Flipboard’s Interview with NJ Wight

Many of the fantastic pictures of lions and elephants and insects you have seen in FlipPhotos were taken by wildlife and nature photographer Nancie Wight.  We are very pleased to share her great images with you as one of the photographers in FlipPhotos.  We wanted to take an opportunity to get to know her better and share some of her story about becoming a photographer with you, so we put together this interview.  Hope you enjoy it.

What is your background?

NJ: I have had a rather eclectic career path. Working backwards, I spent 8 years as an executive in the mobile industry when the content space was in its infancy. I worked creatively with brands as diverse as HBO and Disney, Maxim and Wine Spectator, and Deepak Chopra and Family Guy. Prior to that I taught digital media courses in the undergraduate Communications Studies Program and the graduate program in Media Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. I did a brief stint in software project management after a longer turn in the fashion business. And mixed in there somewhere, I spent 10 years doing stand up comedy. Oh, and I have a Sports Science degree and played women’s hockey long before it was acceptable. I also spent two days managing a bowling alley.  For a complete list of my business cards you can check here: I am NJ Wight.

How did you get into Photography?

NJ: I have always been interested in design and typography and visual arts in general. I had dabbled a little in photography around 1990 when I had a lot of friends in the dance community who needed publicity photos, but it wasn’t really something I took seriously. I was very drawn to the compositional aspect but deeply confused by the technical, and so my camera was generally set to Automatic.

From the time I was a kid, my dream was always to go on safari in Africa. When we sold our mobile company I had an opportunity to finance a dream trip to Tanzania. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the beginning of this incredible journey I find myself on now. It was the first time I had used a digital SLR and I started with a Canon Rebel xTi and 70-300 IS lens. I have always been passionate about wildlife but this experience really blew me away. I loved taking photos in these extraordinary surroundings and all of my senses were totally engaged out in the bush. The process of composing images completely absorbed me in ways that no other creative initiative had before.

Then, in 2008 I resigned from my position as Chief Operating Officer and took advantage of the tremendous generosity of my two employers to travel across Southern Africa for 10 weeks.   This was a life-changing trip, which I’ve written about.  Again, I found myself really drawn to the process of watching and learning while looking through the viewfinder. I would fix my lens on the smallest details; hairs on a tail, lashes of an eye or the curve of a belly. I was absorbed in the ever-changing patterns of their skins, their whiskers, beaks and paws and was constantly astonished that I was in a position to be observing these up close. It was magical.

It was about six months after I returned home from the trip and I had designed a unique stand-up card with my photos–mostly to accompany my resume I was sending to executive recruiters–that my friends started asking if they could buy the cards. Soon after I had some requests to buy my prints. It had a cathartic effect. I threw myself into my African image library and began to establish some interesting narratives. Last November, I turned those into an exhibit called UP CLOSE with African Wildlife and had a very successful show. The response from people was so overwhelming and encouraging that I decided to seriously pursue photography as a possible income-generating career. I upgraded my camera body and lenses and since Africa was a little far, I started spending as much time as possible in the woods and marshes around Montreal.

What drives you to take pictures?

NJ: Well, I am partly driven by the subject matter–wildlife and nature. Shooting out in the woods makes me happy. Composing images inspires me. It surprises and delights me to see things I have never noticed before. So many things I never took the time to really see now reveal themselves in such fascinating ways. For me, it is simply the wonder I have discovered while looking through the lens.

Shooting large animals makes my heart race – always. I love animals, big and small. But having had a chance to shoot African wildlife has really been a blessing. It is so hard to express the feeling of being within twenty feet of a lion or elephant. It is humbling. Through my local explorations, insects have found their way into my imagination. They require an entirely different perspective.

I am generally a fairly stressed person and not exactly patient, but when I am out with my camera everything slows down. It is teaching me to relax. I don’t think of anything but what is in front of me. And there is nothing like trying to capture a dragonfly in flight to teach you patience!

I also really love the challenge of finding ways of shooting nature and wildlife that create a reaction in people–to make someone stop and think for a moment, or turn their head slightly trying to figure out exactly what they are looking at–I love that. Revealing a mystery is a great thing. I also really enjoy the storytelling aspect of showing my work, although I am sure my friends are tired of hearing about the various animals that have shown up at my tent.

When I am not shooting I am now spending a lot of time on my blog sharing photos. There are other great photographers on tumblr so it is very inspiring. I am trying to find new channels to get my work known. Of course, being featured in Flipboard FlipPhotos has been really exciting and a lot of fun.

When and where will your upcoming photo exhibition take be taking place?  Is this your first exhibition?

NJ: My exhibit UP CLOSE In the Wild opens here in Montreal on November 16 and runs through December 28. I am currently swinging between excitement and panic! This will be my second solo exhibit and will feature mostly new work from my recent trip to Kenya. But it is also the first time I will be showing some of my local nature photos.

What equipment do you use?

NJ: I am a Canon gal. I shoot with a 7D and I have an assortment of lenses.  I don’t use long a lens. Too much hand holding and moving around. My longest is a 300L f4 IS, which I sometimes use with a 1.4x. My workhorse is the Canon 70-200 f4 IS. But my new favorite lens is my 100 F2.8L IS MACRO. I love this lens-especially for insects. Equally important though, is my footwear–especially in the marsh. I have put several pairs of Keen shoes to the test. Love them!

Do you have any advice or recommendations for beginners?

NJ: I am still a beginner! This is what I tell myself: shoot what you love. Shoot as often as you can. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Get dirty. Pay attention to what you are looking at and take your time. Change your perspective–lie down, climb up–try to learn to see in new ways. Make more mistakes. And have fun. Hopefully the money will follow.

Thank you very much for your time, Nancie.  Best of luck with your exhibit.

More fantastic photos below.  Please let us know your thoughts about the interview in the comments below.


~ JonV