s the bird sitting, is the background busy? A bird in flight, landing, feeding or two eagles fighting one another spins an interesting tale and can be a compelling story. This photo was shot at DIPAC in July 2020 with a Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 70-200, 1/1600 sec at f2.8, ISO 100. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)
s the bird sitting, is the background busy? A bird in flight, landing, feeding or two eagles fighting one another spins an interesting tale and can be a compelling story. This photo was shot at DIPAC in July 2020 with a Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 70-200, 1/1600 sec at f2.8, ISO 100. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)

s the bird sitting, is the background busy? A bird in flight, landing, feeding or two eagles fighting one another spins an interesting tale and can be a compelling story. This photo was shot at DIPAC in July 2020 with a Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 70-200, 1/1600 sec at f2.8, ISO 100. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt) s the bird sitting, is the background busy? A bird in flight, landing, feeding or two eagles fighting one another spins an interesting tale and can be a compelling story. This photo was shot at DIPAC in July 2020 with a Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 70-200, 1/1600 sec at f2.8, ISO 100. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)

Focal Point: What is the story? A photographer’s journey

“I tossed the checklist and began focusing on finding the unexpected in my photos.”

By Heather Holt

For the Juneau Empire

Less than a second! The question is, how long is the average attention span for a person looking at a photo?

In the beginning of my journey as a wildlife photographer my goal was to get a sharp image of a stationary animal. How thrilling it was to bag and tag an eagle sitting up in a tree — got it! or a bear walking across the road — got it! or a whale’s tale as they go into their dive — got it!

It took several years to begin feeling that these images are just that — images, nothing compelling or artistic. Yawn! I started looking at my photography in a different light. I tossed the checklist and began focusing on finding the unexpected in my photos. Photos that jolt, that cause people to stop and look, really look at my photos and hopefully say “Wow!”

Intensity — the toughest of all shots but the most rewarding is when you can go eye to eye with your subject. A bear staring you down is very cool; such as in the case of this male Coastal brown bear on Baranof Island. He was actually turning and looked my way before he strolled off. It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 70-200, 1/800 sec at f4.5, ISO 320. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)

Intensity — the toughest of all shots but the most rewarding is when you can go eye to eye with your subject. A bear staring you down is very cool; such as in the case of this male Coastal brown bear on Baranof Island. He was actually turning and looked my way before he strolled off. It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 70-200, 1/800 sec at f4.5, ISO 320. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)

I began asking myself when I was taking my photograph, what makes it interesting? As a consequence, I find myself spending more time watching the interaction of the wildlife waiting for that wow factor and passing on pictures being snapped by others. Of course, add a cub, an eagle swooping away with a fish, great light, awesome fall colors, a fight on the river—- a bear! Now, you have a story.

In the beginning, you are looking to capture a great photo, but now you are selecting your shot, picking your story and evoking emotion from your audience. There are two easy ways to trigger an emotion. The first is to try to get to the eye level of your subject. These photos get the most attention. The other is to get a close-up interaction such as between a mother and cub, or an unlikely friendship between animals.

Look for a cute factor.  A mother seal touching noses with her newborn baby, birds feeding their young, or in this case, a black bear and her cub enjoying a quiet moment together near the Mendenhall Glacier.  It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 70-200, 1/320 sec at f4.5, ISO 4000. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)

Interesting and unique behavior give you an unexpectedness in photos, and that is what gets the attention and stays in people’s minds. So, away with the list, and start seeing your subject as an opportunity to tell a story, your story, with your images. Sometimes the subject doesn’t want to be photographed, but when they do the results are worth it.

• Heather (Burford) Holt is a fourth generation Juneauite who offers local and flyout photo workshops designed to improve camera skills while capturing photos in the Alaska wilderness. She can be reached at flyingakcaptured@gmail.com, or visit her website at http://www.flyingalaskacaptured.net/. “Focal Point” is a column meant to provide inspiration, education and opportunity for all with an interest in photography. It appears monthly in the Empire.

Look for something unique about the environment or weather. These swans landed and were preening on the ice at Dredge Lake. Quite often, when swans get out onto the ice they will flap their wings so be ready. The background is busy in this photo but the uniqueness of the swan and the ice make it work. It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 100-400mm, 1/1250 sec at f10, ISO 200. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)
Look for something unique about the environment or weather. These swans landed and were preening on the ice at Dredge Lake. Quite often, when swans get out onto the ice they will flap their wings so be ready. The background is busy in this photo but the uniqueness of the swan and the ice make it work. It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 100-400mm, 1/1250 sec at f10, ISO 200. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)

Look for something unique about the environment or weather. These swans landed and were preening on the ice at Dredge Lake. Quite often, when swans get out onto the ice they will flap their wings so be ready. The background is busy in this photo but the uniqueness of the swan and the ice make it work. It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 100-400mm, 1/1250 sec at f10, ISO 200. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt) Look for something unique about the environment or weather. These swans landed and were preening on the ice at Dredge Lake. Quite often, when swans get out onto the ice they will flap their wings so be ready. The background is busy in this photo but the uniqueness of the swan and the ice make it work. It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 100-400mm, 1/1250 sec at f10, ISO 200. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, May 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Students and staff play a kickball game on the field between the Marie Drake Building and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Friday afternoon. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
School district leaders debate biggest needs for extra $5.2M approved by Legislature, in hope governor won’t veto it

Staff for special education and gifted students, homeschooling, paying off city loan high on list.

Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, speaks Wednesday, May 8, on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
After several deadly drownings, Alaska Legislature votes to require harbor safety ladders

Bill by Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, passes on final day of session.

Members of the Thunder Mountain High School culinary arts team prepare their three-course meal during the National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore on April 26-28. (Photo by Rebecca Giedosh-Ruge)
TMHS culinary arts team serves a meal of kings at national competition

Five students who won state competition bring Alaskan crab and salmon to “Top Chef”-style event.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 15, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, listens to discussion on the Senate floor on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
A look at some of the bills that failed to pass the Alaska Legislature this year

Parts of a long-term plan to bring state revenue and expenses into line again failed to advance.

Most Read