Indiana native Scott Bourne has called the Pacific Northwest his home for fifteen years, but his passion for photography boasts an impressive 37 year history. In the early seventies as a high school student in the Midwest, his half-sister’s husband was the editor of the Bloomington Herald Tribune in Bloomington, Indiana. Young Scott was given press credentials to photograph the Indianapolis 500, and was assigned as a stringer for the Associated Press. Racer Tom Sneva crashed and Bourne was fortunate enough to capture a photo—complete with airborne engine hurtling at him—that ran on front pages around the country the following day. He was paid $2000. Scott Bourne was a photographer.
After high school, Bourne became a political science major, but took photos his entire college career. For six years after that, he professionally shot motor sports, largely based on his Sneva-crash photo. He also spent years in Europe photographing Formula One races. Returning to the U.S., he worked in New York and San Francisco. “I did some portrait work. I tried my hand at fashion photography and failed miserably,” says Bourne. “I didn’t like fashion. I got back into portrait and wedding work—really enjoyed it, and found a niche. I did that for about fourteen years, owning a studio in Minneapolis, and later, Seattle.”
Bourne sold his wedding practice fifteen years ago and dedicated himself to his new photographic passion: nature and wildlife. “In order to avoid being burned out, sometimes it’s good to try different genres,” he explains. “When I describe myself now, I say I’m a portraitist. I just take portraits of animals. Catch light is catch light, whether it’s on a bride or a wolf. My goal is to have people understand these creatures. When the public sees an animal, it’s typically for a few fleeting seconds. I try to show these animals up close and personal. When you see a bird, they’re fast and flighty. You don’t really think much of it because you don’t get the opportunity to study it. When you see the detail in a portrait like this, it’s hard to discount these animals as something you might run over with your car, or ignore.”
The passion Bourne feels for photography is equal to the passion he feels as an educator of the public on behalf of the animals he’s captured with his cameras. “A wolf may live seven or eight years in the wild,” he says. “They’re not going to be around forever, so taking their picture sort of preserves that wolf’s story. I try to take the approach every animal I photograph might be the last picture of that particular animal anyone ever sees.”
Subject knowledge is what informs Bourne, aiding him to make the best possible photograph he can. “Ninety percent of being a good portraitist is knowing a lot about your subject, whether your photographing a rock band, a CEO, or a bear.” Accordingly, Bourne has an encyclopedic knowledge of a range of wildlife he’s interested in photographing, including habitat locations, migratory timetables, and feeding patterns. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing where your subject’s going to be,” he continues. “In the wildlife photography world, a lot of it is just patience. Taking your time is critical.”
The gravity of the combined mindset of historical importance and patience applies to Bourne’s feelings toward photography in general. “I take photography very seriously. It’s a sacred job,” he cautions. “When people’s homes are burning, they don’t take the video game console. They take the wedding album or the box of family photos. We’re documenting family history, wildlife history, national history. We look at old photos from the first days of photography—native American Indians and some of the work done during the Civil War, for instance. There will be times in the future when people will look at our photos with the same interest.”
There is no end of equipment Bourne regularly uses in the field. “I have a lot of gear,” he says. “I shoot both Nikon and Canon. I shoot Canon primarily for video, Nikon primarily for stills, although I have started to shoot Canon for some stills because of the beautiful new 800mm f/5.6 lens. In bird photography, there’s never too much lens. My main bodies are a Nikon D3s and a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. I use an Induro tripod for landscape work.”
Tripods are critical to his wildlife photography. “I use a tripod almost 100% of the time, unless it’s flight shots,” he says. “If you want to try the most difficult shooting in the world, it’s getting flight shots,” he laughs. “But a tripod is essential. Sometimes I’m standing in a lagoon, sometimes I’m standing in the ocean. I beat that little Induro to death and it hasn’t burped once. I’m hard on my gear. It’s a tool for me, not a museum piece. I’ll run a little water on it, and that’s it. I’ll get it wet every day for six weeks at a time and it’s never caused me any trouble.”
When shooting’s done, Bourne uses both Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom. Photoshop is also used, when necessary. Promise hard drives with 16 terabyte RAID arrays store his images. A remote server in Minnesota backs up his data.
Many photography enthusiasts don’t know Bourne by his impressive wildlife photography, but by the site he runs, photofocus.com. Founded in 1998, photofocus.com is a magazine devoted to photo advocacy and the education of photographers. It achieves this by reviewing photo-related products with a high degree of independence, journalistic integrity, and clearly-defined editorial ethics. Photographers can regularly visit this site and gain knowledge from product reviews, inspirational how-to articles, info on upcoming events and musings on new technology. The site gets 1.5 million page views per month and at the present growth rate, will top 2 million per month this year. Defying conventional wisdom, after choosing to concentrate on content rather than police comments and spam submitted to every article, site traffic has tripled. His Twitter feed has over 66,000 followers.
“It’s rewarding to get mail every day from people saying how much this post or that post meant to them; that it changed their photography, or helped them,” says Bourne. “Sometimes it’s a little thing I’ve written, and I didn’t think it would mean much to anyone, and I’m surprised by the response.”
Bourne continues to teach, and is often on the road. As he sees his career winding down, he’ll also keep writing for photofocus.com while managing his stock photography collection. His latest big news announced at this month’s WPPI is the book he’s co-authoring with industry giant Skip Cohen entitled Going Pro, to be published by Random House. It will be more than a book and include a podcast, a conference, and a blog. An exciting project, for sure, but it seems to be just one more outlet for Scott Bourne’s deep passion for all things photographic. We’ll keep reading and learning, Scott. Thank you.