Shedding Light on Marc Langille
by Peter Zack
Today we have an interview with Marc Langille, avid wildlife photographer whose wonderful work can be seen here. He resides in NW Arkansas.
Marc, can you give us a little background? Where you’re from, your work and what inspired you to get started in photography. What inspires you today?
I was born in Montreal, then moved the Maritime Provinces during my childhood. I lived in or near Ottawa from the time I was 11 years old. I originally became involved in photography after retiring from elite amateur endurance sports so I could still be involved with the sport in some fashion. The second roll of 35mm film I ever shot ended having a travel image published in Photo Life magazine. It was a national contest with roughly 15,000 entries. I also had two more images published that year—one in a newspaper for an article on a local athlete, and another in a full page shot in a sporting publication. I seek inspiration from both competitions as well as the constant challenges that photography can bring to me, often on a daily basis.
Since then I’ve been fortunate enough that people believe my images are worthy of being printed for their private collections and in books, or an online selection. What inspires me a lot is the challenge of nature/wildlife photography, because unlike a studio, you often have very little control over the environment (light/weather) that your photos are captured.
I also enjoy introducing newcomers to digital photography—this is a favourite of mine and I teach classes at Bedfords Camera & Video. There are other venues, and I hope to take them off the backburner at some point.
What photographers have influenced your work or approach to photography?
Art Morris, Jason Edwards and Chase Jarvis are some of my favourites. Arthur Morris is considered one of the best photographers in birding photography during the realm of film. Jason Edwards because his imagery for National Geographic is simple yet stunning. I am not sure if he continues to shoot a film Pentax system or has moved to digital. He is often somewhere in the middle of the wilds. Chase Jarvis because of his very diverse portfolio of both commercial and nature images, and he is the current president of the Blue Earth Alliance.
You’ve entered some work at a museum project. Can you tell us what it is and what type of shots you have submitted?
I am working with Taylor Studios in IL. They are museum exhibit designers/fabricators and are in the initial stages of the Prairie Grove Battlefield museum’s project design. I am initially supplying approx. 200 images for placeholders and part of the selection process. The museum contains the historical and documentary information surrounding the American Civil War battle that occurred on Dec. 7th, 1862 between the armies of the Confederacy and the Union. It is a unique battlefield in that it is one of the most intact Civil War battlefields, yet one of the few that is run by the state. This means that on even years, the Civil War Re-enactments (CWR) are run on the first weekend in December. I have photographed those events since 2006. I have taken a large number of battle and camp life images during those events.
What’s your favourite personal shot? Care to share it with us?
War Eagle Mill and Falls and Misty Morning—Devils Den are two of my favorite landscape shots. It’s the first image to load on my website home page slide show. Misty Morning holds a special place because it’s one of the first landscape images I ever took.
If you were to pick one quote, what would it be and why is it important to you?
I guess my own motto: “The camera is only a tool: the image is the product of your mind and vision.” I chose this quote simply because I’ve always believed that the photographer is the ultimate part of the equation.
The Valley Land Fund “South Texas Shootout” was a challenging competition, what difficulties did you face and do you have any interesting stories from the event?
A 7 month drought and high temps were the significant obstacles, and in another way the biggest boon. The behaviour of the animals obviously included regular visits to watering holes, so that helped you track their movements to some degree. A big issue was the fact that I was completely new to the area, and basically a rookie bird photographer. Ensuring I correctly identified the birds when submitting was another consideration. I had to spend a good amount of time observing and sometimes documenting wildlife movement to get a better handle on where the best photo opportunities were was a constant challenge. The dust/sand and wind were constant considerations on the camera equipment. Luckily some of the gear used was weather sealed (Pentax), so that really gave me peace of mind!
The classic conundrum:
I am also one of the few people in North America to ever touch a living Nilgai (Indian antelope). An older bull was startled when I came into an open area on the ranch owner’s property while driving the SUV. The Eland ran, but the Nilgai started running in an awkward fashion and then suddenly lost it’s balance or control and fell over in the scrub. I waited for a minute, and it never regained it’s footing. I could not see anything. Finally I donned my kevlar rattlesnake gaiters and walked over to where I thought it went down. I had my camera with me, and I decided at that point against taking any photos. I didn’t want any reminders of what I had done, albeit unintentionally. It had been startled and went down due to my intrusion, so I had affected the outcome of its life.
Of course the ranch owners would tell me to leave the animal alone and let nature take its course. They would not treat a wild wounded or sick animal—too much risk of captive myopathy. Note: captive myopathy results from a “high stress-level” experienced by animals that have been captured and transported. Elevated stress levels lead to a lower immune defence system, decreased appetite and subsequent illness. Most of the animals that die due to this phenomenon do so within approximately three months after they are released.
By that time (5 minutes after the fall), vultures were circling overhead. With no cell service on the phone I was using and no other options, I wondered “what have I done?” Obviously I felt terrible for inadvertently causing the situation! Two times it bleated in stress/anxiety at my proximity. So I squatted down and quietly spoke calming words and eventually stroked it on the head between its horns. By then it seemed to figure out that I was not a predator seeking to kill it. A few minutes went by and I suspect it started to calm down (only calling out once more). Finally I got my hands under its shoulder and rolled the 500+ pound animal to a sitting upright position with its legs underneath it. This obviously incurred some risk, since I had no certainty as to what it might do. However, I suspected it was an older animal, since the muscle mass on the hindquarters showed some signs of atrophy.
The Nilgai easily pushed up on its forelegs, and with some definite effort, got up on its rear legs. Then it trotted off… that was a very good feeling. At least then I knew I could go away from the scene with a clean conscience. Some people might argue I am tampering with the course of nature and yet I was the cause of its fall. I did not wish to be the cause of its death. Normally I would let nature take its course, and the animal was not in its natural habitat.
Wow, quite a story and an experience few if any of us will ever have.
So, if you were to have lunch with anyone famous, who would you want to spend that hour with?
To be honest, no one really came to mind right away! There are several, yet I would really like to have lunch with Howard Buffett (Howard is the eldest son of Warren Buffett). He is very business savvy and could help the cause of conservation efforts with more fundraising, enlisting even more effort, etc. I’d like to be involved in several of them and/or bring forward more opportunities through the use of photography for conservation.
Howard Buffett serves or has served on the National Geographic Council, World Wildlife Fund National Council, Cougar Fund, Platte River Whooping Crane Trust Advisory Committee, Illinois and Nebraska Chapters of the Nature Conservancy, Ecotrust, De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust, and the Africa Foundation. Buffett founded the Nature Conservation Trust, a non-profit Trust in South Africa to support cheetah conservation, the International Cheetah Conservation Foundation, and was a Founding Director of The Cougar Fund. In 2007, Buffett was named an Ambassador Against Hunger by the United Nations World Food Programme.
If you were to pick one thing: what is your favourite or ‘must have’ accessory other than lenses and cameras?
You have been doing some teaching as well. Do you have a formal background in Photography or is everything self taught?
I have a formal education in other arts (painting, drawing) and technical related work—mechanical and architectural drafting (by hand), plus the health sciences. From a purely photographic perspective, I am completely self-taught and have taken several specific classes/workshops in my area. Those are primarily in portraiture, studio lighting, etc.
What challenges do you find the students face when getting started? What are the most common mistakes they make?
In order of most common challenges:
1. Understanding their camera’s functions.
2. Understanding light and reflectivity.
3. Understanding how aperture, F-stop and ISO/ASA sensitivity all work together.
4. Metering with the camera.
Most common mistakes: over/under exposure of an image or unintentionally blurred images.
What advice would you offer your students to improve their photography the most?
This is a shortened summary from a post on my blog:
1. Study, read and learn often—it’s a lifelong journey.
2. Master your tools.
3. Critique your work well.
4. Practice, practice, practice.
5. Learn from your mistakes.
Marc, I see that you also do some charity and non-profit work. Care to tell us a little about those projects?
Well, it certainly is something beyond the realm of what most folks think of when you mention the word “photography”. I am going to lead a hands-on workshop to help the local Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program. This includes both the nurses and police officers.
Forensic photography (sometimes referred to as forensic imaging or crime scene photography) is the art of producing an accurate reproduction of a crime scene or an accident scene for the benefit of a court or to aid in the investigation. Often fill flash or incorrect lighting situation will wash out the bruising and/or color. Other extremely sensitive issues are respect for the assault victim, minimizing their discomfort by unintentionally getting too close, etc. As you can imagine, forensic photography is extremely important for the evidence to be presented in court. I am looking forward to working with them and hopefully help the attendees bring justice to those offenders.
Other areas of activity are image donations for charitable causes. In the past, it has included the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks, KUAF radio and a memorial fund for young photography students. A drunk driver tragically killed the young woman while she was engaged in her studies in St. Louis. Peter, both you and another photographer were kind enough to also donate an image to the memorial fund – it is important we recognize your donation here too!
So Marc, the South Texas Shootout sounded like hard work but fun. Some great images came from that. Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
I have entered a contest, called “Name Your Dream Assignment”. It’s an opportunity to detail your greatest photo assignment ever, get friends and neighbors to vote on it. The ideas with the top 20 votes are sent to the judging panel. It’s 70% for the idea, and 30% on your portfolio.
I’ve had a lifelong desire to have a positive impact on the effect of worldwide misuse and overuse of our natural resources, specifically deforestation, fresh water supplies, waste management and non-renewable fuel dependency. That would be my dream project.
Editorial note: The contest can be found here if you’d like to vote for Marc. The contest is sponsored by Microsoft and Lenovo.
Wow, you’re going to be busy if that comes through. Any other projects you’re involved in right now?
I am not sure if I will be doing any exhibits in the near future, although the museum project is hopefully a green light for selection. I suspect those images (if used) will not be finalized and fabricated into the exhibit displays until 2010. Currently I am in the process of selecting 200 images for Taylor Studios. They will be used as placeholders during the design process and are candidates for the final exhibit.
Any published work coming?
Upcoming book: obviously 4 images will be published this year (2009) in the upcoming Valley Land Fund nature conservation book. They are accepting pre-orders now. The book commencement will be in September in McAllen, TX. They are 1st in class – Butterflies, 2nd in class – Spiders and Arachnids, and two 3rd in class – Wading Birds plus Mustelids & Raccoons. These were among almost 1500 image submissions for the contest. The book is a coffee table style format, hardcover.
Print: a staff member of a new bilingual (English/Spanish) magazine to supply landscape images for their travel section has approached me. The magazine is tentatively due to be released in the summer of 2009.
I am now working with Wimberley Professional Services to test, evaluate and give feedback when new or significant upgrades occur in their product line. They are very generous in allowing true field testing of their products. They invited me to come on board, and it’s a great honor to be involved with the best in the business! They are renowned for their gimbal heads, which are used for super-telephoto lens support.
Perhaps someday I can be considered for the ILCP – International League of Conservation Photographers. You have to be serious about conservation efforts to be allowed in to this membership.
Marc, we really appreciate the time you’ve given us today to hear some of your stories, insights and share some photography with us. I admit to owning some your calendars and even the out of date ones still hang on the wall! Looking forward to seeing your submissions in the Valley Land Fund nature conservation book. Good luck with all your endeavours in the future.
Thanks and I always enjoy discussing photography, it’s been fun doing this.
Visit Marc Langille’s web site here for more great images.
Cheers and good shooting –Peter Zack