JOB TITLE: Nature photographer
FAVORITE TRINTY MEMORY: I think my favorite memory is the semester I spent at the Trinity College Rome Campus. What an incredible program and experience.
How did you get started in photography? A couple of years after my now 10-year-old daughter Ruby was born, I decided I wanted to learn basic digital photography and took an introductory class at a local community college. At first I did a lot of macrophotography, fascinated by the delicate beauty and detail of plants and insects. A couple years later, I expanded into landscape photography, and then in 2011, I discovered bird photography, and I suddenly felt seized with a great passion. I now photograph all wildlife but tend to have more photos of birds as they are the most common subjects I find.
What made you realize that photography would be your life’s work? When I realized that it combined so many of my interests and strengths, from my compassion for animals, to my fascination with science and natural history, to an aesthetic sense I felt but never realized until I stumbled upon photography. I’m also driven by a sense of urgency to make some kind of impact for the animals and their habitat that I care so much about, either through the talks that I give, or the workshops that I teach, or the magazine assignments I get. I’ve evolved into a “conservation photographer.” For me, this means that it’s not enough to just take pretty pictures; in fact, the work really begins after I have clicked the shutter. Whose hands do I need to get my work into for it to make a difference for that animal or the landscape it needs to live in? This is what I am always thinking about.
What did it mean to you to win the 2015 Audubon Photography Awards Grand Prize? It meant that I was recognized for my hard work these past few years. I have truly lived and breathed photography, and to have my aesthetic take on a very commonly photographed bird (the great egret) was a confirmation for me that I have something to offer that’s unique. It also means, perhaps more importantly, that I have a better platform now from which to spread the word that the wild creatures around us are deserving of our respect, appreciation, and care.
What are the biggest challenges of your work? It’s very hard to succeed as a wildlife photographer. Stock photography is dead, and it’s impossible to keep a bricks-and-mortar store afloat. Magazines and newspapers are folding, photography jobs are drying up. You have to diversify and be willing to write, speak, teach, and lead tours to exotic locales. And hopefully sell a few fine art prints along the way to people who want a beautiful image of a bird or other animal on their walls. Physically it can be very taxing as well; my gear is heavy and cumbersome, and I often work in challenging, uncomfortable conditions. It’s far from glamorous, but I can’t imagine loving anything more.
What are your favorite locations to take photos? Florida is one of my favorite places, as the birds there are practically tame. I love to photograph anywhere along the ocean, as I have a big passion for shorebirds, and really, along the edge of any body of water, such as marshes, ponds, or lakes. I also just came back from leading a photo safari in Africa for the first time, and I am hooked. The range of species, the spectacular life-and-death struggles playing out, there’s nothing like it for a photographer.
How did your time at Trinity affect your career choice? I don’t know that it affected my career choice, but my time at Trinity being steeped in the liberal arts has truly served me well in all my endeavors and professions. I think that I am able to think critically, speak and write well, and be conversant and flexible in all kinds of environments, and I strongly believe Trinity was a huge influence in this way.
Was there a professor who was particularly influential? I would have to say Professor Mark Schenker. He taught “The Victorian Age” during my last semester. He had a profound effect on me on a personal level. I ran into some difficulty writing a paper, and he met with me and helped me over a huge hurdle I was encountering. He really helped me to trust my own capabilities much more than I had.
To view Groo’s photographs, visit her website at www.melissagroo.com