have you spent much time pursuing your wildlife interests in Africa or South America or any continent outside of North America? How about in Canada? I realize that IS in North America, but since you're so close to it in Maine, I can't help but wonder if that is a natural destination for you.
I keep my feet on US soil.
You're a prolific writer and author. What has the photography book-writing side of your career been like? Isn't that time-consuming? To develop a topic, organize your thoughts, edit the text and collect, edit and output images? Do you have help with that? You've also written books about other subjects -- plumbing, real estate, land development and home building and remodeling, to name a few topics. Are any of those works more hugely popular than the others? You also maintain a regular blog online, right? How do you find time for it all?
My writing career has been a bit of a fast track. In one year, I wrote a total of 13 full-size books for major publishers. When it comes to making R. Dodge Woodson come to life, I normally do all of the manuscript work. Leona sometimes assists me in obtaining line drawings.
My pro reference books pay out the most royalties. A large percentage of my books are best-sellers and offered in various languages internationally.
The trick of putting extra sand in the hourglass is one that will remain a mystery. My doctor would not approve if I told you how many hours I work and how many I sleep.
As if you needed another diversion ... you recently launched a new global photographers' network, World Photographers Organization. There is a growing number of online photography networking groups -- photo.net, PictureSocial, Professional Photographers of America come to mind immediately. Talk to me a little bit about how you felt the WPO can distinguish itself from the others ... what it will offer that the others might not?
My life changed about this time last year when I nearly died 3 times in two months due to a rogue infection in my leg. It was while in the hospital that I decided to go public with WPO. Up until them, it was a tight-knit group of pros in Maine. Now it is worldwide and growing and growing, and growing some more.
World Photographers Organization not only can distinguish itself from others, it already has! Picture Social is a class act. I was a member prior to creating the WPO social site at WPO Press Room. Picture Social and similar sites are good for photographers, but they don’t go the extra mile that WPO does in helping their members, guiding people from the experience of established professionals, and offering direct publishing and money-making opportunities that are NOT pie in the sky. They are very real.
Professional Photographers of America (PPA) is a top-shelf organization, but it is very different from WPO. I have been a member of PPA. The last time I looked the annual dues were in excess of $300. WPO’s Premium Membership is only $139 a year and a Gold Membership is $195 a year. During my time as a member, PPA focused very heavily on wedding photography. This makes perfect sense in terms of earnings, but it leaves a lot of photographers wondering why they are getting the organization’s magazine. I have no interest in bashing any group of people. What we do with WPO is our vision, and everyone is entitled to their own choices of who they wish to join.
You ask how WPO is, or will be different. Here are my goals, beliefs, and thoughts:
WPO and WIT offer, or will offer, the following:
- What members ask for
- Paying freelance markets
- Behind-the-scenes information due to my unique positioning in the industry
- Places to get published now
- Press credentials
- Model consultant credentials
- An online portfolio on the WPO site
- Direct email contact with working pros to answer questions
- Extensive online resources
- Pro pointers on the WPO site and in World Images Today to help amateurs and professionals
- An open door for point-and-shooters to pros
- A non-judgmental environment
- Cyber friends and nearby photographers
- Unbiased reviews of products and services
- Rip-off Tip offs
- A listing in a searchable database so that customers can find you
- Non-fiction writing advice and how to publish more pictures when you also provide words to go with them
- Photo contests
- Inside information on what makes editors and publishers tick from an expert publishing consultant
- Access to professional business consulting with Creative Consulting Inc.
- Photo industry updates
- Secure testimonials and endorsements
- Opportunity to see your work published in World Images Today
- Become a photojournalist for this worldwide media outlet
- 20% discount on courses and workshops offered by World Photographers Organization
- Certificates of recognition
- Access to Book Busters and Ready Reports
- Professional photo critiquing
- Annual subscription to WIT
- Archived articles to learn from
- Pro money-making suggestions
- An open door to Lone Wolf Enterprises, Ltd. to propose a book that you will author
- Direct phone contact with R. Dodge Woodson for consultations
- Up to 5 free classified ads per month
This hits the high spots, and I think anyone will admit that no other club, organization, association, or group offers nearly as many features and benefits.
What's your vision for the WPO ... say, five years down the road?
I expect WPO to be a world leader in photography and related media work. WPO recently decided to accept graphic artists, book compositors, authors, writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers and other publishing professionals as members in both WPO and in the WPO Press Room. Down the road, I can see a World Media Professionals Organization to answer the needs of anyone from a major publisher to a freelance photographer a place to work with and for.
I ask a lot of my profile subjects whether they've ever had their work on display in galleries, and if not, whether they would like that some day? Given how much you've been published (and I presume that includes images in various photography and wider-scope magazines, periodicals and such), is this a moot question for you? If not, talk to me about any of the gallery displays you've been able to enjoy. And if you've had that privilege, what could you tell photographers who haven't reached that plateau about getting there?
I have never been a gallery guy. Even if I were not as well known and as heavily published as I am, hanging prints in a gallery wouldn’t do it for me. It’s the same thing with contests. When it comes to photography, I have a short list to please, and it is as follows:
- My code of integrity, honor and ethics
- My customer, if the photography is a paying job
- Myself, if the shoot is personal
- My subjects, whether it be moose or mushrooms in that I do no harm and that I do not alter nature for the sake of a marketable photo
To learn more about Dodge, his enterprises and the WPO, follow these links:
Dodge's Lone Wolf Enterprises
World Photographers Organization