Published: October 26, 2016
An internationally esteemed nature photographer, Tom Mangelsen’s mission is twofold: inspiration and education. He has been published and recognized by National Geographic, Smithsonian, The Today Show, BBC Wildlife and many more. Here, Mangelsen touches on the art of subtlety when it comes to photographing wildlife, editing images and invoking emotion when visiting his galleries.
What is the secret to keeping your animal subjects comfortable with your presence?
The secret to keeping animals comfortable with my presence is first giving them the appropriate distance that doesn’t affect their behavior; moving slowly, knowing your subject and understanding their level of tolerance, which often takes years of experience. It’s obvious if an animal moves away, stops feeding, or flies away because of your presence.
There have been times when I was too close for comfort. It took many years to learn the behavior of animals. When I first started, I sometimes made the beginner’s mistake of trying to fill the frame with the animal, especially wanting to get trophy-like head shots of the large ungulates like moose and elk to “mount” on the wall. Those inadvertent close calls eventually led to a much better understanding of my subjects and their habitat, and with it, came the realization that long telephoto lenses are important for the animals’ safety as much as mine.
Although I still shoot portraits of birds and animals, my growth in photography led me to pursue images of animals in the context of their environment, which I often find more rewarding.
Some say you’re a purist when it comes to photography, preferring not to digitally manipulate any of your images. Why?
I’m not a purist at anything. My goal in photography is to capture the moment in front of me and represent it in its printed form in a way that represents the scene or animal as best as I can remember it. If the digital image is under or over exposed and the contrast or color has shifted, I try to correct those variances in the final print, much like photographers have done in a traditional darkroom.
At a time when many businesses were suffering, sales of your images increased following the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001. Why?
Our print sales did pick up during the following months. My only guesstimate is that people needed something in their lives and on their walls to bring them joy, beauty, and hope.
You have eight galleries, including one in Cherry Creek North. What kind of experience do you want your patrons to have when they visit one of your locations?
It’s always rewarding to see people new to my gallery, and witness their expressions and the outward pleasure they derive from seeing something they may never have been lucky enough to experience themselves. To bring not only joy, but possibly striking a chord in one’s heart and soul, and at the same time educating him or her about the magic of the natural world, gives me great satisfaction.
You are equal parts artist and conservationist. What troubles you most about the changes in the ecosystem that you photograph, and what are you asking people to do to help?
The most troubling things I see are the loss of habitat, biodiversity, and the loss of species from the many threats to our wild places.
The real potential loss of animals like elephants, rhinos and tigers are due to the illegal wildlife trade for trinkets or phony medicinal purposes, money, and greed – all of which is unconscionable.
The loss of polar bears and numerous other species and the negative impacts to human populations because we have not had the political willpower or courage to stand up for the obvious human-caused challenges of climate change, is likely the biggest threat humans face.