Since 1978, I've been providing nature and wildlife photography for books, magazines, calendars, brochures, museum exhibits, advertising, and a variety of other uses.
My catalog includes photos of frogs and toads, snakes and lizards, birds and mammals, native plants, and many locations in Death Valley and other deserts of the southwestern U.S. I've also photographed birds, reptiles, and amphibians in Costa Rica and Ecuador; wildlife, scientific research, and local culture in East Timor; and National Parks throughout the Western U.S. Every photo is captioned and keyworded with common and Latin names, location, behavior, Federal and State endangered status, and any other relevant information.
My approach to wildlife photography is simple: I look for a strong composition that will capture the spirit of the individual as well as the species or location. I sometimes think of myself as a portrait photographer, using the same techniques of lighting, composition, and color to reveal a glimpse of each animal's "personality."
But if you really want to know
who I am, scroll down to read what Rangefinder magazine had to
say about me.
|Photographer Dan Suzio
Frogs & Snakes & Bugs, Oh My!
By P.J. Heller
Rangefinder magazine, June 2001
As a youngster in Northern
California, Dan Suzio used to chase after snakes, frogs and assorted
As an adult, hes doing the same thing, only this time with
a camera in his hand.
Suzio describes his photography specialty as "snakes, frogs, bugs, and other creepy stuff."
No annual reports or corporate suits for this photographer, whose
interest in nature and photography dates to his childhood.
"All those years as a kid catching frogs and catching lizards
and snakes kind of paid off," said Suzio, who operates Dan
Suzio Photography in Berkeley, California.
Suzio had planned to be become a biologist. But after less than
a year of college at the University of California at Berkeley,
he decided to drop out and take a break from school. Although
he planned to return to school after a few years off, he never
But his love of nature and the outdoors and his interest in photography
didnt wane and gradually led him to combine those interests
into a career. He managed to interest a stock photo agency in
his work and his photos began selling.
To supplement that income, he took on other jobs, including shooting
brochures for companies in the San Francisco Bay area.
"I felt like nature photography was not an easy way to make
a living," he said, then added with a laugh, "Its
He quickly realized, though, that corporate photography wasnt
"Commercial photography didnt thrill me," he
admitted. "I never found it interesting enough or satisfying
enough. Shooting a brochure for an investment company or an importer
just doesnt excite me the way shooting frogs and snakes
"At some point, 10 or 15 years ago, I realized that it didnt
make sense just to do whatever kind of photography was out there,"
he said. "It made more sense to concentrate on what I enjoyed
and what I did best."
His background in biology has served him well. So have his days
as a youngster chasing frogs and snakes and bugs.
"Its given me the patience and knowledge of reptiles
behavior that it takes to be able to approach them closely,"
"Ive had cases where Ive spent an hour or more approaching a lizard and end up with my camera three inches from its face and its just sitting there looking at me," he recalled.
"I dont know how much conscious thought a reptile is capable of, but I imagine its sitting there thinking, What the hell is this," he said with a laugh.
Most of Suzios work is sold to textbook publishers through
his stock agency, Photo Researchers Inc. His success is partly
due to the fact that he specializes in reptiles and amphibians
and other "creepy stuff" rather than trying to be a
jack-of-all-trades. Its also due to the fact that he carefully
captions each of his slides.
His advice to other photographers is simple:
"Dont shoot the same big hairy mammals
that everyone else is shooting," he recommended. "You
might have a great shot of a snarling grizzly bear or a beautifully
backlit elk at sunrise, but every stock agency in the world already
has a couple hundred just like it. Pick a specialty -- or two
or three -- that you know something about, and shoot it in depth.
"If you like dragonflies, for example, dont just recreate
the standard shot of a dragonfly resting on a leaf beside a pond,"
he advised. "Photograph every aspect of their lives, from
egg to adult, including what they eat and what eats them."
As for captions, the words attached to an image can often make
or break the sale, Suzio noted.
"If you caption a photo as 'desert cactus flower,
it will be marketable in certain areas," he said. "But
in the kinds of markets I sell to, it would never sell. Im
not sure my stock agency would even accept it."
Suzio said he has seen royalty-free disks that contain numerous
incorrect descriptions, such as an ape labeled as a monkey and
a toad labeled as a frog.
"Complete and accurate captions wont make a bad photo
marketable, but without them a good photo can be useless,"
he pointed out. "A caption that says bee on cactus
flower, Mojave Desert isn't good enough for the textbook
market, but the same photo labeled honeybee, Apis mellifera,
with pollen on legs and head, on flower of beavertail cactus,
Opuntia basilaris, in upper Thousand Palms Canyon, Joshua
Tree National Park, California might be just what the editor
is looking for.
"Doing this requires that you be a naturalist, in the 19th
century sense of the word," he said. "You need to know
some biology, some botany, some ecology, some geology, a little
chemistry, and you need to spend as much time researching and
captioning as you do shooting.
"My bookshelves are overflowing, not with photography books,
but with science textbooks and field guides," Suzio noted.
From a photo standpoint, Suzio has captured images of reptiles
and plants using minimal equipment. Most of his work is done
outdoors, although some work requires that photos be taken in
the studio -- or on the kitchen table or over the sink.
"In some cases its impossible to shoot in a natural
setting," he said. "Youre not going to get a
close-up of the different stages of development of a tadpole
just by sticking your camera into a creek. You have to temporarily
scoop them out of the creek and put them in a little aquarium
and then light it to avoid reflections."
Suzio shoots strictly 35mm, relying on Nikon cameras with either
a 55mm f2.8 macro or a 105 f2.8 macro. His film of choice these
days is Kodak Ektachrome 100VS, which he exposes at its normal
ISO of 100.
In the field, hell use fill flash to cut down on shadows
or a reflector. In the studio, hell use one or two handheld
strobes, sometimes bounced through a small softbox, and reflectors.
"I do set up a lot of reflectors (in the studio),"
he said. "I dont like the harsh lighting I see in
a lot of reptile photos. I try to make the lighting as natural
Lighting creepy crawly creatures isnt always easy, he added.
"Amphibians are wet and they need to stay wet when youre
working with them, even if you bring them into the studio. That
makes for all kinds of problems with reflections and highlights,"
Snakes with their shiny skins create reflection and contrast
problems. And lizards, while not shiny or wet, are only out when
the sun is harsh, creating hard lighting effects.
"When Im out shooting in the field, I like to use
whats around to soften the light," Suzio said.
That may mean using rocks to frame the picture or a branch or
leaves to create a more dappled lighting effect.
Understanding an animals behavior is also important in
order to get close enough to get a photo and to ensure that the
photo accurately depicts the animals activities, Suzio
"With reptiles, they know youre there," he said.
"Its more a matter of not being a threat because of
your own behavior. If you act like a rock, a lizard is not going
to be afraid of you. If you act like a coyote, the lizard will
be gone before you have a chance to make a picture."
"I enjoy the isolation, the solitude of getting out, shooting
out in wilderness, even if its just three miles from my
house," he said.
P.J. Heller is a freelance photojournalist based in Santa Barbara, Calif. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in Rangefinder Magazine, June 2001. Copyright
2001 by P.J. Heller. All rights reserved.