An Interview with wildlife photographer, Sammy Catiss
by Karla Locke
Why wildlife? It’s the one thing that connects me. Growing up in the foothills of Mt. Rainier, I have met most every critter we have at one point or another. Learned when to hold still and when to back away. I’ve never been afraid of anything wild but have always respected it.
My first Wildlife photos would have had to have been the deer, rabbits and squirrels that frequented my property, which was sat way out on the edge of the foothills. I remember, and still have the shots I believe, of a Flying Squirrel that would climb into a box I had put up for him with a clear front to watch him eat. He would climb in and shut the top hatch so he could eat while being dry. He could care less if I got up close to him with the camera. And the wild Turkey that was infatuated with my chickens.
My favorite wildlife to photograph would be birds. No question about it. They are a challenge. They challenge all part of photography as they are quick and the settings frequently need changed. Which is kinda funny since I guess when I was a little kid, I used to be afraid of feathers.. so I’m told.
Favorite Location. I love to photograph the Skagit Valley the most. It offers so much in the way of birds, barns and fields. Sunrises and Sunsets, the valley has it all in one place. Three days of the week, you can find me here.
The most dangerous shots I’ve ever taken probably shouldn’t be mentioned as I wouldn’t recommend it. Sometimes we take risks to get the shot we want. I’ve always gone prepared with the settings and get the shots and back to safety. I have never taken risks without considering all that could go wrong. As well as, I never have done this alone. Making sure the one thing safe is the keys and the phone. Understanding that you should always respect nature and the rules that are set up to keep you safe.
The luckiest shot I’ve ever gotten, was just last Winter along the Stillaguamish river. On a photo tour, we had stopped to watch the many Eagles flying up and down the river. At one point, an Eagle flew in on the snag that we were standing by. We were not hidden from view and I truly thought it was going to land on me. Actually stood there and let me back up enough to get it in focus. It was a great shot in perfect light, something that doesn’t happen enough.
The most memorable shots I’ve taken are probably the times I’ve got to witness the baby birds just after leaving the nest being fed by the parents. They are fun to watch as they wait for Mom or Dad to bring food. This year my favorite fledglings to watch has been the Lazuli Buntings and a family of Osprey.
The best technique I can offer up, keep up your speed up so that you can be ready for the surprise opportunities without fumbling around. Whatever you shoot, have a preset idea of your settings so you don’t have to make drastic changes. Shoot a photo as soon as you get to where you are, check the photo and adjust. It’s a good starting point.
The best thing you can do is know your equipment. Experiment and test its boundaries whenever you can in a relaxed environment. Keep equipment clean. Turn it off when changing lens’ and keep it dry. There is no ‘best’ brand or way to shoot, so relax and keep it fun and challenging.
I am Sammy Catiis. I’ve been doing photography for 35 years. Starting out with Sunsets and film, to the digital age with portraits and to the love of birds. I’ve served as a board member on two different chapters of Audubon Society, as well as, 2 years of Ornithology through Cornell University. Even though I do portraits for added income, my love for nature and birds drives my photography. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, my life has always revolved nature and it’s many changing ways. Through the mentorship of an extraordinary photographer friend, and teaching others what I learn, I continue to exceed my own expectations.
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Photography and photographers... A look at both. Blame it on the light.