Christopher Brinkman: Wildlife Photography at It’s Finest

chris
I first fell in love with Christopher Brinkman‘s photography earlier this year when he posted amazing pictures of his trips abroad, to one of my fav places, Hocking Hills, and newborn owls in local woods on the 614 FB page.  I am passionate about nature photography and especially any photos of wild animals so it only seemed natural (no pun intended!) to meet this man and learn more about the ins and outs of his photographic style. So we started the interview online and that were able to arrange meeting in person to discuss photography, wildlife, wildlife conservation, politics and a variety of other subjects.
otter

Christopher grew up in Delaware, Ohio where he graduated from Delaware Hayes High School and attended Saturday classes at CCAD off and on until the age of 17. He says that he’s always been a creative person with some of his earliest drawings (he still has them!) being of the space shuttle Challenger exploding…he saw this live on TV while in 2nd grade (boy, he makes me feel old…I watched it live, too, but I had been working for quite a while at UA Schools by then!!!)  And, although he tried lots of different things as a kid, including a variety of sports, what he excelled at was drawing and building things.

 christopher b owlets

During high school, he had an amazing art teacher, Lynda Elias, who really pushed and inspired him. She created a portfolio development program, which Chris began his junior year, with a focus on painting. The program was to give students looking to pursue the arts a chance to create in a less structured atmosphere. Classes were two hours a day, Monday through Friday, and that is where his art education really began. While in the portfolio development class, he also had access to a dark room and film processing supplies.He picked up his first SLR at the age of 16, a used Pentax with a 50 mm lens for 600$ and taught himself how to use it, process the negatives, and images during his  lunchtime breaks.

cliff

Badlands

After high school, while debating about what college to attend, he began to work in the field of ceramic tile under the stewardship of Clifford Smith, another true inspiration in his life. Clifford passed away many years ago and Chris took over the tile business that he still runs today. For ten years,  he lived  life away from his art running the business and taking care of customers.
owl
As with many other creative people, a few years ago he began to feel the need to create again picking up his paintbrushes. Something just did not click and he felt frustrated about his lack of inspiration. It was about that time that he also began to dabble again in film photography which quickly led to his buying his first DSLR. Shortly after that, he began spending every afternoon or weekend in the local metro parks: exploring, tracking animals, and finding himself and his passion again. He found that he wanted to focus on  photography, and once again found himself learning a new type of photography  through trial and error. He now would categorize his work as fine art photography with emphasis on wildlife and landscape.
foxes

mama  fox and her kits in the Grand Tetons

The world of nature has always inspired him.  As a child, he spent a lot of time alone in the woods pretending to be an adventurer. He also watched lots of time watching PBS and various nature shows along with the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. He jokes that he is an extremely patient person who is easily distracted. In that regard, inspiration comes from the sense of wonder  he gets from watching an animal or the changing landscape while a storm is moving in.  Not being an expert on things gives him a reason to explore (the true adventurer!) and learn fro himself.  Sometimes an interesting lighting condition can spark his creativity in finding a way to create an image using it. Other times, he finds a subject like a fox or owl and tries to capture it in a way that draws the sense of wonder out of the viewer.  The process of getting better images, learning new techniques and outdoing earlier images …“I’m kind of in a competition with myself to constantly outdo myself!”…can also provide inspiration for his work.

 water
 Chris states:

 One thing that I have found that has greatly helped with my current body of work is my overall approach to the process of getting the images. I spend a lot of time in the woods or out and about looking for subjects or striking scenes of natural beauty. For the first two years of my path, to where I am at now, I was what I call a “chaser”. I would spend hours hiking miles and miles trying to chase down an image by finding the right subject. This worked for a while as I would see lots of things, but most of that period of time resulted in startled deer pictures or snapshots of birds flying away. I also consider this period of time a huge part of the learning process. I would shoot in all sorts of weather and lighting conditions. I would have to react quickly to things.  It really helped with my ability to track down wildlife  and figure out their patterns. This period of time also helped with honing my craft in learning the limitations of my equipment and developing an editing style.  

Chris B

It wasn’t until my first trip to Yellowstone about a year and a half ago, that I began to enter the phase I am in now which I call the “sit and wait” phase. This phase was brought on by spending greater lengths of time watching wild life and landscape. During this phase I also re-discovered my tripod and began using is frequently. The trip to Yellowstone was the first time I had total freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.  No schedule, no work to deal with, and an endless supply of wildlife, and landscape to explore. I found myself spending hours waiting on an elk to cross a river or for a formation of clouds to roll over a mountain range. This methodology was further reinforced by my return to Yellowstone and the Tetons a few months later. I spent seven days morning till night watching three Red fox dens. Since then I have become much more patient and willing to sit and wait for things to happen so that I can capture it. This winter I have spent a lot of time watching Various Owls. One in particular is an Eastern Screech Owl who I have visited five times, and spent over 12 hours quietly observing, and photographing him. The time spent has been met with wonderful images that capture the tiny little bird in a variety of different poses and actions.  

Chris has made 2 trips to Southern Africa and 3 trips to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone over the last 3 years.  He has learned much about photography, photography safaris and people during those trips.  As he stated, all of these trips have helped him realize that he much prefers photographic journeys that allow him the freedom to be spontaneous, take his time with his subjects and do not include tons of people.  He told me some very interesting and humorous stories about his adventures both here in town and out West and overseas.  He even got the opportunity to meet Betty White, comedian, actress and famed animal rights activist when they were both invited to the Columbus Zoo for the opening of the Heart of Africa!!! Soooo, jealous!  This summer he will be making a trip to Alaska for 8 days to visit the Brooks River in Katmai National Park and surrounding areas to hopefully, photograph brown bear (moms and cubs in particular) and the salmon run.

owl 2(July is the best time to watch bears fishing at Brooks Falls. However, bears are in the area from mid spring until mid fall and a few bears may fish at Brooks Falls in September and October. Katmai’s brown bears are most active during daylight hours.

From late June until late July, watch for sockeye (red) salmon jumping the falls and dominant male bears competing for fishing spots. Later in the summer and fall, a few bears may also fish at Brooks Falls. As many as 25 bears have been seen fishing at Brooks Falls at the same time…https://www.nps.gov/katm/learn/photosmultimedia/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls.htm)

He would like to travel somewhere else this fall to photograph more wildlife but has not decided where.  He has been invited to return to the Grand Tetons but is comtemplating somewhere else in the West for this year’s adventure.  Fortunately, his “real job” of high end residential tile work has enabled him to explore this passion for photography…last year he was able to take 4 months off to explore, snap photos and learn.  WOW!

He also plans on returning to South Africa to photograph wildlife in the manner that he has learned serves him best rather than being on someone else’s schedule.  He told me that he likes to get up and out to photograph by around 4 a.m. so that he can see nature in it’s awakening state.

wolf

Lone Wolf in Yellowstone’s fountain flat

We also spent quite a while discussing wildlife conservation, the need for respect for animals and their habitats.  Ivory and the elephant decimation (he told me that 97 elephants are killed PER DAY!!!! in the continent of Africa), poaching of animals, the black market for Asian ‘medicinal’ purposes and other heinous acts that humans bring upon animals were just a few of the things we talked about during our 3 hour discussion.  That brought us around to Chris’ desire to portray animals in a way that helps humans relate to their struggles, feelings and need for protection.  I’m sure that we could have talked even longer about all of this but as it was close to 10 p.m. we wrapped it up….and I CANNOT wait to see what he brings home from his travels to Alaska and wherever else he may chose to roam this year and in the future!!  BTW, I was gifted with the gorgeous photo seen above of the father fox and his kits…I’m thrilled beyond words!!!!

great horned

Great Horned Owl at sunrise here in Columbus

With all of that  being said, he does state that  although a lot of his  work is observational, he does spend a large amount of time working on post processing, research, and furthering his photography skills.

 

west

Badlands

Currently, most of his sales are either handled privately or through his website.  Happily, however, he does have a solo show coming up at The Table starting on July 2nd and on exhibit throughout the month so you can purchase there!  He’s also excited about a book that he contributed to, Bovids of the World, that became available from Princeton University Press in April (http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10713.html ).  In addition to these accomplishments, he has had images featured and published by the following: Canon USA, Africa Geographic, Shutterbug Magazine, Think Tank Photo, Outdoor Photographic Magazine, Hocking Hills Board of Tourism, Princeton University Press and Columbus Metro Parks…whew!!!!!!!!!!!!!
All I can say is that it was a pleasure to meet Chris and get the opportunity to talk about wildlife and  learn so much about the art of wildlife photography, it’s trials, tribulations and rewards. It also gave me a renewed faith that there are people out there who truly care about the fate of so many species on our planet.  I can hardly wait to see what other photos Chris shares with us and to follow his travels here and abroad.
Make sure to stop at The Table during July to see his works…you won’t be disappointed!
   
Contact info for readers: ChrisBrinkmanphotography@gmail.com
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