Here at Studebaker Studios, we have Matthew Studebaker in the field on tours, helping you get the best photo possible. We have Mindy Bowman in the office, keeping things organized and handling logistics. And we have Dan Behm, heading up the Barrow, Alaska Photo Tour. Let me introduce us:
When Mindy Bowman isn’t riding her horses, she works from her home in Florida as a virtual assistant. She brings professionalism, organization, creativity, and kindness to the team, and has quickly become indispensable!
Dan Behm will jump into cold water to get the perfect photo faster than anyone I have ever seen. No hesitation. Just dedication. But he would also jump into that cold water for a friend or client just as fast. And it’s a good thing he isn’t afraid of cold water because he leads our Barrow, Alaska trip. Dan was brought on board because of his knowledge, dedication and energy, amazing attitude, great sense of humor, and good ‘ol Midwestern friendliness. He started photographing nature by building trail cameras for wildlife surveillance 15 years ago. He added a DSLR to his camera bag 8 years ago and has since traveled the country photographing birds and wildlife, taught classes and field sessions, and helped me on a great many of my trips.
Interview By Wendy Turrell
Ohio resident Matthew Studebaker has found success doing what he loves best – finding and photographing unique wildlife subjects, especially birds, and leading field tours in wilderness places near and far.
Although Studebaker also makes his living selling his photos of bird and animal behavior, he takes a special pleasure in leading tours.
"While I love making good images . . . I think I get as much joy out of helping others get their dream shot and helping them have a trip of a lifetime," Studebaker Said
Just 30 years old, Studebaker has been leading photography tours since the age of 23. In June, he was in Nome and Barrow, Alaska, guiding week-long tours in the mountains, tundra, and boreal forest terrain. They captured images of loons, grebes, wild musk oxen, owls, and other animals rarely seen by those in the "lower 48".
While taking photos of subjects in such remote locations might imply "roughing it" in the field, Studebaker said part of his job is to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves as well as getting rare photographs.
"We prefer to stay in nice hotels, eat meals at nice restaurants and be as comfortable as possible," he said.
The daytime activities, however, have a distinct thrill of adventure. Studebaker often hires boats, helicopters or large vehicles to take the group "where we need to go for the day and then back to a glass of wine and a nice meal in the evening." Perhaps a key to the popularity of his trips is his ability to develop techniques that increase the productive photography time.
"I don't really like waiting in blinds and neither do my clients," said Studebaker.
Studebaker's tours combine teaching wildlife photography techniques with helping clients obtain as many high-quality shots in a short a time as possible by visiting migrant stop-over spots and feeding places, and attracting birds with field calls.
"I am happy if I can get just one high quality image per day, but we often get more than a dozen magazine-quality shots in a shooting day," he said.
Professional equipment makes his job easier, but he insists that having a unique vision is key.
"I have probably owned just about every camera Canon makes. Right now, probably 75 percent of my work is made with a 600mm image-stabilized lens with a . . . Professional camera body."
Despite that high-tech gear, Studebaker has "had shots taken with a $50 lens and a low-end Canon Rebel camera body published by National Geographic."
Studebaker found his passion at an early age.
"I grew up in a 100-acre woods near Canal Fulton, Ohio, where I was home-schooled and spent nearly every minute of every day exploring the woods from the age of 4 onward, drawing and sketching what I saw. When my uncle gave me a telephoto lens and SLR camera at the age of 10, I never put it down."
Artistic talent runs in Studebaker's family. His grandfather owned the Litschert Commercial Art School and from an early age, Studebaker was allowed to sit in on classes.
He attended Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy for high school, then earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree for the Meyer's School of Art. Although admitting to being a "very creative, artistic individual," he maintains that he is "not necessarily the most talented." Instead, he credits his results to having a sixth sense for finding wildlife and having worked to learn visual composition. Photography became his medium because of his interest in visual and musical beauty.
"If I could paint better, I'd be a painter," said Studebaker. "If I could play the guitar, I'd be a musician." Instead he says he "fell into" photography.
In addition to his grandfather, Studebaker was mentored by others.
"Growing up, I was very inspired by and eventually met and talked to wildlife artists Steve Leonardi and Robert Bateman, who both have a big influence on me to this day," he said.
Studebaker called Arthur Morris the "father of modern bird photography" and, pun aside, said that Morris "took me under his wing after I graduated college, helped promote my work to his clients, and really helped launch my career."
Studebaker started out selling prints and marketing images to magazines but quickly found a different calling.
"I loved being in the field teaching other photography enthusiasts how to get that perfect shot," said Studebaker. "Leading photo tours puts me in touch with people who share the same passion and lets me spend my day helping others do what I love most."
Now living on the edge of a large metro park, Studebaker said his business keeps him busy while still allowing him to spend lots of time with his family. He is content where he is now, he said, although he would like to develop a portfolio of artistic, high-definition images for a one-man gallery exhibition soon. He is also working on a nature portfolio of Northeast Ohio. Studebaker may be flying high in the world of exotic nature photography, but he is full of appreciation for the more modest wilderness spaces where he grew up.
"While I love traveling North America, one of my favorite places to photograph is in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park or other local metro parks," he said. "It's easy to take a photo of an eagle flying past Mount Denali in Alaska, but there is so much beauty right in our own backyards, if we just develop the vision to see it."