Photography comes naturally to Thomas D. Mangelsen |

Photography comes naturally to Thomas D. Mangelsen

Photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen's gift to capture atmospheric moods in natural scenes is apparent in "First Light - Grizzly," which was taken in front of Mount Moran at Grand Teton National Park. (Photo by Thomas D. Mangelsen)

Photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen will sometimes take up to 100,000 images during his excursions.

That’s what he did when he went to South Africa a month ago and, according to Mangelsen, clicking the shutter was the easy part.

"When you see something like a leopard chasing a gazelle and you shoot 11 frames per second, it adds up after just 10 seconds," he said during a telephone interview from his home in Moose, Wyo. "While you do have a lot of shots to choose from to make a photo, it will take me a couple of months to go through. It’s a nightmare, trust me."

So, before he makes the selections from his African trip, Mangelsen will return to his Images of Nature Gallery, 364 Main St., for a reception today, Saturday, March 9, to show his other works that were taken throughout North America and the Caribbean last year.

"Some of them are from east Canada and Denali National Park in Alaska," Mangelsen said. "I will also show works from other places that I’ve been."

In addition, the photographer will show never-before displayed scenes from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

"There will be about a dozen relatively new ones that will be in the exhibit," he said. "For every one I chose, I maybe shot a couple of thousand frames."

Mangelsen has been snapping photos of animals and nature for more than 40 years and while his work has evolved over time, his focus has remained the same.

"We all go through periods of what we want to shoot," he said. "For example, early on you will shoot photos of bears because you have never taken a photo of a bear before, and they become a snapshot record of those early days."

Single shots of bears, elk or deer have since moved out of Mangelsen’s system, and he is focusing on scenes that show animals in their environment.

"I am interested in how they live and what they’re surrounded by," he said. "I mix that up with shooting them in atmospheric moods like fog, rain or snow or the great light you get in the morning or evening."

Composing the photos is much like working as a painter, Mangelsen said.

While a painter will use tools such as pigment and brushes, Mangelsen will use moments in time, the atmospheric conditions, and his various cameras and lenses to capture scenes.

"You have to constantly think about where to position yourself," he said. "Oftentimes I will look at a heard of elk or an animal like a lion or bear and have to rely on the direction they are heading and how to maximize the background and light.

"For example, do I want the animals back lit, front lit or side lit?" he said. "I tend not to take front lit photos with the sun at my back, which is the Kodak school of thought. Although that’s a good starting point, it gets boring after a while, because beautiful sunny days tend to become flat light in the photos. I’d rather have moody light, fog or rain."

However, once Mangelsen positions himself in the right area, he’s limited to what he can do.

"The challenge is trying to get more of a sense of the environment of the habitat of where the animal lives and convey that to the viewer," he said. "But that’s what makes it fun and sporting and keeps me out there."

Mangelsen still looks for different animals he’s never photographed before to keep things fresh.

"I recently shot a caracal, which is also known as a desert lynx," he said. "I had never seen one of those before. So, I shot a photo of it."

Mangelsen usually works with four camera bodies that will use two lenses apiece.

"I’m probably one of the least technical photographers that you will meet, but I know my equipment well in the sense that while I use the top-of-the-line Nikons, I don’t use half the stuff that they feature," he said with a laugh. "But I know what works with what I want in my old age."

While he enjoyed working with film throughout his career, he said taking digital photos has helped his craft as well as his peace of mind.

"I have printers in Phoenix and in Salt Lake that I send my digital files to," he said. "Before, I had to send my original photos, which freaked me out, because there was always a possibility that they would get scratched or destroyed in the process.

"So, one of the big advantages of working digital is that you can send a file and the printer can make a master print or a half a dozen test prints for me to review," Mangelsen said. "The process is more streamlined, but in some ways it’s more complicated. But we’re not dragging around 500 to 1,000 rolls of film to Kenya anymore. We just have to take hard drives and a lot of (digital) cards."

So far, Mangelsen has published three books of his photography, which will be available at his reception on March 9, and is currently working on two more.

"The first is about grizzly bears, and I’m deciding whether or not to do another book that will be about my work from the past 20 years," he said. "That one is a little further down the road, but I want to get the bear book out this next year."

The photographer is looking forward to his return to Park City.

"It’s a great town and I have a lot of friends there that I have made in the past 23 years," he said. "I enjoy going down there to the gallery."

Images of Nature Gallery, 364 Main St., will host a free artist reception that is open to the public for photographer Thomas Mangelsen on Saturday, March 9, from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, visit =

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