Selective Focus: Thomas Spence

Thomas Spence’s photos of the landscapes and wildlife of the North Shore have been published and featured in regional and national magazines and TV shows. His Instagram feed is filled with the critters that we all know are around, but rarely get to see so up close and personal. He talks about how he got started with his photography and the patience required to get shots like these.

TS: I have been taking photos with a DSLR for about seven years. I used to carry a point-and-shoot around on trips and gatherings, just to capture the moments with friends and family. I never really was into scenery or wildlife with a camera growing up. In 2007 I gave up a loooong drinking career and needed a new hobby. I wanted to take better photos and I wanted to capture two things. Waterfalls with that silky smooth look, and northern lights. I bought a little Canon digital point-and-shoot and was able to figure out how to do long exposures on it. I learned that camera and was able to get some northern lights photos and the waterfall look I was trying for. I was hooked. In 2011 I took a road trip through the Smoky Mountains and south to Kennedy Space Center. It was that trip that I decided I needed a “real” camera. I think I bought my first DSLR in 2012. Lake Superior, the surrounding State Parks and Superior National Forest soon became my daily haunts. I was mainly doing landscape photos, but I see incredible wildlife on a regular basis, so I knew I needed a long lens to add to the camera. I found myself going into the woods to search for wildlife a lot more once I had the “reach” with a long lens. I live in a great place on the Sawbill Trail in Tofte. When I leave home, if I turn left, I can be on Lake Superior in minutes for sunrise or sunset. If I turn right, I am in Superior National Forest where I see Moose, bear, wolves, lynx and more on a fairly regular basis.

The main challenge for me in landscape photography is trying to keep it fresh and interesting for me. Although I often photograph the same places, I try to find new ways, new angles, new techniques to capture the familiar places. I find wildlife photography to be MUCH more challenging. When it comes to landscape photos, I know I will come home with something. It may not be a keeper, but I will get photos. With wildlife, I can spend hours, even days out searching and come home with nothing. The animals won’t always be there. Sometimes, they are there, but they run away when I get the camera up! It can take days and weeks to get the shot I want of wildlife. I spend the majority of my photography time in the woods these days, searching for critters, but my mood will change and I’ll find myself along the shore for sunrise occasionally still.

Links and published work:

Published landscape and wildlife photography and video as seen in print or online or on TV at Lake Superior Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Magazine, Warner Brothers Television Productions U.K., Animal Planet, Washington Post, Virgin Atlantic Travel Blog, Minnesota Monthly Magazine, Space Weather, Capture Minnesota Books including Grand Prize Landscape in Minnesota In Seasons, Omega Watches Lifetime Magazine, Minnesota Outdoor News, Northern Wilds, and many other local and regional publications.

I don’t have any local upcoming showings, but I recently licensed a Canada Lynx photo to the Montreal Biosphere for an exhibit called Species Without Borders. It will feature both Canadian and American artists and the species we follow for our art. Right now, that is on hold due to Covid19, But I’m hoping it goes on as planned at sometime.

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