Missouri conservation photographer visits UCM

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Paothong, a photographer for the Missouri Department of Conservation, gives a presentation about his book “Save the Last Dance: A Story of North American Grassland Grouse,” to UCM students Monday. (Photo by ANDREW MATHER, Photo Editor)

Story by Andy Lyons, News Editor—
Students in the photography forum classes received a presentation from one of the photographers from the Missouri Department of Conservation on Monday.
Noppadol Paothong has worked for the Department of Conservation for seven years.
His presentation was based on his book, “Save the Last Dance:  A Story of North American Grassland Grouse.”
He contributed all the photos and field notes, while the story was written by author Joel Vance, also of the Department of Conservation.
Paothong worked on the project for 11 years; it included traveling across 14 states and more than 70,000 miles on the road.
The book, which includes more than 200 of Paothong’s photos, displays seven grouse species whose populations are diminishing across the grasslands of America, and one species that has already lost its battle for survival.
Paothong spoke on how he photographed three prairie chickens in 2001 near Golden City, Mo. Then in 2004, he expanded outside of the state to capture photos of the other species of grouse.
Since the populations of grouse are dwindling, he had to wait as long as five years for permission from different conservation agencies to take his photos.
During a brief video portion of the presentation, Paothong showed a work day that started at 4:33 a.m., carrying more than 45 pounds of gear through the dark to his blind.
He can audibly be heard saying in the video,“thank God for my GPS.” The video then jumps to 5:40 a.m., when he finally begins snapping pictures of grouse.
He could only take pictures for four hours before the birds moved on.
Paothong started as a photojournalist working for newspapers such as the Joplin Globe and the Springfield News-Leader.
He said that in order to break into the workforce, student photographers should maintain a good work ethic and be persistent.
With technology, he suggests learning about the latest and newest products to stay with the curve.
“Especially with technology it’s a changing job.  Taking pictures and editing is a lot of trial and error. I’m always in learning mode,” he said. “With the book (“Save the Last Dance”) I took millions of pictures. I had to cut them to around 40,000 and then cut again to about 200 that are actually in the book.”
As a wildlife photographer, Paothong studies up on the biology and ecology of the areas and types of animals he’ll be photographing.
He says he feels almost like a hunter with his camera.
He uses a blind depending on what he’s shooting.
For assignments, sometimes he’ll get something specific or a photo essay.
“When I’m taking pictures, I always look for something fresh.  Don’t think, just photograph,” he said.