Interview with Glenn Bartley, a NatureScapes Birds Forum Moderator

by | September 30, 2011

© Glenn Bartley1. How did you get started in nature photography?

It may have all started in the backyard of my childhood home as I was lying underneath a hummingbird feeder trying to capture an image of one of these amazing birds with a simple point and shoot camera.

I got my first “real” camera, a Canon Elan 7 film SLR, in college, and a few months after that participated in a student exchange program that took me to Brisbane, Australia. I was obsessed with exploring the land down under and taking pictures, experimenting, and above all else learning about the country and photography.

Back at my home university, I took a job in running the school’s darkroom. When I completed my undergraduate degree, I took a year off to travel in Costa Rica and focused on nature photography. After returning home, I landed a job as the lead photographer for a research project in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. For three months, I hiked up mountains and took photographs; it was a dream job for sure.

From books and online forums, to meeting and learning from other professional photographers, and spending copious amounts of time in the field, I spent the next three years taking my photography to the “next level.”

At this time I was also pursuing my Master’s of Science Degree in Ecological Restoration. A big part of my research restoring habitat for migratory birds was field work and I always had my camera close by. After defending my thesis, I headed off to the tropics again, this time to the bird-rich country of Ecuador, where I stayed for five months photographing exotic birds. Now, I photograph birds and travel leading workshops my company Glenn Bartley Nature Photography.

2. Who or what inspires your work?

I am most inspired and excited by the incredible number of fascinating and beautiful birds that exist around the world. I guess you could say that Mother Nature is my biggest inspiration. The quest to capture a handful of great images of some of the birds that have not been photographed well before is what really excites me.

In terms of photographers I am always inspired by the work of my fellow NSN moderators Alan Murphy and Matthew Studebaker as well as my friend Tim Zurowski.

3. What’s your favorite walk around lens?

Since I photograph almost exclusively birds my favourite walk around lens is the 500mm f/4 L IS. When I do turn to something a bit smaller though it would be either the 300mm f/4 L IS (for tropical trips where I want a shorter lens and the ability to do some macro) or the 400mm f/5.6 (when I know I will be doing lots of flight photography).

4. Are there any other subjects aside from birds that you like to photograph?

I really do enjoy all aspects of nature, but I am definitely specialized in birds. What I do love to try to do is capture some really great habitat shots of the birds’ environment with or without the bird in the frame.

5. You’ve led nature photography workshops for a couple of years now. What is your favorite part of leading workshops and what do you find the most difficult?

I think my favourite part of leading workshops is seeing the smiles on the peoples’ faces after a great day of shooting. I think a lot of people don’t know what to expect from a workshop and there are a lot of people leading trips that have absolutely no business doing so. So when clients have a good experience, get great images and realize that they have selected the right workshop for them it always feels good.

6. Your photography has taken you all over the world. What is one of your favorite places that you’ve visited?

I love the Neotropics. Some of my favourite places are Amazonian Ecuador, The Cloud Forests of Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago. I am off to Peru for 3 months in September too! I plan to spend the next decade at least exploring the new world tropics and the birds that live there.

7. You have a degree in environmental studies and ecological restoration. Have you found your advanced knowledge about ecosystems and the environment helpful to your photography career?

Absolutely! When it comes to photographing birds well you have to understand them. What do they eat? What do they sound like? What parts of the habitat do they exploit? When are they most active? And perhaps most important—are there any patterns or information that can be learned through patient observation that might lead to a better photo?

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