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Best of ASMP 2008

Renowned photographer Art Wolfe brings three decades of globe-trotting experience to his public television series Travels to the Edge. Leading a four-man crew on filming expeditions of up to two weeks per episode, Wolfe and his team capture an unscripted, over-the-shoulder and through-the-lens experience of nature, culture and wildlife. Wolfe’s message of conservation is artfully woven into every segment to result in a show that educates the public while being an inspirational viewing experience.

Art Wolfe — Seattle, WA

Web site:

Project: Award-winning public television show Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe.

© Art Wolfe
All images in this article © Art Wolfe


© Art Wolfe

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

AW: 28 years

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

AW: Since 1990

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

AW: Landscapes, wildlife, cultures worldwide.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

AW: For much of this particular shoot in Baja, Mexico, I was using a Canon 5D in a Seacam housing. However, this shot of the fin whale was photographed with a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM + 2.0x, f/8 @ 1/400 sec, ISO 800, & polarizer.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

AW: After my Canon-EOS 1Ds Mark III, my Gitzo 3540LS tripod

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: What is unique about your style and approach, or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

AW: Unlike many nature photographers, my background is in fine art and education, not biology or commercial photography. Many would call me idealistic, even romantic, as I choose to shoot what is beautiful in the world, to reveal what we treasure and are perilously close to losing.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: What were your early inspirations that lead you to pursue a career in nature photography?

AW: Both my parents were photographers. But really it was growing up in the Pacific Northwest, amidst its stunning landscapes of water, mountains and trees, that led me to become first an artist, then a photographer.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: Is Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge your first experience with television production and hosting? What was foremost in your mind in your decision to do this?

AW: In the early ’90s, I worked on ESPN’s American Photo’s Safari as well as a local Emmy-winning production with the Seattle station KIRO TV. I also have done a couple of instructional videos. My main motivation for doing Travels to the Edge was simple: after 9/11 I wanted to inspire people to get out and see the world.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: What has been the most unexpected or surprising aspect of this project?

AW: Marrying two media together successfully.

ASMP: Describe the initial concept for the tone and style of the show. Has this concept and style changed over time?

AW: The show was meant to be an over-the-shoulder and through-the-lens experience for travel, photographic, and nature enthusiasts. Because of the diverse locations, every show has a different pace and focus.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: Who are the producers, distributors and broadcasters for the series, and how did the partnerships come about?

AW: Blue Moon Productions, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) and American Public Television (APT). Prior research indicated OPB had a very successful model of working with APT.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: How much input and control do you have over the content of each episode? Was this specifically negotiated at the outset and, if so, were there any particular strategies you found helpful to successful negotiation?

AW: I choose the locations for all the episodes, and this was specifically negotiated at the outset. My strategy was quite simple: I am a photographer bringing to the table three decades of work, and its attendant contacts and experience, as well as an established brand. This isn’t to say it was easy, though!

ASMP: When picking a subject for each episode, what criteria are most important?

AW: Strong photographic elements that are unusual yet accessible.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: Describe the production process. How much time is devoted to script development and planning, and how many days are scheduled for each subject? What is the size of the crew when shooting?

AW: This is not a scripted show. I discovered early in the process that I do my best work in the moment. However, I do not go into a location cold; many places I have been to at least once, if not multiple times, and there is a lot of research done to provide me with additional background.

There are 10 - 14 days of travel per episode and the crew numbers four, including me.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: In doing this show, what are the biggest challenges that you deal with on a regular basis?

AW: Access, visas, permitting, Mother Nature and, recently, politics (election unrest in Mongolia), as well as working with the team to get the creative best from everyone.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: Do issues of access or concern for the native populations and environment come into play during the planning and production of the series? If so, how are these issues addressed and resolved?

AW: We are a low-impact group, small and agile. We are always working with researchers and representatives as well as organizations and embassies on the ground, in-country as well as in the US, to make sure everything is in order.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: What skills and techniques learned from photographing wildlife, landscapes and native cultures have you used to solve problems in your television production work? Are there particular skills you’ve learned from television production that are useful to apply in your still photography?

AW: When photographing people, we spend a good portion of the day interacting before getting down to shooting the actual segment. As for wildlife and landscapes, it is all about being in the right place at the right time. We work very hard on our homework to make sure our travel time is utilized to the fullest.

Certain techniques are not exclusive to either medium; however, one thing that has surprised me is the effective use of time lapse photography. You would think with video that this wouldn’t be an appealing feature, but it works very well.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: Is there a particular message about the environment you are seeking to convey as part of your work on this TV series? Do you feel this message is conveyed differently using TV rather than stills? Please elaborate.

AW: It is simple: conservation, conservation, conservation. But we work hard to make it a positive experience for everyone, especially the viewer. I have no desire to spout doom and gloom about the environment — nothing turns people off faster — but we try to artfully weave it into the context of the show.

© Art Wolfe

ASMP: Do you have any favorite locations or shows from the episodes you’ve filmed so far? Where in the world would you like to take this show next?

AW: Every show is a favorite. They all remind me of a great time that I want to share with viewers, and happily there is no shortage of locations.

© Art Wolfe