Click Magazine: How did you get started in wildlife photography?
Joe Mac Hudspeth: It started as a hobby. Back in the 60s and 70s, whenever someone harvested a deer in Benton County I had to get a picture of it to go in my scrapbook. The older I got, the more I wanted to photograph wildlife with my Kodak Instamatic, so I started carrying it with me everywhere. One day I was hunting and I saw a screech owl out by some honeysuckles. I realized I was about five feet from him at the time and that’s how I got my first close-up wildlife image.
CM: What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when photographing wildlife?
JMH: Getting close is the key. A lot of people think they can just use a fancy zoom lens and get right up on the animal from a half-mile away, but that’s just not possible.
CM: How about photography in general?
JMH: Studying exposure, aperture, ASA, ISO and how it all works together to get the right shot the first time. I spent many years shooting on slide film and there’s no correcting that – what you see is what you get.
CM: How do you manage to get so close to wildlife?
JMH: With something like wood ducks, I shoot on a 300-milimeter lens and need to be about 20 feet away. Contrary to popular belief, ducks and turkeys will still run from you if you’ve got a camera instead of a gun, so you need to be sneaky, which means I had to come up with a blind that wouldn’t scare the ducks. There wasn’t a thing called a pop-up blind back when I get started so I had to kind of fashion my own. I must’ve experimented with about every material I could find that I could carry through the half-mile trek across hunting camp. Two-by-fours, chicken wire, PVC pipes – you name it, I used it – until I finally came up with a good mixture of PVC pipe and Mossy Oak camo that would work.
CM: What kind of wildlife would you suggest for beginning photographers?
JMH: When I got started, I wanted to shoot deer, ducks and turkeys right away. But after a while, I started training myself photographing critters and objects that couldn’t outrun me: butterflies, snakes, turtles and sunrises.
CM: How did you make the leap from hobbyist to published outdoor photographer?
JMH: I started to bundle all of my slides with a letter to various outdoor magazines like Ducks Unlimited saying “Here they are, what do you think?” Until one day I came home and found out I was going to be in the July/August issue of Mississippi Outdoors in 1987. I had a little photograph of a tree frog in there and I felt pretty full of myself. Until a few weeks later I was featured on the cover of Turkey Call magazine, and I even got paid for that one.
CM: Any special techniques to draw the animals in?
JMH: I don’t bait, it just doesn’t work for me. The animals may come and feed for a few minutes, but they’re gonna go when they wanna go. You have to figure out where they want to be and blend into that habitat. You work around where they wanna be, you can’t try to manipulate that area. It’s a lot different for hunters because as soon as you pull that trigger, that area is clear for 30 yards. Hunters tend to chase that one good shot, while I aim for an afternoon of good shots.
CM: How long does it take to get a good wildlife photo?
JMH: A lot of people ask me that and I’ll never have a straight answer for it. Some of the best shots just happen when they happen.
CM: Do you shoot on a digital camera or do you prefer traditional film?
JMH: There are many digital photos in My Southern Wild, but most of my stuff is shot on film. I’m too used to being able to being able to produce a tack-sharp 45x60 print without breaking the bank to change over to a format that’s constantly changing. I tried to learn how to work Photoshop and Lightroom but they just don’t fit my style. I don’t like to “create” photographs like many modern photographers do – I just capture them in a camera.
CM: What would you say is the toughest animal to shoot?
JMH: Turkeys are definitely tricky. The whole thing can be perfect, but that whitish-bluish bulbous head always comes out strange in the exposure. A lot of the time those photos need just a little bit of tweaking.
CM: How do you pass the time in the blind when you’re not shooting?
JMH: I’ve probably read more books while sitting in a turkey blind than most people have read in their lives.
CM: The forward in your book is written by Judge Antonin Scalia. Let’s talk a little bit about how that came to be.
JMH: (laughs) Tino! He and I go way back. The Justice has been hunting and fishing in Mississippi for more than 20 years. He’s primarily a turkey hunter, but he comes down here every year. Two years ago, a few friends of mine mentioned that he would be down at duck camp and asked if I would photograph him. It was a very informal thing, but I got a lot of quick shots. I signed my second book for him and he went through it with me, page by page. What he didn’t recognize in there, he wanted to know about. So a few years later I decided to do this book and I hadn’t even thought of a forward. But then I figured it might be nice and thought “Well, you don’t know if you don’t ask.” We were about 98 percent done with the book when I got a call from his son who told me Scalia’s forward was in my email. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him. Very seldom does his job come up, he just seems to enjoy hanging out with the guys.
CM: Most of this book is shot in Mississippi, correct?
JMH: The entirety of this book was shot in Mississippi, even the gators and wild hogs. I haven’t left this state to take photos in more than 20 years and there’s so much down here, I just don’t see why anybody would.
Outdoor photographer Joe Mac Hudspeth explores the flora and fauna of the Magnolia State in his new coffee table book, My Southern Wild
Feature | June 2014
The Southern woodlands are unlike any other place in the country, and few know that as well as outdoor photographer and seasoned sportsmen, Joe Mac Hudspeth. In his recently released book, My Southern Wild, Hudspeth presents a sportsman’s diagram of the region, courtesy of someone who knows the area and animals like the back of his hand. Hudspeth packs more than 100 photos into 143 pages for a grand celebration of the sporting life in the Delta, with an array of deer, ducks, turkey and other critters that reside in the backyards of Mississippians.