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Feature: An eye for nature's whimsical moments
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 | by Eamon Hickey
robin_loznak_mug.jpg
Whimsical: Robin Loznak
For many years, photographer Robin Loznak's photo credit has been popping up on MSNBC.com's Week in Pictures feature on a surprisingly regular basis. Loznak's knack for making offbeat, "found" nature images and animal photos has endeared him to the site's photo editors and readers alike.

It has been an unusual level of consistent exposure for a photographer who has spent most of his 20-year career as a newspaper staff shooter in small towns. Those towns include Kalispell and Great Falls in Montana and Roseburg, Oregon where he now lives.

About two years ago, Loznak quit his newspaper job and opened for business as an independent photography generalist, shooting pretty much whatever paying gigs he can dig up. We asked Loznak how he gets so many cool nature pictures and what it's like making a go of it as a photographer far from the urban hubs.

Q. What got you started shooting nature images and where did you get your knack for quirky and whimsical animal photos?

I think it started when I was in Montana at the Daily Inter Lake [newspaper in Kalispell]. Something we always had to do at these small papers was shoot what we called "wild art" [feature photos to fill space in the newspaper]. Wild art wasn't wildlife, typically. It was more like kids playing in the park or things like that. But there was so much wildlife around that I started mixing in wildlife pictures with the people wild art images. There was a really good response from readers and editors, and from the people I worked with. I was a photojournalist so I was looking at small little stories and vignettes with the animals that I was trying to photograph. And I've just sort of continued doing that, I guess.

Knock Knock: A domestic cat attempts to catch a small songbird near Roseburg, Oregon, on April 30, 2012. Taken with a Nikon D4 + 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/500, f/2.8. Click to enlarge (Photo by Robin Loznak)

Not every one of my animal pictures is successful at [capturing a story or vignette]. It's a matter of waiting until the animal does something or until something unexpected happens. There's a fair amount of waiting but also planning ahead and visualizing something in my head. A lot of it is just serendipity, I'm trying to get a slice of life but of the animal's life, like I would do with photojournalism.

Q. Are there any particular skills or qualities that you think make it easier for you to get those kinds of shots?

As a child I was very into nature and hiking and looking through microscopes and being somewhat obsessed with watching and learning about animals. I try to learn about the animals and their behavior. Nowadays, a lot of it comes off of Wikipedia. I'm not very squeamish about things, so I don't mind rolling around in the mud. For me, I need to get on the level of the animal, literally, for most of my shots.

Q. What about your camera gear, software, and workflow?

I shoot Nikon. My first camera was an F3 that I got in college, and now I shoot with a D4 and a D3s. I have a 600mm f/4 [AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4D IF-ED II]. It's not the newest model. It's a couple years old. I also have a Nikon 105mm macro, the newest one [AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED]. Those two lenses are primarily what I use for shooting wildlife.

As a newspaper photographer I always shot JPEG. When I left the newspaper to start my own business I switched to shooting RAW. It was kind of a learning curve, but I'm very happy with it now. I use Photo Mechanic for ingesting and doing a rough edit. And then I use Photoshop CS5 [with Adobe Camera Raw] for RAW conversions. I'm not that great of a technical guy on software, to tell you the truth.

I've developed a system for dating [images] sequentially using year/month/day and saving them onto a hard drive. I try to put a good description [in the IPTC caption field]. I back those up to external hard drives. For portrait clients, I also back images up online. [To find images] I generally just do a keyword search in the [Mac OS] Finder, but it's starting to get a little unwieldy, and maybe I should think of something else.

Q. How did you land a career in photography?

I went to the University of Michigan. In my junior year I got on as a staff photographer on the Michigan daily [newspaper]. Totally loved it. I was a biology and anthropology major, and I'd taken a class called photography for field biologists. I really loved that more, it seemed, than the biology stuff. I changed my major to general studies, and after I graduated I applied for about 50 [newspaper photography] internships. Didn't get any. [Ultimately], a job opened up in Astoria, Oregon, and I got a job as a staff photographer [at the newspaper] there. [From that start], I was a newspaper photographer for about twenty years.

Q. What's your photography life like now that you quit the newspaper and have opened up your own independent business in Roseburg?

I sort of am a generalist, I guess you'd have to say. I can't really specialize in anything. I pretty much do anything, although I haven't done any boudoir photography or any baby photography, and I'm not sure I want to. Although if I was hungry that day and someone called I might accept it. We'll see. I've done senior portraits and weddings and some commercial photography for local businesses.

I have a little studio in downtown Roseburg and my neighbor is a local advertising agency. This is a big area for wood products -- timber, lumber type of stuff. Their client is a large timber producer nationwide, so I've ended up doing a lot of work for them. In fact, it's kind of kept me going -- shooting wood products for their web site [and their retailers'] websites. Pictures of two-by-fours, basically. There's some room for creativity. I've gone to quite a few work sites for them where there are people working with the products. I can shoot that photojournalistically, although I try to light it a little better than I would have [for newspapers]. They've used those [pictures] in quite a few ads in trade publications.

I did five weddings last year, and I've got four booked so far this year. I'd like to do more. I kind of like shooting weddings. Typical for a lot of people now is the photojournalistic style [for wedding shoots], and I tell clients that I really am a photojournalist. So I do a pretty good job, I think, of capturing the moments of a wedding. It's pretty fun and kind of a challenge. Some photographers say they get really stressed out by wedding photography, but I don't really feel that way. I guess after being a news photographer for twenty years I can handle the pressure of it fine.

And then there's the nature stuff. My photos are represented by Zuma Press and also by myself, so that's another leg of my three-legged stool of income. So when I don't have clients for other stuff, I'm usually out looking for nature photos.

A gallery of Loznak's photographs is on the next page, as well as links to his website and blog.
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