Talking to a wildlife photographer

Norm Dougan

Norm Dougan

Last week I had the good fortune to spend some time talking with a local wildlife photographer who, on retirement, dived into his passion after having been interested in wildlife photography for years, and is now occupying his time locating and photographing all sorts of birds and animals.

While discussing the article I had written about bird photography a couple of weeks ago a friend mentioned that he had met Norm Dougan at the Kamloops Photo Arts Club, seen some of his bird photography; and that Dougan had built some pretty elaborate perches at his rural home in Logan Lake, and that I might find his setups interesting and Norm informative.

The first thing that I noticed as I drove up to the Dougan home was a large 2’x8’ foot wheeled table covered with black sunflower seeds. There were also several suet lumps secured to the surface. The construction also included hangers on each side holding small bird feeders. Around the bird feeders evergreen branches were attached for birds to land on. Dougan told me he would move the table around the driveway so he could keep the sun at his back while he photographed birds as they landed on the perch setups, being careful to avoid photographing the feeders.

The trees along his driveway had taken the same beating that most of the trees in the Interior area have from the voracious pine beetle and many were dead, but to a photographer those trees were opportunities and Dougan had hollowed out small holes in several and stuffed them with suet to attract woodpeckers. That was apparent as I got out of my car and saw several different coloured woodpeckers perched in trees along the driveway.

We walked around the house to observe an upstairs balcony he used that also had branches and feeding areas situated for easy camera access from the bedroom. The lower bird feeders also sometimes attracted deer, weasels and even the occasional bobcat. All one had to do is easily set up camera and tripod in the driveway, point the camera and shoot away. The place is a paradise for any wildlife photographer.

Regular readers surely are aware by now that just about any kind of photography excites me and I never miss the opportunity to learn from those more practiced and experienced than I, and it was with this enthusiasm and interest that I assailed Norm Dougan with questions about his wildlife setups, preferred equipment and practical knowledge as a wildlife photographer.

He discussed how patient he had to be as he waited for hours for a particular animal to position itself for the perfect image. He is always aware of the background, and interestingly, sets up homemade, soft-focus 16×20 prints that he positions behind small subjects like hummingbirds. He also discussed his multiple flash set ups he uses for lighting birds, and they weren’t really so different from the lighting setups I might have for portraits in a studio.  I also got to look over his camera equipment and I wasn’t surprised at all that his lens of choice is a 600mm.

Norm’s and his wife Carrie’s hospitality included a cup of tea as he showed me album after album filled with excellent photographs of grizzly and black bears, elk, deer, feeding eagles, fox and coyotes, plus dozens of species of birds and ducks. And unlike many photographers that just show you their photographs and wait for praise, he educated me by talking about the circumstances, locations and how he took the pictures.

I could have stayed all day just learning about how he set up his photographs, listening to his stories, looking at his photography and, of course, getting lots of advice; and I actually have a notebook page filed with the names of birds that he photographs at his feeders.

I now think I’ve been inspired to set up my own series of perches so I can better photograph local birds, and maybe a chipmunk or squirrel, around my home.

I also hope to spend additional time with Dougan and other wildlife photographers in the future learning as much as I can from them. I think wildlife photographers combine their love of nature with technical skill and the hunt for photographic opportunities to produce an exciting glimpse into the fascinating world of nature and wildlife.

These are my thoughts for this week.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me. Email your comments and suggestions to me at or phone 250-371-3069

John Enman owns and operates Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops, selling an interesting selection of used and new photographic equipment and offers professional wedding photography and photographic instruction.  Check out