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Episode #129

Backyard Camera Traps and Worldwide Workshops with Roy Toft


UPDATED: June 5, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON January 31, 2023


Even though professional conservation photographer Roy Toft travels the world throughout the year, he still is laser-focused on this backyard photo project. Learn what he's up to with camera traps and why it matters so much.


Roy Toft is an award-winning professional wildlife photographer and biologist who brings a spirit of joy and enthusiastic wonder to his purpose-driven photographic work. 

His work has been featured in many magazine and publications – from National Geographic to Discover Magazine – and he's received top honors in the most prestigious competitions in our field including Wildlife Photographer of the Year and BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

But… all that isn't why I admire Roy.

What is MOST wonderful about Roy is his unflagging commitment to using photography to inform and inspire, bringing more people to understand and care about the natural world. 

From the photo tours he leads around the world and the conservation efforts they support, to the books he's photographed specifically to celebrate and protect wildlife and habitats, Roy's energy and delight with the wild world is present in everything he does. 


You'll Learn:

  • How got started in conservation photography
  • How he uses his own backyard to help with conservation in his community
  • The camera trap project he's currently working on
  • What he loves – and strongly dislikes – about wildlife photography tours
  • And a whole lot more!


Resources Mentioned

Episode 129: Backyard Camera Traps and Worldwide Workshops with Roy Toft

Shownotes: JaymiH.com/129

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
Welcome to this episode of Impact, the Conservation Photography Podcast, and Roy Toft. I cannot tell you how excited I am to sit down and actually get to interview you for this. You have been on my list of photographers to interview for a long time, so thank you so much for being here,

[00:00:16] Roy Toft: Well, super sweet of you and I'm happy to be.

[00:00:20] Jaymi Heimbuch: Awesome. Well, I always ask the same question at the beginning of these, which is for anyone who hasn't seen your work or had the joy of being out on a tour with you, who is Roy Toft in the world?

[00:00:33] Roy Toft: I am old. I'm old. I've been around a while. Who is Roy talked? Well I grew up pretty much a Navy brat, so jumped around and then ended up in San Diego, California. and I was that weird kid on the block that had a garage full of snakes. Yep. That was me. So always loved animals and , wanted to be a herpetologist when I grew up, I just thought snakes [00:01:00] were it and went to college for biology, wildlife biology, and then I found out, hey, you can see a lot more birds in a day than you can find snakes.

[00:01:10] Roy Toft: So then I got into, and, and then from there it just kind of kind of grew as just, I love all animals and knew that I wanted to work with animals. Didn't know how I thought my perfect job would be a wildlife biologist. Out in the bush doing some relative conservation with animals.

[00:01:30] Roy Toft: Then I find out those jobs are really hard to find. I mean, they're seasonal, they're two month project and then you're looking for another grant. This was kind of the Reagan years. So yeah, not a lot of money for that. So my fallback was working at the Wild Animal Park and so started working at the Wild Animal Park.

[00:01:53] Roy Toft: And I know this was your first question, Jamie, and I'm already launching you into my life story.

[00:01:58] Jaymi Heimbuch: I love it.

[00:01:59] Roy Toft: this [00:02:00] what you wanna know about Roy Toff? Like everything from the day I was born, cause it could be a while. So long story short I went to went to work at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which kind of affiliated to the San Diego Zoo.

[00:02:12] Roy Toft: which is a great facility. And so I could be around animals. I was a bird trainer, so I worked in a free flight bird show with 24 different species of raptors. So that was another fun thing. It was like being a falconer but not really killing anything. And started, photographing during that time.

[00:02:31] Roy Toft: In fact, I, I received my first nice camera when I graduated from college in 1985. . And so, and then the day after graduating, I was in Alaska doing a wolf population study for youth, fish and Wildlife service. So Perfect. I'm in the middle of Alaska, I have a camera. We're collaring wolves and spent the summer doing that.

[00:02:52] Roy Toft: So, who is Roy Top? Let's get back to the original question. I'm just a guy that loves animals, [00:03:00] got into photography so I could be with animals and, luckily made a career out of it. And that's what I'm still doing. So kind of a simple guy, not too complex. Not a lot of synapses firing, but enjoys being in the in the wild, photographing wildlife Okay.

[00:03:21] Jaymi Heimbuch: it. I love it. So that explains a lot cuz I remember. Seeing pictures of you working with wildlife, but not really realizing like how extensively you worked with wildlife. And then I was out on a trip with you in Costa Rica where we saw a viper, a Pit viper, and you were just like, isn't it so pretty and sweet?

[00:03:40] Jaymi Heimbuch: And isn't it so like you were just so calm and happy and you made me feel really calm and happy about this incredibly dead. Snake. So how much does that like love of herpetology come in today? Because you also show videos all the time of you finding rattlesnakes on your property and moving them off to a [00:04:00] safer place and just being really chill.

[00:04:02] Jaymi Heimbuch: How much does that kind of come into your photography now?

[00:04:04] Roy Toft: It comes, yeah, it comes into my photography a lot. I think. It's, it's a huge kind of responsibility if you're doing something like we do to kind of go against the sensationalism of encountering wildlife or being around wildlife. So much of what people see, on the internet and even with some of the, what we think of as documentary kind of programming, it's not that anymore.

[00:04:33] Roy Toft: It's totally sensationalized. It's fear-based. It's my gosh, look, this animal can kill me. And, and I just hate all that. I mean, it's anybody that's spent any time in nature knows it's not like that. None of these animals want to get us, and, unless you're trying to kill it or step right on it, nobody cares about, harming us.

[00:04:58] Roy Toft: And I [00:05:00] think it's, it's one. The best things we can do is just to normalize wildlife encounters and be, you know, thankful for them and to do those encounters in an ethical way and behave properly. And, it can be so rewarding to have an encounter with a deer, with a raccoon, and just. Emphasize the, the danger of it, but kind of get excited about just having those encounters.

[00:05:34] Roy Toft: So many of us don't have 'em anymore, and it's sad, and so people strive to have those encounters. But so many, so much of what we see nowadays is, is negative, press on any kind of wildlife encounters. I know your Coyote project, everybody's, if you're on social media, I saw a coyote today and it wasn't afraid of me.

[00:05:58] Roy Toft: Well, so what? [00:06:00] Cool. Does that automatically mean we should kill it? So, and I think snakes are, it's something where maybe a lot of people aren't as comfortable as I am, but I grew up with snakes, like there's no. Fear for me, Ty, there's respect, but there's no fear. They're not coming to get me.

[00:06:21] Roy Toft: If I get hurt by one, it's gonna be by my stupid, trying to, move them out of an air. All my neighbors call me for the rattlesnakes, in their yard, and I go pick 'em up and relocate 'em, and hey, if I get bit, that's, that's fine. That's, that's on me, I mean, being comfortable with snakes, obviously you can get really great snake photos cuz you can go wide and close, which is always cool, yeah.

[00:06:50] Jaymi Heimbuch: Yeah. And are you just always reading that behavior and noticing, oh yeah, the snake is feeling really calm, or this one's getting a little bit agitated. And so cuz you've created [00:07:00] stunning rattlesnake portraiture. And is that just a matter of knowing snakes really well?

[00:07:06] Roy Toft: Yeah, exactly. Just growing up with them. Body language or anything, if you have a dog or you have a cat at home, you know their body language, when, ah, maybe don't rub 'em on the belly right now, cuz I'm gonna get some claws. So same with snakes. I mean, they're, they're pretty easy to read and, yeah, I get close but still super respect.

[00:07:26] Roy Toft: And I don't want that striking picture. I don't want that jacked up rattlesnake, defensive pose pictures. Those are like, to me so cliche and almost unethical at this point, because you've had to push your luck so much to get that snake in a defensive posture. And it doesn't e, that's not what I want to convey.

[00:07:47] Roy Toft: I'd rather have them just cruising over a boulder. Flicking their tongue out and looking and being relaxed. That's, that's really what they are most of the.

[00:07:57] Jaymi Heimbuch: Love that. I'd love for you to tell [00:08:00] us a bit about where you live and the environment you live in because your backyard seems like this magical wonderland of nature that you in part, are responsible for curating cuz you've really made it this like haven for wildlife. So can you tell us about your yard before we dive into like the beautiful conservation photography work you've brought out of your.

[00:08:22] Roy Toft: Sure. So I live in Southern California. north County of San Diego. So it's Chaparral, which is kind of people just think of kind of scrubby brush, but it's really a beautiful, pretty evergreen environment. People think of San Diego as being brown most of the year. It is not when you have climax bushes like CES or California li.

[00:08:46] Roy Toft: Laurel Sumac and Scrub Oak, all three of those large bushes stay green year round. So it's, it's a beautiful environment. Huge boulders as big as your house. And you don't have to have a tiny house to have [00:09:00] the boulder, the size of it, because these are huge granite boulders.

[00:09:03] Roy Toft: So if you can kind of picture that kind of environment, kind of hilly. We're at 1500 feet, so lots of big boulders. Kind of chaparral, big shrubby, kind of evergreen bushes around. So that's where I live. I'm super lucky that I live in kind of a very rural area and we're lucky enough to have 28 acres that we call ours.

[00:09:29] Roy Toft: Although it's really for the animals. being ours just means no other human can mess with it. But it's really for the animals. And a lot of my neighbors have large properties that are in green space, so, even if they wanted to, they couldn't do much to that environment. And that sets up to have kind of a viable amount of property where animals can live and thrive and move through and utilize.

[00:09:57] Roy Toft: So that's kind of where I am. [00:10:00] And being a wildlife photographer and wildlife enthusiast, I've always kind of wanted to have bird feeders and, hummingbirds around and planting, plants that have some sort of nutrients for animals and, All my yard waste goes to these giant kind of yard piles on the outskirts

[00:10:22] Roy Toft: so, a lot of people don't realize that those piles of branches are homes for things, and you don't need to mulch up everything. And, Nature doesn't have to be pristine and beautiful when it comes to our yard waste. So that's kind of where, where I am two years after, We moved here. It was a brand new house and I was still kind of getting used to the environment. Our entire area burned down from a forest fire,

[00:10:51] Jaymi Heimbuch: Oh wow.

[00:10:52] Roy Toft: so it's when before the fire I couldn't really even walk in the valley. So I have a valley behind our [00:11:00] house and so thick.

[00:11:02] Roy Toft: The Chaparral hadn't burned in 50 years. , which, isn't normal for Chaparral. It's definitely a, an environment that needs to burn or should burn every 15, 20 years to kind of keep it from being overgrown and too thick. so I couldn't even walk our property lines because it was so thick with scrub oak and c anthes and literally couldn't crawl through it.

[00:11:25] Roy Toft: It was just a ramble of chaparral. After the fire. course, nothing, nothing was there. It was Ash. Which seems super sad and it was when you're living here. But a supernatural phenomena in our environment, I mean, that, that's renewal and, and everything grew back. It gave me an opportunity to actually get in the valley then and make a trail.

[00:11:49] Roy Toft: Because this environment's tough to move around without a trail. And if you. A trail before there's anything. It's really easy to, easier to maintain it. So I walked [00:12:00] all through the valley and kind of mapped out this, eh, it's a mile, mile and a half trail through the valley. We have a kind of a seasonal creek that goes through the middle of the valley.

[00:12:11] Roy Toft: And so I , used, that as kind of a, a, a common geographical feature to have a trail by knowing wildlife's gonna go there when there is water there. So that really set it up where I could enjoy the property more and put some camera traps out. And I, I, I played with Camera Traps many years ago with a project that I, I did.

[00:12:34] Roy Toft: And, and I, it was a chance for me to get back into it. I hadn't done it in so long and and I knew camera traps. They just give you a glimpse into something you, you know, an environment you don't see. all the time. Anything that's happening at night, you get to see that. Little, little s slivers of time that animals move through a valley. We just don't get to witness that very often we're, we're off leading [00:13:00] trips to Africa and running errands and, working around the yard we're, we don't get to see a lot of our native wildlife cuz we're just not staring in the right places. And Camma trap. Let you stare in the right places for hours and hours and hours and day and night and weeks and months.

[00:13:18] Roy Toft: And I've had some of these camera traps out there six years now, and I've seen amazing stuff through these cameras, stuff that nobody would ever see, I don't think you're sitting in a blind for six years. You're not gonna see this stuff. And that's really the beauty of it.

[00:13:32] Roy Toft: And it's accessible to everyone. it's. This high tech thing that only pros can do. Sure if you're gonna do D S L R, nice camera trap photos, that takes more energy, but if you just wanna put a little video trail cam that cost a hundred, 150 bucks, it's just a wealth of excitement in, and, entertainment, just, just to watch what's going on, even if you have a [00:14:00] small trail behind your house, just to see what goes through there, yeah. you have been a conservation photographer for years, and so I wanna get into that journey. But before we do, I'm curious, did putting up camera traps in your yard and just seeing what's there and being able to sink into it and enjoy it, does that help keep you inspired or keep you excited about conservation photography?

[00:14:26] Jaymi Heimbuch: Or is it just kind of a fun extra element of your photography?

[00:14:31] Roy Toft: Both. It really, it's really both because it's just fun. But as a conservation photographer, you. And I know we just, it can't be just fun. Like, we're, we wanna go to the next level, right. So it, it does turn into work, it's not all fun in games. It's frustrating.

[00:14:52] Roy Toft: You know, I just came back from three weeks leading a trip to Costa R. And just couldn't wait to check. I have five [00:15:00] high-end D S L R traps in the valley. Multiple strobes and pretty elaborate setups. Just couldn't wait to see the bounty of award-winning images and conservation photography I had, and it was just such a bust.

[00:15:14] Roy Toft: And, you know, it's, this camera, second day after I left, failed for some reason, this, this transmitter failed this. And that's what camera trapping is. It's a lot of, you're, you're relying on a lot of technology that when it fails, it's kind of catastrophic for however long that you're not there.

[00:15:33] Roy Toft: You're not getting any of the stuff you hope for. And for me, it's not that big a deal, right? I'm not on assignment, I. Hiking 10 miles to get my, to my cameras. You know, It's not life or death, but that's three weeks of time I wanted something good. And with technology kind of fails, you're, you're kind of disappointed, so, you know, change batteries out, try to figure out what's not working. [00:16:00] So that, that's all part of it. So it, it is just fun. But for me at this point, I'm in the process of doing a Wild Ramona book which is mostly, mostly camera trap stuff, just because it's unique and it captivates people.

[00:16:16] Roy Toft: it's a different look. And those of us in conservation photography, were. Blase about camera trap stuff now. It's been around for a long time. A lot of the general public still doesn't see a lot of high end camera trapping stuff. They see grainy, black and white, like ring videos from their front door of a, a bobcat walking through their driveway.

[00:16:42] Roy Toft: That's what a lot of the public sees. So when you show them a really high end, high quality, Wyatt Angle, closeup mountain lion that's in their community, but it really still blows 'em away. And so, so yeah, I'm kind of on a quest now [00:17:00] to up my game and, get some, get see where I'm missing images for the book.

[00:17:06] Roy Toft: And for me it's, kinda like this whole project. . It's about engaging the community in wildlife, get them stoked about wildlife. We're a ranching community, pretty much. It's , horse country where I live. There's still, still some of that bias of, well , no good predator.

[00:17:26] Roy Toft: There's still some of that around and I. , people like myself, we, we can slowly change that because, there's, there's not many ranchers that are actually making a living from having their cattle out there and losing a calf. And it's a big deal. It's just the mindset is still there, of, a mountain lion.

[00:17:47] Roy Toft: Oh my gosh, we gotta call someone. We need to take care of this. This isn't cool. Well, I'm here to say it is cool. We're super lucky, that we have mountain lion still walking. Our little community in Ramona, and [00:18:00] there's hardly any negative downsides to that. It's, it's just a cool thing.

[00:18:06] Roy Toft: So, so that's what I'm doing now is kind of when I'm home, it, it keeps my juices flowing because before this kind of wild Ramona Backyard project, running trips, running photo workshops and trips is. What I do to, to pay the bills and, was only my only real outlet for being a photographer, continuing to be a photographer is shooting when I'm out with my clients.

[00:18:32] Roy Toft: So now I, I get to be a real conservation photographer again in the field, doing stuff and see where it.

[00:18:41] Jaymi Heimbuch: I'm so excited that you are putting together a book, cuz I have your book on the OSA Peninsula, which is the, an area of Costa Rica that you created a gorgeous photography book about. and I'm kind of curious cuz you said something earlier, you said, as we're wildlife photographers, but as conservation photographers we know that [00:19:00] the photography's, that's not the end all be all.

[00:19:02] Jaymi Heimbuch: There's more to it than that. How did you know that you wanted to focus on conservation as a wildlife photographer? What was, did you have a realization moment or what was that journey like?

[00:19:13] Roy Toft: I think, my background was in wildlife biology, and so I think there's two ways that people come into wildlife photography. You either come into it as a wildlife biologist, loving the animal side of it, and then photography is just a way for you to do that. Or you're, you're really enamored by photography.

[00:19:34] Roy Toft: And art and that, and you learn about the animals. So I was definitely the, the, the former so conservation photography was an easy jump for me. that's my passion, you know, I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. , those are my heroes, not photographers per se, it's the George Sch of the world, you know, those are, those are my hero. The Iel Wilsons, those, those [00:20:00] guys are my rock stars. Not some great photographer that, can make a really pretty picture, I know how hard it is to make a pretty picture. It's not easy, but at the end of the day, I'd rather, Hey, my mentor was Nick Nichols from Nat Geo, and there's rarely a pretty picture you're gonna find of.

[00:20:22] Roy Toft: They're all just gritty and man, dark and dirty and, wild. That's, that's what I hope to be like more, you know, I see so many pretty pictures nowadays. A lot of it has to do with the kind of post-processing that we're doing. We can clean up anything nowaday. Since I lead tours, a lot of photo tours, the bird photography nowadays in all these locations on the most beautiful moss covered branch [00:21:00] with one fern. Same branch for all the photos, I mean, yeah, I've shot that too, cuz my people wanna shoot it and we're there and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a feeding situation, right? It's, you're at these places where they're feeding the birds but man, it's so like, It's too, come on. It's too beautiful. And too like another beautiful setting with not, that's, I don't know.

[00:21:30] Roy Toft: That's not me. I mean, I want more natural, wild stuff, I get it. I get we're people want the cleanest, most beautiful things to post on Instagram, but boy, give me. Yeah. Down and dirty camera, trap picture with distractions galore and, and it says something and there's a motion there.

[00:21:55] Roy Toft: Yeah. Gimme that.

[00:21:57] Jaymi Heimbuch: Nice. I love it [00:22:00] when you think about. The journey that you've had as a conservation photographer, and then today really using your backyard to think about how you can bring your community on board with things like predators, like mountain lions and bobcats and healthy rattlesnake populations. where do you as a conservation photographer kind of go mentally? Cuz you lead tours all over the world, but conservation is always on your mind. So as you're out in your scene, , so much potential for photography to make a difference, whether it's in areas where you lead tours or ride at home, where do you personally wanna put your effort these days?

[00:22:39] Roy Toft: Right now, I mean, it's, it's this backyard project for me. I'm not a photographer that can have a, a, a million things in the air. That's just not the way I work, so I'm just focused on this kind of backyard project and we are just in Costa Rica and, and. My group of clients going there helps support, a turtle program that [00:23:00] goes there on the, that OSSA conservation does.

[00:23:02] Roy Toft: I bring all my folks there and they're releasing turtles and they do a great, great work. So, so I mean, my people are putting money into those projects, just by going there and, can I do more? Yeah. Can we all do more? Yeah. But so much of what our, our wild area. Need is resources and people that care about 'em the places we go.

[00:23:28] Roy Toft: I, I'm trying to, I try to be really thoughtful and, and go to places where that money goes to the right places because it's, it's substantial. You know, These trips aren't cheap People that have cameras now, and there's a zillion of them. A lot of 'em, they're, they have time, they have money.

[00:23:48] Roy Toft: That's, that's the perfect formula for running these tours is, is these, these clients have time and money and you, you have to put them in places where they can [00:24:00] make a difference, and it's, it's a perfect place to kind of, talk about conservation because if you get these people on board, this is, they can make a difference.

[00:24:13] Roy Toft: Where we go in Africa, I mean, these private concessions, without tourists going there, without us. Crazy photographers going there. No one protects these areas. Everything has to have a dollar amount. Unfortunately, everything has to have a dollar amount behind. For local people to really care.

[00:24:34] Roy Toft: Most of the rest of the world, they're not like us, , they're, they're worried about that roof of their head and where the next meal's coming from and if conservation through tourism can, can bring that they're on board, but I need to do more, I think I need to do more Well, it's funny because I feel like I see you and so many other conservation photographers doing a lot for conservation, and yet it always [00:25:00] comes down to this idea of I'm not doing enough, I'm not doing enough, I'm not doing enough. But I think that that's just our mindset, of being someone who wants to make a difference and always seeing opportunities.

[00:25:13] Jaymi Heimbuch: Do you think that that's true? Do you what? What do you think about all.

[00:25:17] Roy Toft: Yeah, I think, I think that's totally true. I mean, so much of what we do, it's like, it doesn't have the, you know, that finale where we really feel like we did something. Think of, you know, the Mega Transect with Nick Nichols, with Natio and Mike Faye. That huge project with a lot of money behind it, created huge national parks through Gaon and, central Africa that weren't there. Like, we all wanna do that, you know, it's like, God, why can't, but yeah, we all can't be, Mike Faye and Nick Nichols, so I think most of us, we do what we can. We do these little things with never feel like it's, it's enough, some of us are certainly [00:26:00] more. More of an activist, I would say. I think of like someone like Amy Gok, her salmon project with the Bears through the Tonga. It's, it is amazing that she keeps up , that momentum and,, I think more of us would like to do more what she, like, what she's doing, where we.

[00:26:20] Roy Toft: because I look at her work and I'm just like, man, to, to have that concentration and not jump, I'm jumping everywhere and I lose concentration because I think when you run these trips it really sucks up a lot of your time. And passion projects and projects that could really mean something down the road. You don't put enough time into it to make it go anywhere. So I think that's a drawback to, running trips. But yeah, you gotta pay the bills, you know, we gotta do what we can do and, and I, I know how to do trips. I've, I [00:27:00] think I'm good at it. I think people enjoy it. I'm not for everyone, that's for sure.

[00:27:05] Roy Toft: And that goes both ways for clients and me too, but, So, yeah, I think I'm, I, I can't be alone. Someone that wants to do more, but you just feel like, oh, I guess I'm just running another trip. And I shouldn't negate that, what I do, I shouldn't be like, oh, I only do this. But I think that's just part of, who we individually are you.

[00:27:29] Jaymi Heimbuch: Mm-hmm. and I. I do think you shouldn't naked what it is that you do because I feel like it's very important to bring that conservation element into wildlife photography trips because there's many, many trips. That, don't think about that, that don't introduce people to these concepts or run even unethical tours.

[00:27:50] Jaymi Heimbuch: And you do such an incredible job and I wanna dive into your tours, particularly cuz I think that you do a beautiful job of not only giving people a great [00:28:00] experience. That feels really amazing as photographers with, like, it's lucrative in terms of the images that you bring back from one of your tours, but you're always talking about conservation.

[00:28:08] Jaymi Heimbuch: You're always talking about what the species are going through, or like the example that you gave about your tour directly helps turtle conservation or your building conservation into that. And that's no small thing. I think I, I think that that is really critical when you're thinking about the tours that you're lining.

[00:28:26] Jaymi Heimbuch: Do you actively think about the conservation element that you might wanna bring into it? Or is that something that just sort of naturally comes about as you're planning or scouting?

[00:28:36] Roy Toft: it just naturally comes. . Obviously there's so much that goes into a trip and making it successful for people. And there's just so many elements that have to come together and, there's always a conservation angle to every place we go and, I mean, there's not a place in the planet that doesn't have a conservation topic [00:29:00] glued to it, and if there's wildlife involved, there is. Right. And we're, we're trying to bring people to a place that in a relatively short time, a week or two, they can get a well-rounded experience of what wildlife in that area is and be successful at it in a short amount of time.

[00:29:26] Roy Toft: And there's, there's limited places. In the world where you can do that and be successful. that's why a lot of us are doing very similar trips. And, but I think, every tour leader can bring their own ethics, their own background, their own personal experience into that tour. And it can make a difference.

[00:29:47] Roy Toft: A million people run trips in Costa Rica, I mean, , I've been doing trips there. I, that was my 24th year doing photo workshops where you and I went several years [00:30:00] back in the ossa Peninsula. So, so I've been doing it a long time. But I see so many trips there and, and the, the staggering images that some of these tour groups come back with. But then I, I'm a photographer. I know, that everything is set up. Everything's sitting in a room with 10 flashes around a flower and a hummingbird coming into it. Everything's in a blind where 10 photographers sitting there shooting, king Vultures as they come into a dead goat. It just goes on and on.

[00:30:34] Roy Toft: Like, that's not what I wanna do with my group. I don't. You know, I always tell my people it's so much more important to come home with a feeling, a sense of an area, coming home with knowledge of how you can troubleshoot and, and make images in your own backyard. That's way more important than coming home with [00:31:00] 30 amazing pictures that you're gonna post and you're gonna forget about, but I think for so many people it's, it's definitely quantity of, of images, and just, what's my hall from this workshop?

[00:31:13] Roy Toft: I paid this amount. And that's just the wrong way of thinking about wildlife photography. Like, it's not. High percentage. Shoot wildlife. We work hard for every great image. It's, you know, it's not a, I need 10 great shots today. Give me all two cans that live here. I want every monkey I want. Let's, how many snakes do we have in cages?

[00:31:38] Roy Toft: All right. I want a great picture of every snake that we can put on this branch and every, you know, red eye tree frog that we've caught and stuck on a beautiful flower. I mean, that's just, that's not wildlife photography. , that's a, that's a model photo shoot. And it's just, I, it kind of bastardizes, I think what wildlife photography [00:32:00] is now.

[00:32:00] Roy Toft: Nothing against those people. I mean, if it's done ethically, I just have a hard time that kind of imagery, do those people really know and love the place they're going? Or they purely go home knowing and loving these amazing pictures They. There's a huge difference there. Huge difference.

[00:32:23] Jaymi Heimbuch: absolutely.\ it is, I feel like there are differences in wildlife photographers and what people want to experience in a place. And so the more that we can get. Tour leaders who are focusing on conservation, focusing on the idea of like, you're here to experience and understand a location every bit as much, if not more, than the images that you create while you're there.

[00:32:47] Jaymi Heimbuch: Because you can take. Images that every single person at that tour is gonna walk away having, and there isn't a whole lot of joy to me behind those pictures [00:33:00] that are, they're images that everybody got.

[00:33:02] Jaymi Heimbuch: There's nothing unique about it. There's nothing interesting. There's not a story behind it because everything was created for you. Whereas when you can head out on a different type of workshop where a sense of place where experience, where understanding the species that live there and witnessing them is really emphasized, then you bring home unique images.

[00:33:22] Jaymi Heimbuch: Everyone might get kind of similar-ish images, but not necessarily the same shot. And it's the story of, oh, and then we found this sloth and then we, we stopped and watched it for a while and then it did this, and then it did that. And it was so cool. And remember when we high-fived each other out, you know, you come home with that kind of vibe instead, and that, I think, So much and different wildlife photographers are gonna have a different connection with that.

[00:33:49] Jaymi Heimbuch: But I think that the listeners of this podcast anyway are gonna really relate to the idea of, I went and learned about a place it felt like I was contributing or understanding [00:34:00] or being immersed in it. And that's what is attached to the images that we bring home

[00:34:06] Roy Toft: Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, that, that OSSA trip, like I just got back from that and at the end of the week everybody puts in 10 pictures and not necessarily their best stuff. And I like emphasize, do not spend 10 hours in post-processing because it's not, it's not a critique.

[00:34:25] Roy Toft: It's, that week of shooting. at that locale everybody gets different pictures because it's okay, what's fruiting here? You know, Nothing's set up, you know, except for, yeah, I might, have a frog here. So, okay, let's, let's learn some macro, but most of it's just, okay, let's see what's fruiting in the garden.

[00:34:45] Roy Toft: two cans are coming in here and everybody gets different stuff and it blows me away. To see those images at the end of the week because someone really gets into the macro and spends hours in the forest finding cool stuff. And [00:35:00] it's, it, yeah, it's the story. It's the experience behind and overcoming the, as photographers we always have all these kind of hurdles we have to get over to get to an image we like, and there's all.

[00:35:16] Roy Toft: Things we have to overcome, both technically and compositionally. And, and if you let people figure those out on their own, that sense of accomplishment, and they're, they're a better photographer. Instead of just sitting in 'em a chair, give them a cable release. I say, when the hummingbirds close, push this button.

[00:35:37] Roy Toft: You're gonna get an amazing picture. All your, all your followers are gonna love this picture. Never can redo it at home, have no idea what's going on. like, yeah, my clients, and not just me, but there's a lot of great photo leaders. But I'm just saying, I, I hope the trend isn't towards this sterilized [00:36:00] set up, super high probability people are gonna come away with a million great shots, but not have any experience.

[00:36:09] Roy Toft: It's just not what it's about, it's not what it's about, and I just hope it doesn't go that route cuz I think a lot of people, they can fall into that and this, they might think this is what a photo workshop is, and either be turned off by it and not go with someone that's different, more.

[00:36:29] Roy Toft: More like what they wanna. Someone that just might know the area and put some in cool situations. And it might happen, it might not. But we're, we're in a good spot. This is what wildlife photography's about. We've put ourself in this great spot and we've done our homework. And it might pay off, it might not, we don't have piles of food out there.

[00:36:50] Roy Toft: We don't know if this thing's gonna come back. But yeah, this is, this is what a wildlife photographer does. I hope there's more. People that want to get into doing tours, that, [00:37:00] that just realize there's a, there's a real benefit to that. It doesn't have to be, get these people 20 different species a day, for them to be happy.

[00:37:10] Roy Toft: People will be happy with a lot less if you give them the experience of what being a real wildlife photographer is about,

[00:37:17] Jaymi Heimbuch: I also think that the idea of, oh, I want these 20 species, that's trophy hunting. It's just trophy hunting with a camera.

[00:37:24] Roy Toft: Well, that's where we're going really. I mean, look at a lot of these tours now it's, and I, social media doesn't help, just gotta have a beautiful picture to post and don't care about what's involved behind it, Luckily, you know, a lot of this, the game farm thing, you know, I don't want to get into a lot of that, but that's kind of going away with, you know, a lot of, very passionate people really pushing that needle and, and I think, I hope some of the workshop stuff can go that way too, as far as just, well,

[00:37:59] Roy Toft: doesn't have to be [00:38:00] so sterilized. And so total goal orientated on a zillion high-end images from every workshop doesn't have to be that way.

[00:38:12] Jaymi Heimbuch: Yeah. Well, so you lead tours all over the world. You're all over the place. , can you tell me more about what some of your tours are around the world? Because I'm sure that there are listeners who are like, yes. That's the experience I want. I wanna go and explore and be immersed and learn the how and why and not focus so much on, trophy images that come home.

[00:38:32] Jaymi Heimbuch: But I really wanna come home as a better photographer who experienced a place. Tell us more about the tours that you lead and where people might go with you.

[00:38:41] Roy Toft: Okay. So I, you mentioned Africa. So I've been leading trips to Botswana for the last 20 plus years. and I, you know, I just kind of, I got connected to Botswana. It's a, it's an intimate African experience as far as a country goes. It's their, their [00:39:00] model for tourism is quite a bit different than East Africa, where, most people are thinking about Kenya or Tanzania, which are wonderful destinations, to go, but they're just different.

[00:39:12] Roy Toft: You know, It's uh, much more about, higher numbers of people. Much more of a national park experience where you're waiting at a gate in the morning. You, you get let in, do your thing with a lot of other people, and then you gotta race to the gate by sunset not all the places are like that, but that's a lot of East Africa is, that based plus one is, is boutique uh, lodges, tw usually.

[00:39:38] Roy Toft: 12 beds or less. 16 beds or less four vehicles max. And it's on a concession. It's not a national park, so it's land leased from the government. Big, big acreage, you know, 40,000 acres, big chunks of land. And it's just for that one lodge. So they have a 10 year lease, and that's all you're gonna see on [00:40:00] that, that land.

[00:40:00] Roy Toft: So basically my group rolls in. . We take over the whole lodge and we have four vehicles. We go separate directions within radio cuz you know, you want everybody to be on a great sighting, but I want all my people to be out there in nature and, and tracking and trying to feel the pulse of Africa and.

[00:40:24] Roy Toft: Purely looking for a Land Rover that's stopped and you know, they have something and globbing onto their sighting and that's pretty much what East Africa is. I mean, you don't find a lot of your own stuff in East Africa. You get a call or you see 10 vehicles around something go there. They got something good.

[00:40:43] Roy Toft: And that's not what really being a photographer, I don't think so. Botswana suits me. It's, it's, it's, it's small. Amazing wildlife and you have to work for it. There's, there's not a hundred [00:41:00] thousand WBE in front of you. We can spend three hours tracking a leopard and may not find it, and there's no one else to call.

[00:41:08] Roy Toft: Well, my people will call, but we don't have many vehicles out there, so that limits your, the amount of eyes. So it's just fun. It's much more. I think an authentic experience for people so I just love that. So that's what Swan, and you still want to hear more? Uh,

[00:41:26] Jaymi Heimbuch: Yes, I do. I'm already like, oh my gosh. Okay. I need to go check out the next opening because you're booked out through 2024 at this

[00:41:34] Roy Toft: Yeah, we're just opening a second trip in 2024 cause we filled up super, super quick. So and yeah, lucky for that. And a lot of people that have been to Botswana with me already four or five times, so it's one of those kind of places you definitely don't want to just go once it's special. So then I also go to Chile Patagonia for Mountain Lions or Pumas.

[00:41:57] Roy Toft: It's the only place in the world you can, [00:42:00] photograph pumas during the day in a relaxed, basically following them through that environment. Beautiful Patagonia environment. It's, it's a purely a situation where through the years there's habituation. You know, these, these cats aren't persecuted.

[00:42:18] Roy Toft: In these, these areas and they get used to this little group of five people kind of following at a, at a respectful distance and being quiet and squatting down and, photographing them. And so really a fly on the wall experience. And, and, and that's wonderful that, that's, this will be my ninth year coming up doing that.

[00:42:40] Roy Toft: And that is a really unique experie. For for a lot of reasons. One, we actually get to be walking hardly any tours. You're walking anywhere, you're always in boats, you're in vehicles. You're, you know, And so to actually be out physically exerting yourself [00:43:00] in this environment it's a really wild experience.

[00:43:04] Roy Toft: You feel like you're in this environment and it's a harsh environment. It's windy, it's cold. The weather can change any minute. So that's really fun. and so I do that and then I'm also doing Brazil, like a million other people at this point. For Jaguars and you know, I think it was probably Joe McDonald and myself that were the first to start leading trips there for photographers.

[00:43:30] Roy Toft: Cause it's been since 2009 for. And I know Joe was right around there. Joe and Marion. Yeah, great experience. I mean, it's, I keep waiting for it not to be good anymore cuz it's just, it's a little crazy now. A lot of people go there, but to see Wild Jaguars along a river hunting Cayman and, and mating and being relaxed, it's just as a nature.[00:44:00]

[00:44:00] Roy Toft: Enthusiasts and a photographer 20 years ago was something none of us could thought would ever exist. Jaguars were the new World Ghost Cat, just like Pumas. You just don't see them. And now we have two places on the planet where we can actually see Pumas, walk with them, photograph them, watch them hunt, watch them with their babies, totally relaxed, ethical.

[00:44:24] Roy Toft: Terrific. And Brazil is, is much the same way. You're on the river system, you have clients and boats, and you're following Jags and finding 'em along the coastline the rivers. it's just magical. It can be a lot of people nowadays, you know, you can have 10 boats, 15 boats the same cat, and I'm waiting for that circus to get outta. But every year I go back, I have a wonderful time. I don't, The majority of of companies now working there, they realize that's their golden goose. They're, they're boat drivers, keep people from doing [00:45:00] wrong things. Everybody's quiet. It's, it's still a great experience. So I do that.

[00:45:05] Roy Toft: What else am I doing? Costa R. I'm doing India thought every other year for tigers. I've been doing some snow leopards, which is a whole nother challenge. Um, But I've done three snow leopard trips up in the Himalayas. So yeah, those are most the ones that are keeping me busy.

[00:45:24] Jaymi Heimbuch: Wow.

[00:45:25] Roy Toft: always an odd one here or there.

[00:45:27] Jaymi Heimbuch: Right. Oh man. So I have at least one more question for you before I let you go. You have been all over the world and you've had years of experience and getting to be out in nature.

[00:45:40] Jaymi Heimbuch: Like I feel like you are just constantly on the go. Do you still have bucket list places where you're like, I definitely know. , I wanna go to this place. I've never been there before and I gotta see it.

[00:45:52] Roy Toft: Well, there are some places, but the places that I want to go now are a lot of. You know, And so that's getting [00:46:00] older, it's, it's challenging to think of cuz I want wild places, I, we have a lot of wilderness areas that aren't so wild anymore. And I wanna go to like, wild places in Indonesia, and, and Popo, new Guinea.

[00:46:18] Roy Toft: And I've been to those places, some of those places. But I haven't done it. Well, those wild places need time and money and logistics and think of a Nat Geo assignment 20 years ago where they really threw in like, you're gonna do it. Right. That's what I want to do.

[00:46:40] Roy Toft: You know, Like what Tim Layman did with, birds of Paradise in Papua New Guinea. I. , that's my dream. Sit in a blind, 150 feet up in a, in a tree and watch a lack of birds of paradise. So I don't know if those are, those kind of dreams are, are still viable for me at [00:47:00] my age. And, and but yeah, just, like not too long ago, I, I kind of started a, a harpy e eagle project where it was kind of a passion project.

[00:47:10] Roy Toft: And. , you know, a fair amount of time and effort and money to get up into trees and photograph harpy eagles. And, and some of the most rewarding moments of, of my life were, were in those blinds watching what I think is arguably one of the sexiest, most powerful birds in the world. Do what it does. And so yeah, I wanna do those experiences, they're still out there. I just, it's not getting any easier

[00:47:46] Jaymi Heimbuch: it's, it's never ending adventure. As long as you have that mindset, that mentality, I think, and it feels really good to hear someone like you where it's like, what hasn't Roy done in this world? Still say, oh no, there's adventures out there [00:48:00] that are, they're on the books for sure.

[00:48:02] Jaymi Heimbuch: It's awesome.

[00:48:04] Jaymi Heimbuch: Well, Roy, for those listeners who are really excited to see more of your work, to check out the OSA Peninsula book or the upcoming Wild Ramona book to check out all of your tours, where do they go to find you?

[00:48:17] Roy Toft: I have a website, it's TF Photo Safari or just Roy Tuft. You can find Toff photo. And also on Instagram, I'm posting a bunch of stuff, so that's. Tot photo safaris and yeah,

[00:48:32] Jaymi Heimbuch: Perfect

[00:48:33] Roy Toft: what I'm doing there. You know, I'm so high tech, you know, with the social media and there's probably some tos out there I'm doing, I don't know. No, it ain't gonna happen. I'm still trying to figure out what a reel is. What is a real

[00:48:51] Jaymi Heimbuch: Well in the show notes, I will have links to everything. So anyone who's not feeling particularly high tech, you just scroll down from the show notes and links will be right there to [00:49:00] go. Check out Roy's work. Thank you so much for spending time with me and thank you for being someone that I have admired my entire, like once I figured out, oh, this thing called conservation photography exists, you were one of the first people whose work I learned about and I've been admiring you literally my entire career, and I am so grateful for you and thankful that I've been able to go out in the field with you.

[00:49:23] Roy Toft: Hi. You're so sweet. Well, let's get. The field.

[00:49:26] Roy Toft: Grab that

[00:49:26] Jaymi Heimbuch: ready

[00:49:27] Roy Toft: Come on down here and do some wild Ramona with me.

[00:49:30] Jaymi Heimbuch: All right. Look out. It'll be me and Nick with some surfboards and camera equipment

[00:49:34] Jaymi Heimbuch: just

[00:49:34] Roy Toft: I know Nick can cook some mean food and give us a great massage, so bring them

[00:49:39] Jaymi Heimbuch: All right, wonderful. Roy, you are awesome. Thank you so, so very much.

[00:49:44] Roy Toft: You're welcome. Thanks for having me, Jamie.

[00:49:46] Jaymi Heimbuch: All right, and everyone, we'll talk to you again next week.


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