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Episode #141

Being A Photonaturalist with Tony Wu

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UPDATED: July 11, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON July 11, 2023

 

Journey with us from the ocean's depths to squirrel-filled forests in this conversation with Tony Wu, a unique conservation photographer based in Japan. Known for his deep focus on individual species, Tony's approach to photography is a lesson in patience, ethics, and the importance of shining a light on underappreciated creatures.

 

Get ready to travel from the ocean deep where whales rule all, to the dark forests filled with flying squirrels with Tony Wu, a conservation photographer based in Japan.

Tony is not your typical wildlife photographer. He puts intense focus on one species at a time, getting to know individuals so he can build trust and document the rarely-seen side of their lives.

While he's best known for his whale work, that focus has shifted in recent years to include surprising species both under the sea and on land. That includes a 3-year stint trying to photograph the lives of adorable and equally fascinating flying squirrels, which pushed Tony into experimenting with new equipment (including a tripod – which to an ocean photographer is definitely new territory!).

Today, his passion is to shine a spotlight on some of the less glamorous sea creatures like starfish, sea cucumbers, and crabs. “I think that it's important to put a spotlight on things that don't have a spotlight on them at the time,” says Tony.

His work is a testament to finding beauty in unexpected places and creatures, and it serves as a reminder of the vast biodiversity that exists beneath the ocean waves.

Tony generously shares his philosophies and approaches to conservation photography that he's developed over decades of experience.

For anyone who feels that being a naturalist is every bit as important as being a photographer, you'll find plenty of inspiration in this conversation. You'll come away with new ideas and practical advice to apply to your own conservation photography efforts.

You'll Learn:

  • How being patient can mean the difference between photographic failure and success
  • Surprising practices that we DON'T want to duplicate
  • How taking the ethical approach to photography can yield not just great photos, but great stories to go with them
  • What a photonaturalist is and why Tony embraces the term
  • The role of travel restrictions in inspiring new projects and perspectives
  • The unintended consequences of bringing attention to species and habitats
  • Insights into the changing landscape of conservation-focused areas and the impact of increased human presence
  • Advice for aspiring conservation photographers on staying motivated

 

Resources Mentioned

Episode 141: Being A Photonaturalist with Tony Wu

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/141

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
[00:00:00] Jaymi Heimbuch: I have to admit that I was both really excited and really nervous for this interview. Today's guest is Tony Wu, and I've been admiring his work since I ever even found out about conservation photography. It's been a really long time of admiring all of his underwater work, his whale work, and it was kind of amazing to me that the first story that landed in my lap when I started as photo editor of Ranger Rick Magazine was a story from Tony Wu, but it was not whales.

[00:00:31] Jaymi Heimbuch: It was not underwater. It was about flying squirrels, which surprised me. Got me really excited about just his sheer level of. Skill in photography and really made me wanna sit down and chat with him because the level of work that he put into figuring out a species, figuring out camera equipment, figuring out everything that he needed, basically starting from scratch in a lot of ways, to move toward getting these incredible photos of a very difficult to [00:01:00] photograph species.

[00:01:00] Jaymi Heimbuch: And doing it in an incredibly ethical way, made me really excited to get him on the podcast so that he could share all of that experience, insight, philosophy with you. So today we're sitting down with Tony Wu. We're talking about ethics. We're talking about being a photo naturalist, which is a term that he uses for how he approaches his photography, what it takes to really get to know a species so that you become nothing more than almost like a rock in the landscape.

[00:01:28] Jaymi Heimbuch: Completely benign for that species so that they will actually do what it is that they normally do in a day so that you can photograph it. There is so much inside this interview that I think you will absolutely love and be able to take and use in your own photography practice. So without further ado, let's dive into this episode with Tony Wu.

[00:01:50] Jaymi Heimbuch: Well, Tony welcome to Impact the Conservation Photography podcast. I am so, so very excited that you're willing to sit down with me.

[00:01:58] Jaymi Heimbuch: And right now for you, [00:02:00] it is 6:00 AM So thank you for starting out your day with us. You are wonderful.

[00:02:04] Tony Wu: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:07] Jaymi Heimbuch: So where are you in the world right now?

[00:02:10] Tony Wu: I am, I just got back home from uh, about a month and a little bit in Hokkaido, Japan. So home is in Yokohama which is about, I think about an hour and a half flight, maybe not quite an hour and a half.

[00:02:24] Tony Wu: But um, yeah, so I'm sitting here and we're just transitioning from spring to summer. So I've, I've had to deal with hot weather for the first time for many, many months, which is actually a lot more difficult than you might think cuz up in Hokkaido I was, I. The daily temperatures were somewhere between five and 15 degrees Celsius.

[00:02:43] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. And humidity, not bad at all. And then all of a sudden I came back here and the first, when I landed it was 29 oof Celsius and about 60, 70% humidity. So it was like, you know, landing in the tropics. I mean it's, you know, that's how it felt.

[00:02:59] Jaymi Heimbuch: [00:03:00] Yeah. Oh man. That is a significant adjustment. I always feel like when I get off of the plane in a location that's a Dr.

[00:03:05] Jaymi Heimbuch: Dramatically different temperature from where I was at. It's always just this shock to the system.

[00:03:10] Tony Wu: Yes, exactly. Exactly. So I'm still kind of recovering from that.

[00:03:14] Jaymi Heimbuch: Well, so you travel, actually, let me back up. I'm gonna start you out with a question that I ask everyone, I almost forgot to dive into it, which is Tony, for anyone who's not familiar with your photography or who you are as a conservation photographer, who are you in the world?

[00:03:28] Jaymi Heimbuch: You can go down a career path, a personal path, wherever, however you wanna answer that question.

[00:03:33] Tony Wu: Okay. Well Probably best for me to start right now. I live in Japan as I, as I mentioned, and I'm, I'm concentrating on a project that I started many years ago, but sort of lightly and then really got into in 2020, which is trying to document the underappreciated, unloved animals and organisms in the [00:04:00] ocean.

[00:04:00] Tony Wu: Things that are not automatically charismatic. Things like starfishes, sea, cucumbers, you know, crabs, urchins, things that people don't go ooh about. And I've had this in mind for many years because, partially because I spent so much of my life about 20 years on Wales. Mm-hmm. And I think that, you know, Wales, I love them.

[00:04:24] Tony Wu: I still love them. Sperm whales, humpback whales, blue whales, right whales, all, all these orcas, you know, these magnificent animals. And they have charisma. I mean, they appear and everybody immediately says, Ooh or ah, or some, some version of that. And, and it's totally understandable. And, and, you know, and I, and I loved it.

[00:04:44] Tony Wu: The world changed in 2020. I wasn't able to travel. So instead of saying, you know, when can I go, when can I go and being upset and anxious, I just said, okay, my eyes changed, changed on a dime. And so I'm having a great time [00:05:00] doing that now. And if I go back further, I started with reefs in Southeast Asia.

[00:05:06] Tony Wu: When I lived in Singapore I was there for work and you know, Singapore is, is pretty much right smack in the middle of the coral triangle. So, Everything, you know, Malaysia, Indonesia, everything was right there. So that was, that was great. And the one thing that all these thing these three things have in common is that the times when I started these projects, there weren't many people working on those things.

[00:05:34] Tony Wu: Like when I started with the reef in Southeast Asia, I would be alone or pretty much alone on dive sites, which is fantastic. And now you, I can go to the same dive sites and there'll be 500 people in the water at any given time. When I started with whales, there was very, very, very few people. And now, you know, there's boatloads and boatloads of, of people dumping or dumping people into the water, which I don't think is a good thing.

[00:05:58] Tony Wu: And now in Japan, I'm [00:06:00] almost, almost, not, not entirely, but almost alone. And, and I prefer to work that way. And, and I think it's, it's good to one because I like, I like being able to concentrate on the subjects without you know, Unnecessary other influences on the subjects. And then also because I think that it's important to put a spotlight on things that don't have a spotlight on them at the time.

[00:06:27] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. Because we need to, you know, it's, it's, it's easy. I, I think for people like you me who, who spend all their time are most of their time out in the world, it's kind of, it's kind of easy to forget that not everybody sees and understands what's going on. And it is very difficult to get the correct what I think is the correct view on the world from what is, what is present in, in popular culture and media.

[00:06:57] Tony Wu: You know, the stories that come out, whether it's on [00:07:00] TV or in newspaper, whatever, social, social media, whatever, they tend to be. A very surface layer, often overhyped in some aspects or many aspects and quite often inaccurate or totally wrong. So, you know, working against that is, is kind of the way that, that I feel like I, I, I should be doing and, and anybody else who's doing what we're doing should be doing.

[00:07:25] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm.

[00:07:26] Jaymi Heimbuch: I'm so curious because you mentioned, you know, as you, as you were starting out in certain locations, you're the only one out there. And as a conservation focused photographer and wanting to shine a spotlight on things that deserve a spotlight, do you ever feel conflicted about that? Like, what if I am bringing undue attention to something that should not get, like it needs the attention for a conservation effort and yet I don't want more pressure on it?

[00:07:49] Tony Wu: Yes, absolutely. I can say then in the beginning, Like going back to when I was young and naive and idealistic and had a lot more energy and agility and [00:08:00] balance and all that stuff. I didn't think about it that much because I was naive. And I've seen over the years that everything that I put a spotlight has been on, has been destroyed, is too, too big a word, but the opposite effect of what I wanted.

[00:08:18] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. And as such, I started about maybe 10 years. I don't, I don't know exactly when, but refusing to disclose locations mm-hmm. To anybody. And people write to me and basically say, tell me exactly when and where to go and what to do and, and all that stuff. And, and no, I'm not gonna do that. And e even for publications who ask, you know, they have to put in the location, say no.

[00:08:46] Tony Wu: Except general location, like, I'm willing to say, for example, the flying squirrels Hokkaido, because that's where they live. But I'm not gonna tell you exactly where, and I'm not gonna put a drone shot of exactly where I'm not gonna give you a g p s point, [00:09:00] you know, because sadly, as I've learned and I didn't wanna learn, is that people cannot take responsibility for their actions.

[00:09:11] Tony Wu: And I think it's gotten really, really, really bad with social media. Mm-hmm. Like, I, I, I, I mean, I, I would, it'd be interested if anybody can dispute that notion, but I, I've certainly seen it in, in, in the course of 30 years. I mean, 30 years ago, it wasn't really that bad. Most of the people that I, I actually saw who showed up or expressed interest were seriously interested.

[00:09:34] Tony Wu: Partially, I think, because it costs so much and was so difficult. You know, back when we had film and you had to. Crank the film in and, you know, you had 36, maybe 37 shots before you ended up, you know, having to reload. It was, it was painful. And then you had to like, send it out for processing and things get damaged and all that stuff.

[00:09:54] Tony Wu: Now, you know, you put a however many gigabyte or terabyte card in and you, you, [00:10:00] they just, people just press the shutter and keep going and then you can immediately, you know, transfer and, and upload and, you know, get likes or hearts or whatever you want. And I think that has, I mean, in, in some ways it's good because it's, it's, it's lowered the barrier of entry for people to appreciate what's out there.

[00:10:18] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. That's the positive side. But also it's bad because it, it brings into question with whether most people are doing what they're doing because they truly care and understand and want to care and understand, or because they want to care and underst care about themselves. Mm-hmm. And that's where I see that it's, it's gone.

[00:10:38] Tony Wu: Unfortunately for most people, not, certainly not everybody, but for most people, and therefore, I have as, as your question is yeah. As I've, I'm really concerned and that's why I don't disclose locations.

[00:10:50] Jaymi Heimbuch: Mm-hmm. That's really interesting. I'm in the middle of, by the time this episode airs, my website will be totally revamped with an entire section that is article based.

[00:10:59] Jaymi Heimbuch: [00:11:00] And I'm really excited about it. And right now I'm in the midst of doing a lot of work that is about ethics and conservation photography or, or always adding a little bit of that into each of the articles. And one of the things that I cover in an, an article about ethics and conservation photography is kind of special considerations for conservation photographers to, to think about it be, would be great if everyone is thinking about.

[00:11:23] Jaymi Heimbuch: Certain things as they're creating images, but conservation photographers especially, we have to think about things like we're talking about endangered species or troubled habitats or species that are trying to kind of get by in this world. And so things like location, that's a really big deal to think about.

[00:11:41] Jaymi Heimbuch: Yes. And what you disclose or don't disclose, and how long you wait between photographing versus releasing images and so on. Yes. And I'm curious with, with the work that you do, so for instance, One of the reasons why I'm so excited to sit down and talk with you is because I've known you as an underwater guy following your career.

[00:11:59] Jaymi Heimbuch: And then [00:12:00] the first story that lands on my desk at Ranger Rick when I started my job there is flying squirrels from you. Yeah. And I was like, wait, what? Which, but it was wonderful. I actually took a, a photo of my screen while I was going through all of these images and sent it to one of my friends and was like, I have the worst job ever.

[00:12:16] Jaymi Heimbuch: I have to go through these photos. And she's just like, oh my God, stop right now. They're so, so, so cute. And One of the things that I asked I wrote back and, and said, Hey, I just really wanna triple check. Are any of these baited, Lord, anything? It's like due diligence that I have to Yes. To ask stuff like that.

[00:12:33] Jaymi Heimbuch: Yes. And so your response like, warmed my heart and how fervent you were about the ethics behind the, the imagery. So beyond location, beyond, you know, thinking about these things, what are some of the things that you wish all nature photographers, not just conservation, but all nature photographers were keeping in mind as they're, they're photographing.

[00:12:53] Jaymi Heimbuch: And please definitely use flying squirrels as an example, if you'd like.

[00:12:57] Tony Wu: Sure, sure. Well maybe I should have [00:13:00] just started with flying squirrels because they seem to be very popular. Let me just back up a little bit before I, I answer your question directly, but the reason I did flying squirrels was not, not necessarily me, it was because of my wife.

[00:13:14] Tony Wu: She's wanted to see them before. Years, I mean decades probably. Because it's, it's not like they're, they're unknown in Japan. They're, they're not widely known per se, but certainly in the nature community. And they are adorable. So she's wanted to see them for a long time. And, and because the ocean was getting all messed up at four, five years, four years ago in 2019, I wasn't able to go to the ocean.

[00:13:42] Tony Wu: And so I just said, Hey let's just go see the flying squirrels. And of course she, she said yes immediately, and we went, and a total, almost a complete failure. But, you know, then that got start, got me started along the, okay, I, I can't fail, so I have to at least [00:14:00] see them. So that got me started. Now back back to your question.

[00:14:05] Tony Wu: Yeah, I mean, one of the, there there's a lot of, as with any experience, there's a lot of things, good things and bad things. I tend to be, I tend to probably overthink things a lot. So I've thought about this experience. So many different ways for so long and still continue to, especially as people are asking questions or there's, you know, from editors and things for articles.

[00:14:27] Tony Wu: the good and the bad. I suppose the good is that I learned a lot about myself and a lot about my ability to adapt to new circumstances and to new equipment. I mean, people say photography, but it's not the same. I mean, it is and it isn't. And, and I'm sure you understand that, but you know, the, the, the viewing of light, the things like composition and, and all that's, those are the same.

[00:14:49] Tony Wu: But all the gear was different. Like tripod. Ugh, ugh. But I had to learn to deal with that. The bad I think is that I saw [00:15:00] more behavior that I think I could use the word abhorrent to describe than I ever thought. Took place and, and it was kind of like an eye, well, certainly an eye-opening experience is like people are doing what, that's why the photos are everywhere on the internet.

[00:15:20] Tony Wu: What so I'm gonna make a statement, which is, is, it's an exaggeration, but not much of one, which is that pretty much. Well, a huge proportion of the photos that come out of Hokkaido Japan are staged in one way or more than one way. And what I mean is like baiting, setting up the situations, a massive manipulation of environmental things.

[00:15:47] Tony Wu: And these are, these things are done for paying tourists and the photos are uploaded to libraries and to photo contests and, and many other are given recognition and [00:16:00] awarded. This bothers me a lot for. I mean, I don't know that I really need to explain very much why, but I'll, I'll give you hard examples.

[00:16:10] Tony Wu: There are, there have been for many years, photos of the Eagles flying over ice and fighting coming out of Japan. Every single one of those is staged. How are they staged? Fishermen and businesses literally dump boatloads of fish onto ice for dozens to hundreds of people who've lined up in front of the ice with their big, fancy $20,000 of photo gear on tripods and just sit there and click away as the eagles come in and fight.

[00:16:46] Tony Wu: Now, you know, people might argue that, well, they need to eat so you can give them food. Yeah. Okay. But. You don't need to do it in this way because the eagles, or if you think about it, are [00:17:00] scavengers and hunters and they range over a huge area, which is why they can fly so well, which means that they serve a very important purpose in the environment.

[00:17:08] Tony Wu: You know, cleaning up the environment, getting rid of carry in, you know, all those things that keep everything going smoothly. And if you attract hundreds of them to the same place twice a day for self-absorbed people who happen to have a lot of time and money to sit there and click away and then sent a photo contest to get awarded without anybody ever going, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, this is not right.

[00:17:34] Tony Wu: That troubles me. Mm-hmm. You know, then I, I spent some time, I mean, I wasn't able to always fly, find the flying squirrels, and in the beginning especially, I didn't know what I was doing. So I was in, instead of, again, instead of obsessing and being upset, I was saying, okay, here, there's some interesting animals, let's go.

[00:17:52] Tony Wu: Spend some time there and see if I can figure this out. There were some birds that came in in the winter, these little birds a species of [00:18:00] tit that come in and, you know, the, the maple trees would sometimes leak sap from, from broken branches, from the snow and stuff like that. And then they would form icicles of basically it's like frozen ice candy.

[00:18:13] Tony Wu: And the birds would come into high speed and break a piece off and fly away, and it would happened in the fraction of a blink of an eye. So capturing that was, you know, something like, okay, I, i, is this, it's not gonna be easy, especially for somebody who has no experience doing this. So I obsessed and it took a few weeks and I, and I, you know, I got photos of this happening.

[00:18:35] Tony Wu: And then one day, There's a guy who's sitting there he is, he's rubbing condensed milk on branches because he wants to attract the birds. Now it's not gonna be natural behavior, but he is got photos of the birds. So I'm thinking, you know, the, that's not even, that's not nature photography. [00:19:00] No. Yeah, that's manipulation.

[00:19:03] Tony Wu: And it's also, I mean, if you, if you really get harsh with the language, it's, if you show that the resulting photos to people, it's fraud because it's not really capturing natural behavior. It's not admiring the animals and the circumstances and documenting it for the purpose of sharing how incredible these animals are.

[00:19:27] Tony Wu: You're basically spending a lot of money and time to show people or try to show people how incredible you are. And that's where I think the difference is, is, is in for nature photographers, whether you're doing it as a hobby or as a, as a profession or anywhere in between. The question is, are you doing this?

[00:19:49] Tony Wu: What is the reason that you're doing this? Are you doing this because you love, you genuinely love what is there and you wish that it could always [00:20:00] be there and, you know, be left in peace and to do what they do? Or are you doing it because you wouldn't be doing it if you didn't have social media and photo contests.

[00:20:11] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. So I, I think that's, that's the, the thing that I, I, that got re hammered really, really hammered home when I was doing this on land. And I think just because there's more people. Mm-hmm. And I certainly see, have seen that in the water too, but I. Maybe it's just not as many people. And I didn't, it bothered me, but not as much as, as the how obvious it was on land.

[00:20:36] Tony Wu: Right. And, and the percentage of photos I see out of Al-Qaeda that are just completely staged.

[00:20:43] Jaymi Heimbuch: Yeah. I think that was one of the, the kind of experiences that I know I had the, I've also heard a lot of other nature photographers have as they start to get more and more experience in nature photography and realize what a natural behavior actually looks like.

[00:20:59] Jaymi Heimbuch: And [00:21:00] how photos are made is when you're starting out, you're like, oh, wow, that's such an epic shot. It's so amazing. Wow. And then you get enough experience with your camera to realize what it takes to make a certain staged image. And you're like, oh. Wait. Mm-hmm. So these photos that I really admired, that shaped my personality, I believe Tin Man Lee also had this experience and talked about it where he was like, I realized how people were making these images, and it was so disappointing to me to find out that they were staged and set up and not actual behaviors, mm-hmm.

[00:21:31] Jaymi Heimbuch: That potentially harmful to the animals that you're photographing. And not a whole heck of a lot of thought is put into that. And I think that without something like Truth and captioning too mm-hmm. Where people are required to state how something was made, when you can just gloss over that, like on a social media account, it becomes even easier to misguide people.

[00:21:51] Tony Wu: Yeah. I, I am, I mean, tin Man is more diplomatic than I am. I would, I would say more than, more than, more than disappointed. Let's, let's put [00:22:00] it that way. I, I got very emotional at times and, and I still do. I mean, you can tell I'm probably getting a little bit worked up now. It's, I mean, You know, I don't want to be preachy and I don't, I have no desire to tell other people what to do.

[00:22:15] Tony Wu: I don't think that I'm the arbitrator of what's correct or true in, in any way. I mean, I, people do what they wanna do. That's, that's fine with me, generally speaking. But, you know, the, the thing that gets to me is it's, it's not about it in, in the cases that bother me, it's not about the animal or the environment or the animals or, or plants or whatever you may be talking about.

[00:22:41] Tony Wu: It's about the person with the camera. Mm-hmm. That's the critical difference. And I think that's a bigger discussion that has wider implications for all of society and many of the problems that we face. And it's reflected in the use of cameras in the field. Mm-hmm. [00:23:00] And when you, when I see that it, that's what gets to me is like, okay, if 99 out of a hundred people here, Are doing this because they love themselves so much that they can't bear not to be posting photos all the time.

[00:23:15] Tony Wu: Then that speaks to why we are so screwed up. Yeah. As a world, as a world, you know, this is not any one nation. It's not what any group of people, it's the world. And that, that's, that's the part that's really, you know, if you, if you step back and look beyond this very narrow discussion, it's, it's very troubling.

[00:23:36] Jaymi Heimbuch: Mm-hmm. Well, it's interesting too because I think that there's there's a difference in. Wanting to get the shot at any cost. Mm-hmm. To have the shot versus wanting to get the shot because the journey to get it is such a personal challenge. And that's one of the things that I love so much about your work and, and on the flying scroll specifically too, is when I w when, [00:24:00] you know, we were writing back and forth about the, the making of it and Tim shared who is, you know, a stock agent with you shared one of the early images you tried to capture, which is like by any standard is a terrible, terrible, terrible image.

[00:24:14] Jaymi Heimbuch: But it made me feel so happy because it's like, wow, this. Epic photographer starts at ground zero on a new species, puts in the time and energy goes from this blurry out of focus frame, everything shot to what it is that you actually created with these incredible behavior shots of a species that moves so, so fast.

[00:24:35] Jaymi Heimbuch: And just that journey was incredibly inspiring. So can you talk about that aspect of nature photography, both your personal journey and anything that you wanna throw into the conversation?

[00:24:46] Tony Wu: Sure. Well, let me talk about underwater first and then squirrel second. Okay. Underwater. I remember the first photos that I took in of, of in the early nineties with underwater camera that [00:25:00] my wife then, my, my girlfriend at the time bought for me for my birthday cuz she knew how obsessed I was the ocean.

[00:25:07] Tony Wu: So we took a trip to Pompe in, in Micronesia, and there was this humongous wall of, I believe they were Black Dip, or sorry, gray reef sharks. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of them which have now been fished out unfortunately. But so, and I had the camera and I had everything, you know, and I took all these photos and this was film.

[00:25:27] Tony Wu: So I got back and many roles got back, processed them, and they were awful. Just bloody awful. And I, and the first thought in my head was, there's something wrong with the camera, of course. And it, it took, it took some time for me to accept that no problem was me. And then, you know, and then start that process.

[00:25:52] Tony Wu: And so I went through that process underwater. I took several years because film was slower and, you know, it, it just, it [00:26:00] took some time. So I, the, the one regret I have from that is I didn't keep those. Slides I wish I had. Mm-hmm. Because I would gladly share them now, even at the time, I just threw them away in a fit of, you know, of being immature.

[00:26:16] Tony Wu: But when I started with the, the flying squirrels as, as I mentioned, it was, it was with my wife. And we actually saw a couple the first time that, that we went, but it was a, it was quite literally a blizzard. Mm-hmm. It was probably minus 10. And then we had wind chill and it was dark and it was blowing wind.

[00:26:35] Tony Wu: And, and we, and I wasn't, I didn't have enough clothing. Neither of us did. And I didn't actually understand how to use a tree plot and the long lenses that I, there's so much bulk to deal with, and my fingers were numb and all. So they, they were, they were not great. And then when we, when I decided, okay, we're gonna go back and do this.

[00:26:58] Tony Wu: Right. [00:27:00] It became a little bit easier to get the photos that are, you know, where they're just sitting still. All I had to do was contend with, was fumbling with gear, which eventually I worked out. But then the flying, you know, and, and I, I figured, I thought to myself, I remember writing an email to, to Tim and, and saying, okay, there there's three major aspects that I could see.

[00:27:23] Tony Wu: This is very early on of these one, they're really cute. Two, they're nocturnal, three, they fly. So I gotta get photos of all of that in order to kind of capture what it means to be a flying squirrel. And, and this was at the very beginning of the process. And, and something, what was going through my head was, am I really prepared to do this cuz I know what it's going to take and it, and there's no, there's no guarantee that I'm gonna succeed.

[00:27:52] Tony Wu: In fact, the chances of failure would be higher than success unless I devote many, many, many, many years. [00:28:00] And being. Pretty stubborn. I, I would say is a kind way to put it. Once I decided, okay, I'm gonna do it, I just put everything I had into it, which meant researching the animals did the best I could and there wasn't a lot of information.

[00:28:16] Tony Wu: And also researching gear, because that's always a big part of it too. So the fir the photo that I sent was one that I actually sent to Tim the day that I took it because I, cuz it was so much frustration. It was like, oh, it was sitting right there in front of me. It looked at me, it basically said, I'm gonna fly.

[00:28:36] Tony Wu: And oh, I still couldn't get it because, oh, and, and I just, I, I vented, I had to vent and I sent it to Tim and he, he laughed, which then helped lighten my mood. And that, that kept the variations of that kept happening because they're, they're difficult and also because the gear that I had at the time, I'm shooting with it D eight 50, which [00:29:00] I love the camera, but it's not.

[00:29:03] Tony Wu: You know, every piece of gear has its strengths and, and, and weaknesses. And it's not meant to take photos of things that are moving at 35 kilometers an hour suddenly without any warning. Mm-hmm. It's meant for, you know, higher resolution things that don't necessarily move that quickly. I mean, it's, it excels in that area.

[00:29:25] Tony Wu: So later when in the, at the third year that I was pursuing this, the camera technology was evolving very quickly. And I was watching that and I kept writing to Tim saying, okay, I, I know once this ca new camera gear comes out, I will have a fighting chance because shooting at, you know, the D eight 50 says seven, eight frames per second, something like that, which in real life, I'm not sure that it gets that.

[00:29:57] Tony Wu: But let's say, let's give it the benefit of doubt and say [00:30:00] eight frames a second. If you have a teeny tiny, 130 gram animal flying at 35 kilometers an an hour through thick woodlands, and you're shooting eight frames a second in a random direction, hoping to capture it, and your odds are not great. But then Nicom was gonna come out with this, this Z nine, Zed nine.

[00:30:24] Tony Wu: And Sony had the A one out already, but I, it was very early on, so I couldn't get a, get a body and they were, you know, 20 to 30 frames. And I figured at 20 it's at least twice the chance. At 30 it's three times a chance at least. So the final season that I went, which was last year, I, I had hoped to get the, the Z nine because I, I shoot Nick on and I could use all the lenses and stuff, but I couldn't.

[00:30:51] Tony Wu: It, it was just, there was, you know, the backlog and there was no way I could get it in time. So, and I have shot with Sony before, so I got the. A one [00:31:00] and a couple lenses, and I shot with that. And so the key, one of the keys there were, there was a convergence of, of three factors. One is the experience with the animals.

[00:31:11] Tony Wu: I could read them much better now. I mean, I could see like with maybe 85% accuracy or thereabouts that, okay, this one's gonna go, it's gonna go pretty soon. It's just the question of, you know, five seconds, 20 seconds, you know. Another was the, the camera gear, you know, being able to shoot that quickly helped a lot.

[00:31:31] Tony Wu: And the third was the, the, the sort of one that was out of my control was the change of behavior that I alluded to in the articles. A pair of owls had moved in in 2021 and they take, took a huge toll on the population. And there's no official count, but. I'd say if something on the order of two thirds of the population was taken by the, the wow, the owls, yeah, it was, it was pretty bad.

[00:31:59] Tony Wu: As [00:32:00] a result of surviving members of the, the, the sort of area took to being active in the daytime, I had never read anything in any materials that I could find about these squirrels becoming completely diurnal. You know, all my experience has been at dawn, at dusk in, in the evenings, you know, low light, very low light levels.

[00:32:22] Tony Wu: And they started to become active in the day and they became fully diurnal. I mean, you know, noon, they would be out. Wow. So that gave me the light. So all those things combined. And so that's, you know, four years, the first year was complete mess. Second year was. Two months of nothing. And then I got nocturnal shots because I befriended a nest of the squirrels and they got so comfortable with me that they didn't, had no problem at all.

[00:32:52] Tony Wu: And then I, it all kind of started coming together the third year, but I had the wrong year. And finally last year, I, everything [00:33:00] combined. Yeah.

[00:33:01] Jaymi Heimbuch: I mean, what incredible shots you created last year too. And I mean, one of the things I'd love to talk with you about is, The just breadth of their lives that you created.

[00:33:12] Jaymi Heimbuch: Mm-hmm. So often when we are excited about getting portraits of an animal, it's, you know, the bird on a stick shot. It's the same portrait over and over and over, and you worked really hard to get incredible diversity of behavior. So as we're going through creating a, a photo story with your images, we really can create a story about everything that's going on in the squirrel's lives because you captured competition and eating and drinking and pooping and everything.

[00:33:39] Jaymi Heimbuch: Mm-hmm. That goes into their entire life. And you also documented it in a way that really tells the story. Like It became natural history to be mm-hmm. Looking through these photos to understand, it almost became like a study of them.

[00:33:51] Jaymi Heimbuch: Mm-hmm. So as you're thinking about how you wanna document this, it's not just about, okay, I'm gonna get that, that shot of a flying squirrel flying and then I'm gonna call it [00:34:00] quits. You're actually capturing their whole life. Mm-hmm. So what is your thought process behind what it is that you wanna create as you're looking at either this particular species or really any species?

[00:34:10] Tony Wu: Well, yeah, I, I think some years ago I came up with a, a sort of mishmash term photo naturalist to try to describe what I do. I don't know if it's a real word. It probably isn't, but you just made it one. We're gonna, we're gonna call it official

[00:34:24] Tony Wu: now. I, I would like more people to do that because I think the photography part, photos obvious, the naturalist part I think is, you know, back when people just were naturalists and took notes and drew things, you know, that they.

[00:34:40] Tony Wu: Things went more slowly and they spent a lot of time observing and noting behavior, things that later might become useful in terms of scientific studies or general knowledge. And that's exactly the mentality that I try to bring. It's a lot tougher in the ocean because your time is limited, but I do the best I can and, and I did [00:35:00] with, with whales.

[00:35:00] Tony Wu: I mean, I can talk hours and hours about behavior of the different whale species I've spent time with, much beyond anything you'll ever find in a book or a TV program. Mm-hmm. And it's the same thing that I did with the squirrels and I, and, you know, I do this because that's what I love to do. I mean, I, no one has to tell me to do it.

[00:35:19] Tony Wu: I just, I mean, the, the animals just fascinate me. Like, look at this thing, you know, how does it do what it's do? Why are they doing that? You know? And, and I'll just sit there and stare at the hole for quite literally eight hours and wait. Until, oh, it's peaked out. You know, and you know, why, why now? You know, and things, questions like that.

[00:35:42] Tony Wu: And what I noticed in the beginning you know, as I mentioned before, my wife wanted to see these because they're really cute and they, they are. And so there are pe lots of people in, in Japan who've taken photos for these for years going back to film. And I think it's not an exaggeration to say a hundred percent of the photos are of [00:36:00] cute.

[00:36:00] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. And, you know, Japan's very big on cute. And there's nothing wrong with that. I, I, I love the photos, I love the animals. But as I spent time with them, I realized, well, wait a minute. There's like the other 99.9% of their lives that, you know, okay. So people were taking photos of them flying or trying to, because the camera's getting better.

[00:36:18] Tony Wu: So, okay, now we got 99.5% left. And as I started to tease out little things of their behavior, which I was doing to try to help me get better photos, you know, like things like, okay, the males fight with each other. But, and I wasn't necessarily thinking, I wanna take a photo of that right away. It's just like, why are they doing this?

[00:36:38] Tony Wu: Oh, because they're competing for that female, what is that female doing? That female's sneaking off with another male while the other two are fighting, you know, and trying to understand what's going on, the dynamics. And as I got to understand what was going on, then I was like, okay, this is the moment.

[00:36:56] Tony Wu: And that's, that's in common with every, everything else that I do. [00:37:00] I, I try to explain to people who were in the water with me, with whales is don't think about taking photographs. Think about understanding what they're doing because if you understand what they're doing, there'll come a time when you see that all the factors are coming right together.

[00:37:17] Tony Wu: And there's gonna be movement when you just bring your camera up, take the 1, 2, 3 shots, and then bring it back down and r reenter that moment you leave for a second and reenter the moment. And it was the same with the squirrels. You just watch and learn cuz they will tell you if you pay attention.

[00:37:35] Tony Wu: And to, to, to use a another, a concrete example was that, that fighting you know, we saw fighting several times. That was one season when there was a lot of competition before the, the owls took their toll, there were more males. And I didn't understand what was going on in the beginning. It was just fun to watch them, you know, going at lightning speed all over the place.

[00:37:56] Tony Wu: And it, it wasn't when I took that photo, it was when I [00:38:00] kind of finally understood, well, wait a minute, wait a minute. There's a purpose to this and there's gonna be a dominant one. There's gonna be one, a challenger one, or maybe more than one, and there's gonna be territory to defend. And the female's gotta be in there somewhere too.

[00:38:14] Tony Wu: And whether she's inside or outside, it makes a difference in how they behave. Mm-hmm. So when that moment occurred, I mean, it was blinding speed. I could not see it happen, but there was a moment when I just felt like, okay, there's going to be fraus, raise the camera, concentrate on the animals, and when something happens, don't think, just react.

[00:38:35] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. And, and so, you know, that's, that's what it, what it means. And some of the other flight shots too, or the poop shots, you know, it's like the, the, I think you included the one shot with there was a composite over a few. Maybe 20 seconds or something like that. I, you know, it wasn't a very long time, but the animal was sitting perched on the tree.

[00:38:59] Tony Wu: [00:39:00] There was nobody paying attention to it because it was doing something that no one else really cared about. It wasn't being cute, it was pooping. And I thought, you know, I've seen these animals do these, do this. And I know that it's part of the ritual of what they do. And it makes sense. It's an animal. It eats, it has to poop.

[00:39:18] Tony Wu: And I thought, but it's important because the trees where they poop are getting fertilized. And not only that, but the vines that wrap around the trees, I wrote to Tim about this, is the vines that wrap around the trees where they tend to pick for toilets, look like they're much bigger and much healthier.

[00:39:35] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. So they're playing a role in this, you know, whether, whether, they obviously don't know it, but they are actually selecting which trees and which vines do well by virtue of which. Trees they pick to use as their toilets. Mm-hmm. And, you know, and, and you, you, the subject of defecation has been on my mind since whales because the whole [00:40:00] concept of whales circulating carbon has also been in the news.

[00:40:03] Tony Wu: And I was when one of the first scientists to, to get on this subject Joe Roman contacted me, or maybe 10 years ago or maybe more about this, he was looking for photos of Wales's defecating, and it turns out the world's number one source of whales defecating is me because I've been interested in this.

[00:40:22] Tony Wu: So we've struck up a friendship and he, we just talked a couple days ago and he's using another photo and, you know, so this, that, that thought was already in my head and I thought, well, it's not necessarily just the big animals. Mm-hmm. Here I can see it happening right here. I, I know which trees, I can look at the trees and say, okay, they're going to visit this tree.

[00:40:40] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm.

[00:40:41] Jaymi Heimbuch: Yeah, that is, I have so many questions for you that have poured out of what you just said. One thing that I do wanna say is, I'm so grateful that you already do this, and that you're talking about this idea of being really curious about the species that you're photographing and photographing aspects of their lives that a lot of people [00:41:00] would overlook, because it's not the charismatic moments or the cute moments or the, the poised, elegant moments, whatever it is, but it's the reality.

[00:41:07] Jaymi Heimbuch: And like just today, I was talking with an a couple of the editors at Ranger Rick, and there's a species that we wanna do a story on, but we haven't been able to do it yet because we don't have enough shots of behavior. They don't exist yet because people aren't photographing that aspect of those species lives.

[00:41:24] Jaymi Heimbuch: So it's literally, Creating stories about the world that we can understand and appreciate by being curious about all of these different natural behaviors. Mm-hmm. But I wanna go back to that term that even if it exists in the world, I'm gonna attribute it to you, which is photo naturalist.

[00:41:39] Jaymi Heimbuch: Mm-hmm. And I love this concept so much because, When I started getting into wildlife photography, one of the things that I realized is it doesn't matter that I've been curious about nature since I was tiny and grew up watching nature documentaries and was the nature nerd kid. And it doesn't matter about that because once I started taking photos, I realized how little I actually knew yes [00:42:00] about animals and how little I knew about how to find out about them because it wasn't something that I studied.

[00:42:06] Jaymi Heimbuch: I didn't study biology or ecology or anything, so I never learned how to ask questions. And so I started, when I started getting really serious about wildlife photography, I started getting serious about, well, how do you become a naturalist? How do you learn what, what it is that you should pay attention to or what signs you should be looking for or how to ask questions?

[00:42:24] Jaymi Heimbuch: And I'm curious, how did your naturalist practice or that side of you start to develop? Do you remember actively seeking out natural skills? Do you remember just being curious? What was that

[00:42:35] Tony Wu: like? It stems just from wanting to take better photos. I think I, and, and yes, I do remember, I mean, going way, way, way back into the 1990s and prehistoric times.

[00:42:48] Tony Wu: And they, one of the first animals that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out was a fish called the jaw fish. And there were many different species, but they, you know, they, the males, [00:43:00] the females transfer eggs to the mouths of the males and then they, they protect them for a week or two, and then they hatch them.

[00:43:07] Tony Wu: And now a lot of people have photos of them. But back then there were none that I could find. Maybe they existed, but none I could find. And I spent about three weeks in Indonesia with one fish and through a couple of egg cycles. And I had a friend who, who was there, a dive guide Japanese dive guide who was there.

[00:43:31] Tony Wu: And I kind of figured out, you know, the rough cycle. And so every morning I go there at about five in the morning. And spent it to about seven or eight with the fish. And in the beginning the fish was very wary, you know? And this was in very shallow water. It was probably six, seven meters of water.

[00:43:48] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. So and then by the, you know, after a few days passed, it got less, less wary. And then it started to show me it's normal behavior. And then by the time, you [00:44:00] know, I left, we were just friends. I mean, it didn't care. So that taught me that you can't actually become, maybe not friends, but, but you know, a non threat.

[00:44:10] Tony Wu: If you demonstrate that you're a non threat, it, it can happen. And as I watched this animal, I, I realized, okay, it's keeping cues about what it's going to do or what it's likely to do. And the first couple of times I missed. But then afterwards, you know, because I only had a limited time and I had filmed, so I was like concentrating really hard.

[00:44:30] Tony Wu: I was like, okay, okay, it's gonna spin the eggs, it's gonna do it. And you know, and then when the moment of hatching came, I, I remember how completely excited and I, I was and, and you know, and it, and it was looking at me because by then we were okay with each other. And it was like, okay, I'm gonna do it.

[00:44:48] Tony Wu: I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it. And then we did it, and I got the shots and, you know, and *I realized this is the way to do things. It's not just to go and press the shutter. You, *[00:45:00] *you need to like yet to know your subject and, and allow the subject to get to know you. That's equally important because if you don't, then the subject is not going to behave as naturally as possible.*

[00:45:14] Tony Wu: I mean, ideally you want it your subject just to do whatever it's gonna do without. Any regard for you, but that's not gonna be possible. It's always gonna know that you're there, but it can, it can, you can be so much in the background that it's not really affecting what it's doing. And I'll, and I'll give you a more, a more recent example of that happening was with the flying squirrels I mentioned that I was able to get photos of them nocturnally which required using flash.

[00:45:39] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. And many people I understand are, are against using flash and, and generally I, you know, I see it, I, I get it. So I, I found a, a nest that was just slightly above eye level which is very unusual. I mean, they're usually higher up. so I was able to like, I could stand on a, on a box [00:46:00] basically, and look into the hole if I wanted to.

[00:46:02] Tony Wu: So over the course of two weeks, I started pretty far back and then, you know, the squirrels emerged and this was at shortly after sunset. And then grew, got closer and closer and closer. Got to the point where I could be like, Right here, and they just look out and stare at me. And then I introduced the flash, just the test flash at once and it didn't change anything.

[00:46:27] Tony Wu: And then I, I set everything up so that it would be, you know, it would enter the frame and, there'd be a couple of very light flashes to, to bring out the animal. And day by day, day by day, I added a little bit more, a little bit more. And the routine stayed the same. There were three of them. So by the end I was able to get them emerging right at dusk face, looking right at me, the camera right up to them, and light flash to bring them out from the, the background.

[00:46:57] Tony Wu: Absolutely no problem at all. And more than that, [00:47:00] I was able to figure out that they talk. Before they come out, they wake up and they talk. So I could hear them talking and I was like, okay. So in the beginning I didn't know, so I had to pay attention all the time, which is very exhausting. But by the end I was, I was, I would just kind of hang out there and then I'd say, okay, they're talking and I have really good hearing.

[00:47:22] Tony Wu: I have bad eyesight, really good hearing, but I could hear them talking. And I was like, okay, I know that within the next 10 minutes or so, the first one is gonna peek out. So only then would I pay attention. Mm-hmm. And so all this process over two weeks, you know, and then watching them and then I would watch them come out and they'd sit on the branches right above me or right next to me.

[00:47:44] Tony Wu: They would grab the vine on the tree and they'd defecate. So I figured, okay, if they're turning their backs on me at eye level and grabbing the branch and defecating and sitting there for a good five minutes, they're pretty comfortable with me. Mm-hmm. So,[00:48:00] If I didn't spend that two weeks with them and, and there was nothing else going on at the time, it was just two weeks with this nest, basically, then I would not have been able to do that, and I would not know that they were okay with me and they would not know their routine and they would not know me.

[00:48:17] Tony Wu: The fact that they knew me meant that they were comfortable, and if at any point there was an indication that, okay, I'm not going out because there's this thing up there, I would've just packed up and left. Mm-hmm. I, I think that's, that's the kind of, I would hope that's sort of the thinking that most people would have.

[00:48:37] Jaymi Heimbuch: Mm-hmm. Well, that everything that you just described feels like so much more satisfying of a personal experience than, well, I'm just gonna go ahead and put some bait out in this one spot because I know that this is, you know, this is what I can do to make the photo that I wanna happen happen versus, because then you're all in photographer head anyway.

[00:48:58] Jaymi Heimbuch: You're only thinking about your shot and the [00:49:00] animal is a thing that is a part of your shot. Whereas what you've just described is getting to know a fellow, being, getting to understand each other, getting to predict things like you just created for yourself. So many memories and so mm-hmm. And so much knowledge and understanding beyond the incredible photos of natural behavior that you got.

[00:49:21] Jaymi Heimbuch: So that right there, I think, sums up why a, a, a photo naturalist approach to what we do is so important. Not only is it respectful of the wildlife, but like your life is that much more rich because of it.

[00:49:34] Tony Wu: Yes. I, I agree. And I, I would hope more people kind of go toward this because Yes, exactly. Like when I give talks and stuff, there is something to say.

[00:49:45] Tony Wu: They're beyond the obvious, you know, like telling people that at least in this one nest, the three squirrels chatted with each other, I could hear them. Mm-hmm. And it was very predictable. Like, they chat and they squeak and [00:50:00] there's, I guess maybe some arguing. I don't, I don't know what they were saying, but they were saying something.

[00:50:04] Tony Wu: And then the first one would boo pop out, you know, af after about 10 minutes or thereabouts. And, and there's so many other, I mean, ev almost every animal, well every animal that I've been able to spend reasonable time with, I, I can just go on and on with stories. Mm-hmm. The, there are certainly chance encounters where that doesn't happen, or just limited encounters.

[00:50:28] Tony Wu: But when I spend time. With the animals. Yeah. You, you just watch, I mean, the, the focus is, or sorry, bad, bad choice of word. the, the bulk of your effort should be in watching and observing, understanding. And the, the photo moment should be a relatively small fraction. It's not a very small fraction of your time because it's not about the quantity of photos, it's about the quality.

[00:50:56] Tony Wu: And sometimes you need to take quantity to get to quality. I mean, I, I [00:51:00] get that, you know, like trying to take the flying shots. I mean, ugh, the, the, you know, how, how many attempts that took and before I could get it to, to be correct. But in general, like if you have an animal that's sitting there or an animal that's, that's going to do something, you know, you, you really want that.

[00:51:21] Tony Wu: That special moment that illustrates why this, this particular organism that you're, you're spending time with is so special compared to everything else that's ever existed on this planet. You know, and everything I try to tell everybody communicates to everybody that I to have a chance to, to spend time with is everything, has some special feature.

[00:51:47] Tony Wu: Something that makes it beautiful in one way or another. Even the most humble or maybe visually not appealing animals, there is something that makes it really special, otherwise it would not be here. And the thing we [00:52:00] have to do is figure out what that something is and then understand it ourselves, and then try to translate in a way that other people can get it to, which is not always easy.

[00:52:11] Tony Wu: And that's brings me back to, to the project I'm working on now, and that's the challenge now, is to take these animals that are not appealing and find the beauty in them that will inspire people, even people who are not, you know, naturally, you know, geared towards appreciating nature. Make them stop and go, whoa.

[00:52:32] Tony Wu: You know, that, that's, and it's, it's, it's hard. Mm-hmm. And so I feel like at this point in my, you know, after having been fortunate enough to spend so much time, the animals, I mean, doing the AVI shots, I could do, but it's, it's not as challenging. And someone's gotta do the difficult stuff. Mm-hmm. And I think people who have had the experience and, and have had some.

[00:52:54] Tony Wu: You know, success and stuff should be challenging themselves more and more. And I do know people who are, are doing that. And [00:53:00] challenging doesn't necessarily mean doing exactly what I am, I, I'm not trying to say that, but you know, something that is not obvious. Something that is not so easy and but has value.

[00:53:11] Tony Wu: And people will find different ways to do that. Ah,

[00:53:13] Jaymi Heimbuch: well said. I have one more question that I would love to, to hear your thoughts on, which is, as you are looking at species, cuz you mentioned like right now you're trying to find species that are not appreciated, that deserve a spotlight, but don't have one yet.

[00:53:29] Jaymi Heimbuch: But you also are one person with a certain amount of time to dedicate to this. So how is it that you're also making choices on what you wanna pursue and what, what, like out of the plethora of species that want a spotlight and deserve a spotlight, how are you making your selections for your project?

[00:53:46] Tony Wu: Well, , there's two aspects. One is the, in the greater context, I'm limiting myself to Japan right now. And the thought process behind that was, people in 2020 were, a lot of people I knew were lamenting that they couldn't go overseas [00:54:00] and, couldn't take trips and stuff like that.

[00:54:01] Tony Wu: And, and then I thought to myself, well, one, I don't like beating , my head against the wall that I can't change. And two is, well, Japan is overseas for me in a way, even though I'm very comfortable here in speaking language and stuff, it is a different country. And so, you know, I can just be permanently overseas.

[00:54:19] Tony Wu: And that, that made it, like, ah, this is a no-brainer for me. And then second is, , I know that I could have 10 more lifetimes and I would never be able to see everything. I wanna see, document everything I want to document, learn about everything I wanted to learn about. And it bothered me a lot when I was younger, cuz you wanna do everything.

[00:54:40] Tony Wu: But I got to the point in life where I, I know this is the case and it doesn't. I mean, I still go, ah, I wish I had enough time to do whatever, but it doesn't sit poorly with me anymore. And so I pick by saying, okay, I know a lot of the, the [00:55:00] organisms here in Japan underwater or even on land, the behaviors is seasonal.

[00:55:05] Tony Wu: You know, I, I'll know that, for example, reproduction takes place in say, may, so, and I know that I can only be in one place at one time. So out of the however many, hundreds or thousands of possible choices, I can only pick one. And I'm comfortable doing that. Now, how exactly I pick?

[00:55:22] Tony Wu: I don't know. It's just you know, I get a bunch of information and, and I just go, okay, it's gonna be next year, it's gonna be this one. And then I start communicating with whoever is appropriate and try to build up as much knowledge and information as possible in advance to be prepared. And if it doesn't go well, if for some reason communication doesn't work or there's something other, other thing that's making it not, not possible or difficult.

[00:55:49] Tony Wu: Then I just switch because the way I look at it now is it doesn't really matter because whatever I'm doing, I'm learning, I'm observing. I'm [00:56:00] absolutely in the moment and loving every bit of it, and I'm going to be contributing in some way to knowledge that does not exist right now. So it does not matter so much.

[00:56:09] Tony Wu: Just gotta keep moving forward and doing it.

[00:56:11] Jaymi Heimbuch: That is awesome. That is a really inspiring place for us to wrap up on too. That idea of just keep moving forward inside of this. As long as you're making progress, that's really all that matters inside of this work. Mm-hmm. Because we have, we have a whole lot to focus on as conservation photographers and a whole lot of work.

[00:56:29] Jaymi Heimbuch: So as long as it's one foot in front of the other. I know a lot of people listening can feel very frustrated that maybe they're not doing enough. Mm-hmm. Or they don't know where to get started. Or even feeling like they're not good enough to be able to make an impact with their images yet.

[00:56:44] Jaymi Heimbuch: And so there's that frustration. It's like as long as you are continuing to put one foot in front of the other and use your imagery for kind of this bigger purpose, that's all that matters.

[00:56:53] Tony Wu: Yes, I think, I think so. I mean, I, I relate to the things you just said. I mean, everybody has felt those things [00:57:00] along the way and, and continue to feel those things along the way.

[00:57:03] Tony Wu: And I think that if you should step back for a second and think, okay, if you're not feeling those things, there's something wrong with you. Mm-hmm. You should feel insecure. You should feel that you're not doing enough. You should feel that there's more that you can do. You should feel that you can do better things.

[00:57:19] Tony Wu: Cuz if you don't have those feelings, then you won't keep trying harder. And that's always the issue. And I guess the flip side is just don't, you know, don't carry too far. Don't beat yourself up too much about it, because it can be damaging too. I mean, if you end up feeling so bad that you don't make any progress, that's, that's not good.

[00:57:40] Tony Wu: Mm-hmm. Um, And, and I would just add one thing is, is, you know, what we were talking about earlier is it's not just the, the images, photos or, or video for people taking video. It's the information, the knowledge, the stories, the naturalist part, you know, learn that part because it's the best way you're gonna be able to communicate is not just with the images.

[00:57:58] Tony Wu: The images are the [00:58:00] hook. You know, you capture people's attention. You gotta do that, but then you gotta deliver. You have to explain why it is that that particular subject is so important. Mm-hmm. It's so beautiful. It's so awe-inspiring, but you can only do that if you actually know yourself.

[00:58:19] Jaymi Heimbuch: Excellent. Oh my gosh.

[00:58:21] Jaymi Heimbuch: I wish that we could do like some sort of mic drop or some sort of like, sound effect on this just to be like, and we're, we're ending on that, but thank you so, so much for everything that you've shared today. I think that the term photo naturalist is gonna inspire a lot of listeners , and that that is something that a lot of us might be doing without even realizing it is wanting to use the camera as a tool for being a naturalist.

[00:58:47] Jaymi Heimbuch: Thank you for all of the inspiring work that you do for species around the world. I know that you are such an admired photographer and for a good reason. There's people wanting to follow in your footsteps to [00:59:00] do what you're doing because you've carved such. Uh, Inspiring path for so many of us. And I wanna thank you for being willing to be on a podcast interview at 6:00 AM your time and starting your day.

[00:59:12] Jaymi Heimbuch: What, seven with us? What? Seven. Now you're, you're free to like start your day now, but for anyone who is really excited and wants to go check out more of your photography, learn from you, where can they find your work?

[00:59:24] Tony Wu: So I've been really bad about putting stuff online in the past few years, but uh, best place is probably tony wu.com, t o n y hyphen w.com which has a sample portfolio and I think the links to other things work.

[00:59:41] Tony Wu: But I'm, I'm, I have not been spending much time online.

[00:59:45] Jaymi Heimbuch: The flying service take priority?

[00:59:47] Tony Wu: Yes. I mean, I, all the time now I spend is either in the field or preparing. For being in the field or researching for in the field, or unfortunately, I have to process photos too, [01:00:00] which is the part I enjoy the least.

[01:00:02] Tony Wu: But you know, now for example, I just got back and then I'm heading out soon. So in between I've gotta prepare and ear needs to be cleaned and the huge mess that I'm hiding behind me has to be cleaned up and, you know, stuff like that. But uh, yeah, t o n y dash or hyphen w.com.

[01:00:21] Jaymi Heimbuch: Excellent. All of the links will also be in the show notes, so when you're listening, you can just scroll down from wherever you're listening and find links in the show notes.

[01:00:30] Jaymi Heimbuch: Thank you so much, Tony. It's been an absolute joy to talk with you. And if I could, I'd keep you here for the rest of the day, just listening to stories.

[01:00:38] Tony Wu: Thanks, Jamie. Thanks for having me on.

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