Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Bat Scientists Part 2: Interview with Tom Uhlman

Tim's Website: http://www.tomuphoto.com/ 
In the last entry, we talked to author Mary Kay Carson about the process of writing The Bat Scientists.

This week, an interview with her husband Tom Uhlman. Tom did all the photography for the book. He also takes pictures for various magazines and media outlets.

One of Tom's amazing bat photos on the book cover
  As an illustrator, I was very curious about how different the approch is for doing photography for a book. I usually get a manuscripts and sometimes an illustration list.

CW: How did you get into photography and wildlife in particular?

TU: I always enjoyed photography, and I always loved looking at wildlife and nature photos in particular. I was in in school for biology in my early 20's, which only lasted a couple of years before i quit school and became a musician. In my late 20's I got into a band made up of mostly photographers from the local paper and after listening to them talk about photography my interest were rekindled. I never lost my interest in nature and the two were a great match. To photograph wildlife I have to spend a lot of time waiting for the right moment, which is time well spent watching getting to know my subjects.

CW: What kind of preparation do you have to do for this type of book?

TU: Getting ready to shoot photos for this book about bats took some special preparation, some of which I hadn't thought about when we took the contract. I had shot a lot of photos in caves so I knew a little about the hardships of crawling through mud in the dark with a pack full of cameras and flashes. However to go into Bracken Cave, where there are millions of Mexican free-tailed bats, and to handle bats that rehabilitaters had, I had to get rabies shots, which cost a lot of money and didn't feel real good getting. It was worth it though to go into the cave. It was a spectacular sight.

CW: Due to the subject matter, were the photo shoots more complex to direct than for your other books? (It seems like lighting would be a challenge for a lot of these photos...)

TU: Shooting for this book did get complicated at times. Animals never do what you want them to do and bats are no different. The shots of the mother red bat and her babies turned out well but I had to shoot a lot of photos to get lucky on a few. Barbara French, the bat rehabilitater, had them ready to be released, hanging in a tree in her yard. The wind was blowing like crazy and the branch was swinging and moving all over the place, which the bats slept right through. I had to set up a few lights and shoot in between wing gusts. Shooting in caves where it's slippery and wet is always difficult. Cave also eat light, so I often have to use four or five flashes just to get a little piece of the cave lit up enough to tell it's a cave. Otherwise it could just look like someone standing on a dirty rock in the dark.

CW: Did you work with an art director? How did you know what content was needed?

TU: We did have an art director for this book, but it's hard to know what will be used. I just sent them a lot of photos so that they could pick a choose what the needed.

CW:What was the most interesting shoot you set up for the book?

TU: By far the most interesting shoot for this book was Bracken cave and the millions of Mexican free-tailed bats living there. Our first day there we were near the mouth of the cave looking around, trying to figure out good angles to shoot from when our scientists got there. People can't go into the cave without wearing a respirator to filter out the ammonia from the bats guano. We were there in the late afternoon and the bats started coming out early to feed. All of the sudden we found ourselves in a tornado of bats circling out of the cave. It was one of the unforgettable life experiences to have thousands of bats flying so close with the wind sor strong from their wings blowing our hair back. The photos I shot ended up on the back cover!

CW: What projects/books do you have coming up?

TU: Other than the seasonal sports and business shooting I do, I'm working with another writer on a book about scientists that monitor volcanos. I spent two weeks this summer hiking around Mt. St. Helens.

Spooky joint bat events:

Saturday October 23rd: Blue Manatee Children's Bookstore with a live bat program from Echobats 4-6 PM

Saturday October 30th: Bat Fest at the Cincinnati Museum Center

Tom and Mary Kay at the Bat Cave!
Follow news and events for The Bat Scientists on Facebook!

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