Ten Questions with Tim Laman

Photographer Tim Laman stands waist to chest deep in a mangrove lagoon with his big lens on a tripod to photograph birds in the mangroves. Photo by Zafer Kizilkaya.

Tim Laman waist deep in a mangrove lagoon with his Canon 600mm f4 on a tripod to photograph birds in the mangroves.  “Whatever it takes to get the shot….. within reason”    Photo by Zafer Kizilkaya.

Here is a recent interview I did for a Singapore newspaper. Since I get many questions about my background and my photography, I thought I would share it here. Hope you enjoy it!

  1. What is your earliest memory of travelling? How did it inspire you?

My earliest memories of traveling are going by ship across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Japan with my family when I was 4 years old in 1965. My parents lived and worked in Japan when I was growing up, so we traveled a lot back and forth from Asia to the States and to other places my whole childhood. Traveling was just normal to me growing up. I think it inspired me in the sense that I never felt there were any limits to going anywhere in the world. All you have to do is make up your mind, find a way to get that plane (or boat) ticket, and go.

  1. When did you realize you had an interest in photography?

I started playing around with an old camera of my Dad’s when I was in 7th or 8th grade, and I bought my own camera when I was in high school. So my interest started early. I just kept getting more serious about my photography as time went on.

  1. Have you gone completely digital? Are there differences?

Yes, I’ve been completely digital since late 2004. A big advantage to digital is getting immediate feedback in the field. This makes a huge difference since I am often in remote areas where I can’t process film. The other huge advantage has been the improvement in low-light performance of newer digital cameras. This helps me out a lot because I like to shoot animals early and late in the day and am often working in the rain forest where light is very limited.

  1. You like going to wild locations. What draws you to these places?

I love exploring the little known areas of the world. It is exciting to go to places few people have been, and to see things few people get to see. It is the opportunity for real exploration that I find the most rewarding, and scientific research projects and photography are the ways that I get to do these things.

  1. What is challenging about getting to those places? How much do you rely on local guides?

The most extremely remote places can be very expensive to get to because almost by definition, they don’t have good access or transportation available. So raising funding for expensive transportation like helicopters or boat charters can sometimes be the first challenge. With regard to local guides, it varies tremendously by location. Some of the most remote locations, like uninhabited islands, or remote mountains, have no inhabitants and thus no local guides. We go in with a small team and are on our own. In other cases, when local residents are present, I rely on them a lot. I definitely try to take advantage of local knowledge and so I am often hiring local guides to help out when they are available.

  1. Patience is probably a virtue when it comes to shooting wildlife. How long have you had to wait out a shot?

Patience is definitely very important. It’s all a matter of motivation and if you want to be doing it. I can go crazy in a 30-minute traffic jam. But I can sit in a blind all day to try to capture an image of a unique bird-of-paradise display. I’ll say it again, it’s all about your drive and motivation. I’m not sure exactly, but I’m pretty sure I have put in more than eighty hours in a blind over a ten day period for some shots.

  1. When you go to remote locations, how much time do you spend there? What are conditions like usually?

It is really variable and depends on what I am after and how easy it is to go back. But for example, when I got dropped off by helicopter in the remote Foja Mountains of Papua, Indonesia with a team of biologists, we stayed for three weeks before the helicopter came back to this completely road-less area to pick us up. We camped in a very wet rain forest. It rained every day, and was incredibly muddy. It wasn’t exactly a picnic.

  1. What has kept your interest in photography buoyant?

The thing about photography is that you can never take a perfect picture. There is always room for improvement, something to strive for, and to keep trying to get better. With gear improving all the time, there are always new ways to make images that weren’t possible before. And in my field of documenting rare and endangered wildlife, there are so many important stories to tell. I will never run out of subjects or ideas.

  1. What are some things an aspiring photographer should do?

Here are some suggestions:

– Find out what you really love photographing, and put a lot of effort into that. Passion for your subject matter and for photography is so important, that you need to make sure you discover what you have a passion for.

– Realize that you can do a lot with even the simplest photographic equipment. The creative process of conceiving and capturing the photograph is more important than the equipment. So don’t get obsessed with gear or always having the latest. Camera’s and lenses are our tools of the trade, but the photographer makes the pictures. So work with what you can afford and put your energy into developing your craft, not your equipment collection.

10. What is the biggest lesson you have learned through all your travelling and photography?

There is a big world out there! There are still plenty of poorly known places and animals to photograph and make discoveries about. What I am saying is, this idea that the world has been explored, and there is nothing left to discover is just completely wrong. For example, I pursued a project for many years to photograph all 39 species of Birds of Paradise in the wild for the first time. Even in 2011, there were members of this famous group of birds for which the male courtship behavior had never been described, and few if any photographs existed in the wild. There are countless species, especially in the tropical regions of the world, both in the rain forests and underwater, that remain poorly known and poorly photographed. So go out and explore the world. That’s one of the greatest things about being a photographer. Your camera becomes your passport for exploration.


  1. I enjoyed learning more about your photography.

  2. Tim:

    I would add as advice to you and others:
    1. to try to tell a story
    2. illustrate and interesting point with a series of images.
    3. show the habitat
    4. include scale

  3. The next shot of any bird may be better than any previous shot of that bird!

  4. Rick Lamascus says:

    I certainly enjoyed this Q&A. It gave me encouragement and insight. Thanks for taking the time to post.
    Rick – Tennessee