“Lighting is as important as
the subject I’m photographing.
I usually go back to the
same spot several different
times of day to decide
when it will best compliment
my subject.”

Call of the Wild

by Carol J. DeFrank

WHEN I'M SRROUNDED BY WILDERNESS I am in awe of nature's beauty. I’m out there to document wildlife behavior through photography. I insist on authenticity in my photos, I won’t tolerate manipulation. Photography is my passion, its given me purpose.”

Words to live by. At least for Marc Harris, internationally recognized wildlife photographer and owner of M. H. Wildlife & Fine Art Photography Gallery.

“When I was younger,” he explains, “I did a lot of traveling as captain of a sport fishing outlet. All my free time was spent taking pictures of wildlife. I managed to build an impressive archive and put a vast portfolio together. My main models were a variety of species of shore birds. Before I knew it, people were asking me if they could purchase some of my photographs and my life as a professional photographer was born.”

Like most of his subjects, Harris migrated here from the North. He grew up in Tennessee, calling thousands of acres of wilderness home. His free time was spent hiking and exploring unspoiled woodlands, studying animal behavior and falling in love with nature; its purity and all of its creatures.

His passion was slowly morphing into a career as an outdoorsman, wildlife photographer and humanitarian for conservation. “I moved to Florida in 1978 mainly because of the Everglades. I had heard and researched so much about this amazing place that I couldn’t wait to see it in person.

I wasn’t disappointed; It’s an amazing echo system in a class of its own. My first visits were exploratory, but I was soon taking pictures of alligators, birds and every other creature living there. Ever since my arrival I’ve been attending ‘Up To My Neck In Muck’ University and loving every minute of it.

Searching for the perfect picture is his life’s mission. He says it’s all about preparation and does his due diligence before even thinking of taking the first photo. It requires trekking in the trenches in the early morning hours scouting for ideal locations, studying the light and getting familiar with the habits of the wildlife.

“I’m usually at my destination and back home before most people have their first cup of coffee. To me lighting is as important as the subject I’m photographing. I usually go back to the same spot several different times of day to decide when it will best compliment my subject. Sometimes it happens fast, sometimes it takes days, weeks or even months. My goal is for the wildlife to appear at the exact time the light is optimal. It becomes a matter of chance meeting preparation.”

One reason planning is so important is that he never touches, moves or baits the animals to draw them out. “The goal is to capture unanticipated moments of wildlife in their habitat. I’m able to accomplish this because I become intimate with my subject, then trust Mother Nature to take over and do her job.”

Harris is a purist. “I don’t use artificial lighting, won’t re-pixelate an image and I’m not a fan of Photoshop. I like to keep the size of my prints to 40 inches x 60 inches because it’s a popular size and I can still maintain museum quality.’

Getting the right shot also requires using the right camera and he uses several. Most are full frame image, and once again light plays a key role in his choice for a particular shot. His favorite camera shoots 11 frames per second, in continuous mode. Being able to shoot frames fast is required when taking pictures of birds in flight or any animal in motion.

Harris says he’s a big fan of ‘bokeh’ (out of focus background). When he wants the image to stand out from the background he needs a camera with a fast lens set at the widest aperture. The lens determines the design, shape and size of visible bokeh.

Most of the time he uses a hand-held camera. “Even if I wanted to use a tripod it would be difficult considering the places I go and the fact that I like to shoot my subjects moving.”

The result of his work speaks for itself. Alison, his wife and gallery curator, says, “Clients who come in the gallery are amazed at the images Marc has captured. We have 30-35 large pieces hanging at all times and we change them regularly. Customers also enjoy browsing through the archives for a specific wildlife. There are thousands upon thousands of images, one more beautiful than the other.”

Harris has had many requests to teach and although he is happy to share his knowledge, he believes that only the technical aspects can be taught. “It takes a lot more than learning about shutter speeds or aperture settings to get a great photograph,” he says. “Camera’s are like airplanes. You need to drive them. You have to understand lighting and composition. Creativity and artistry is a skill set that can’t be taught. It’s instinctive.”

Right from the beginning Harris has had his own idea of what he wants to capture. “Many of the pictures I take are in my head before I start shooting. I’ve never tried to emulate a particular photographer, although I do admire Clyde Butcher. To me he is one of, if not the best, landscape photographers ever.” Harris’ work has been featured in exhibitions at The von Liebig Gallery in Naples and Arts for Act Gallery in Fort Myers.

His prints appear on many surfaces. He recalls a time when everyone was requesting canvas transfers, then clay became popular, then acrylics, and a few years ago metal was introduced.

“We do some printing ourselves but employ a professional to handle the metallics and larger paper prints. There are many processes and surfaces to choose from and I depend on each photo to dictate which will do it the most justice.”

One process is dye sublimation, a digital print technology that enables the reproduction of full color images on a variety of surfaces. The surface is coated, then the image is infused into the coating using an innovative manufacturing process that provides high-definition, durable photos that will preserve images for generations.

On metals, the inks are dye-infused onto a specially coated aluminum and sealed with a gemlike water and scratch resistant Ultra Violet coating. This technological breakthrough results in high definition bringing images to life.

Harris boasts, “The vibrancy and dimensionality of our metal prints rivals any other photographic product and exceeds the quality of traditional paper prints. The inks are infused into the metal and the result is an eye popping bright print that will last forever.”

There have been requests that have stretched his skills. He says, “One client wanted a landscape image broken into 24 inch tiles and installed on the back wall of his shower stall. The finished image was six feet by ten feet. It was an amazing creative challenge.”

Harris plans to continue to explore Southwest Florida, the Everglades in particular. “I may take a trip to Louisiana at some point during the year, just for variety,” he says. “I have a client who owns acres of property there and wants me to take some local photos of wildlife, especially ducks. But I intend to stay in Florida until breeding season is over because that's when animals are typically in full bloom and their colors are magnificent. Their behaviors are also more interesting.”

The gallery will celebrate its one-year anniversary in March. “It’s been an exciting year and we are quickly outgrowing our present location,” Alison explains. “After season we will probably be looking for a larger facility. Even more exciting is that we have confirmed an exhibit at the University of Florida/IFAS Collier County Extension from March 1-April 7. Marc is also negotiating other possible exhibits. And we plan to continue promoting conservation and bringing awareness to endangered species.” •

The Marc Harris Wildlife Fine Art Photography Gallery is located at 1401 Lee St. in the Historic River District in downtown Fort Myers. The gallery is open Monday-Thursday 10am-4pm & Friday 10am-9pm. For information, call 313-5111.

January-February 2017