Behind the lens
An interview with nature photographer Jessica Simmons
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with nature photographer Jessica Simmons. Jessica is a resident of Florida, and is doing her to part to make it even brighter through her art and infectious positivity. I first caught sight of her photography on Facebook, and was immediately drawn to her use of light and color. Whether Jessica’s subject is landscape or a perched bald eagle you feel connected to the story behind it.
After reaching out to Jessica, she was not only gracious enough to share her work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but she also agreed to talk about what goes into photographing nature and wildlife. She answered the phone with a warm and enthusiastic “hello.” I quickly realized this was going to be both a fun and inspiring conversation because Jessica, much like her photography, is full of life.
What first sparked your interest in photography?
I think it was being able to sometimes see that others couldn’t see. I loved to look at the sky and take in the colors and beauty. In Florida, the sky is always throwing you curve balls and it’s nice to just stop and take it in. With a camera you can hold that piece of time in your hand and it’s not just another moment that happened.
When did you first begin your journey behind the camera?
I was around 27, so it’s still fairly new, but once I started I was gone. Whether going out to every nature preserve or just my own backyard, I can always find something to photograph. In fact as soon as I got my camera I went straight to the backyard to see what I could find. I love the feel of colors and to see what the flowers are doing. With a camera it’s one-on-one time with nature and wildlife. It’s truly amazing what you can see when you’re watching the natural world through the lens.
When did you develop your passion for nature?
I would say when I was little. I always preferred to be outside. It’s like I was born in the wrong generation. [Laughs] I would stick dandelions in my hair instead of bows. I and the other kids would lie in the grass and look at clouds, or dig in the dirt and look at rocks. I would bring home rocks to show my parents and to them it was just a rock, but I thought they were something amazing. I’ve always been an animal lover.
Do you have a dream species you’d like to shoot?
I don’t have a dream species; everything is interesting behind the camera from the smallest crab to largest raptors. I’m not picky; just observing them is magical. Florida is nice, though, because of the range of species. I’m game for it all!
What are some of the challenges you face photographing wildlife?
Making all of the adjustments in real time: lighting, shutter speed, those kinds of things. It’s not the camera, but the person behind it … and getting your mind and camera to work as one. It’s knowing what you need to do to capture each species and fine tuning it. Landscapes are of course much easier since they’re still. It’s more about getting those framed correctly.
Is there a photographer who inspires you?
Ansel Adams, he was a photographer in the 1920s, and had the bare minimum equipment and the shots that he pulled off are amazing! He would take a picture and you’d almost feel it, whether it was a mountain or just a leaf. It’s just amazing what he could do with limited equipment; he was a dreamer too. And he was a conservationist, so he’s a huge inspiration. There aren’t a lot of photos that can make you feel the way his do.
Why do you believe it’s important to be involved with conservation?
I think it’s important because nature is the real world. It’s not social media; it’s as real as it can be. It’s important to take time to look around and observe the natural world. Florida is under major construction, we’re seeing trees wiped out and it shouldn’t be a concrete jungle. Everyone needs to take it in while we have it, and help it stay what it is. This is our one spot to live, and we need to take care of it. If we had one car we were given for the rest of our lives we’d take care of it. It’s something people need to think about because there will be many generations that reap the consequences.
Are you always in photographer mode?
Oh yeah, there’s never a time I go out without my camera. I’m super reserved and shy, but I’m constantly looking for something to shoot and have no problem pulling off the side of the road to get a good shot of flowers blowing in the wind. I’m always thinking through shots and wondering how I’m going to grab it.
Is photography your 9 to 5?
Photography is still a hobby; I haven’t pursued selling yet. The website I have is still getting hits, and I love that. There’s so much ugly in the world, it’s a nice break for people to see and enjoy. It’s a reminder there’s more to the world than ugliness.
What would you say is your “muse?”
The state of Florida has kind of become my muse, and I’m constantly hunting for that next shot. Florida is nice because of the wide variety of landscapes. I’m from up North originally, and there’s so much to take in: beaches, marshes, and refuges. I’m hitting all of it!
Lastly, do you have a mantra?
“Be fearless on the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” I’m a dreamer, so I like that. My husband is a realist so he keeps me from floating too high [laughing]. Ultimately, I believe you should follow your dreams.”
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” So here’s to the dreamers like Jessica who are making them a reality, and making the world better a place in the process.