We had the good fortune of connecting with David Shaw and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi David, why did you pursue a creative career?
I began my career in the sciences, I have both undergraduate and master’s degrees in wildlife biology. Both before and after graduate school, I worked as a professional wildlife biologist, studying birds. I got into that work out of a desire to be outdoors, conducting research, and hoping that work would benefit conservation efforts. However, after moving up the research ladder, I found I was dedicating most of my time to pursuing funding, statistical analysis, and writing reports and papers that few would ever read. Photography and general interest writing always interested me, and I’d continued to peck away at it, publishing articles and images in a few magazines here and there. I realized, at some point, that I found the creative efforts were much more compelling. There was a more real connection happening between the readers of my creative work, and myself than I’d ever experienced in academic writing. When the opportunity came, I left the world of research and started dedicating myself to telling those same stories of science, conservation, and natural history through a different medium. In the process, I found I was better at this new endeavor than I was at doing the original research myself. I was happier too. As businesses do, mine evolved from exclusively freelance work for magazines and conservation groups into leading photography workshops in some of my favorite parts of the world. Now, leading and organizing my photo workshops are the core of my business. Each year, I lead 10 to 12 different workshops in Alaska, the lower 48, and Africa. I feel like I’ve combined all the aspects of my life into a fascinating stew of a career: I keep my scientific interests alive through writing for wildlife and conservation publications while using that same knowledge to interpret the landscape and wildlife to my clients and create more depth in my own photography.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Look, making a living as a professional outdoor photographer is almost impossible. Very few professional photographers make their living by actually making images. There just isn’t a market for the photos. Excellent imagery is available for free, or nearly free to any publication that goes looking. So to make a living from this art, photographers need to be elastic, willing to be creative not just in the images we create, but in how we look for income. Publishing an article or two a month and selling a handful of images, just isn’t enough to make a living. But I’ve found that sharing my passion for photography, wild places, and wild things is just as rewarding as creating work independently. I’m good with people. That’s led to a rewarding and successful business of guiding photography workshops. The benefits are numerous, but not least of all that I get to travel to some of the most spectacular places on earth while doing what I love.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents and my partner deserve much of the credit here. My folks, even when I was a kid, emphasized that choosing a career that made me happy was much more important than one that made me rich. They taught me that making a living AND a life were equally important goals. My partner Amy has put up with me as I’ve transitioned from one career into another and provided the financial cushion I needed during the transitions. Without her, I’m not sure I could have done it.
All images: David W. Shaw