Merrimack Valley Life

WILD times in the backyard!

He’s traveled the globe, but photog Liffmann loves to focus on Arlington Pond


International wildlife photographer Steven Liffmann poses at his Arlington Pond home with his most popular model – his dog Lenny, a Cavapoo (a King Charles Cavalier and poodle mix). Salem Life photo by Alison Colby-Campbell

International wildlife photographer Steven Liffmann poses at his Arlington Pond home with his most popular model – his dog Lenny, a Cavapoo (a King Charles Cavalier and poodle mix). Salem Life photo by Alison Colby-Campbell

Steven Liffmann reignited his interest in photography when he moved to the shores of Arlington Pond 10 years ago, witnessing all different types of local and migratory wildlife in his yard. Since then, he’s traveled the world – freeze-framing a zoo’s worth of wild animals in their natural habitats.

He’s been to places including Costa Rica, Peru, Belize, Mexico and Canada. An African safari stands out in his mind as a once-in-a-lifetime experience where “every minute of every day was filled with adventure and animals and birds.”

He photographed more than 40 animals there, including a group of lions he encountered first thing one morning.

“(We) came across two large females the locals refer to as ‘the Supermodels’ and their 4 cubs. We were within 20 feet of them as they played, ate and snuggled with each other,” Liffmann recalls. “As the sun rose, it cast a golden glow on the lions. It was magical. Some of my favorite photos were from those first few hours on safari.”

A bluebird taking a bath in Salem won the international grand prize in the 2016 BirdSpotter contest held by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch. Courtesy photo

A bluebird taking a bath in Salem won the international grand prize in the 2016 BirdSpotter contest held by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch. Courtesy photo

Yet, his own backyard on quiet Arlington Pond continues.

“Wildlife photography for me started out with the goal of seeing the up-close details of things that were right under my nose that I never took the time to notice, or just couldn’t get close enough to see. With the 500mm and 600mm lenses of today, I’m able to not only see those details myself but to also share them for others to enjoy,” he said.

Liffmann has won many photography awards with images he has gathered from around the world, and yet considers himself a photography hobbyist, albeit a very talented and passionate hobbyist. His skills were developed over a lifetime and were strongly influenced by his father. His dad was a photography enthusiast, as well, who always had a darkroom in the house to develop film.

Liffmann moved to Arlington Pond after his youngest son went off to college. Salem offers many opportunities for nature photographers, even those who do not have the good fortune to have a lake in their backyard, he says. For people starting out, Liffmann suggests visiting cemeteries, ponds, streams and marsh areas that are teeming with wildlife activity, especially during the spring when nesting and migratory birds are prevalent. He’s traveled the world with a goal of preserving images of wildlife.

Encountering a lion pride and seeing this young male at dawn made Liffmann's Africa trip “magical.” Courtesy photo

Encountering a lion pride and seeing this young male at dawn made Liffmann’s Africa trip “magical.” Courtesy photo

“If not for the pandemic, we would have gone to Alaska this year. But of course, most of my time I am out taking photographs in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I’ve had countless great experiences. It’s always a thrill to spend time with owls and eagles. It’s hard to explain until you experience it, but having the privilege to see these majestic creatures surviving and thriving in a world with shrinking habitat is something I try not to take for granted.

“My first big trip was Costa Rica. It was before I had a Digital SLR, and I only went with cheap binoculars and a pocket digital camera. I came home with good photos, but I knew right then I needed to upgrade my equipment and that this was a hobby that I would become passionate about,” he said. “I actually won a photo contest from the travel agency we used to book the trip to Costa Rica with a picture of a sloth. I also met a great birding guide there who has become a good friend. He spent several months in Massachusetts last year. It was great to be able to take him to see our local birding spots.”

A loon in Salem looked especially dapper when sporting its mating plumage. Courtesy photo

A loon in Salem looked especially dapper when sporting its mating plumage. Courtesy photo

Steven says that the advent of digital photography and high-quality cell phone cameras make it easier to start up the new pastime, even for children. There aren’t the restrictions of 24 or 36 images on a roll of fragile film. Mistaken shots aren’t a waste of time or money; they are learning experiences. Sometimes the shot you thought was a mistake was better than you could have expected.

“One phenomenon that happens as a photographer is that you connect emotionally to each photo. You remember the experience, the memory. Where you were, what was happening, etc. In wildlife photography, there is always added excitement if it is the first time you are seeing a new bird or new animal. For these reasons, my own photos become special to me. These experiences don’t always translate to someone who is just viewing a picture. As a result, a photo that I like because of the emotion it invokes in me doesn’t mean others will like it as much.

Liffmann tries to capture animals and pets alike when they are looking at the camera. Courtesy photo

Liffmann tries to capture animals and pets alike when they are looking at the camera. Courtesy photo

“I have an extensive catalog with tens of thousands of photographs. I tag every photo so I can search and find it easily. I actually went back and scanned almost all of my photo prints and tagged them. I put them online so that my kids have access to them. Previously, they were locked up in a closet where no one could see them. I think photos are to be shared. Photos can represent memories or beauty or emotions.”

View more of Liffmann’s photography on Facebook at SteveLiffmannPhotography or on flickr.com/photos/sliffmann.

LIFFMANN’S NATURE-PHOTO TIPS

Liffmann's ability to catch the gaze of wild animals makes for a powerful image, like this one of a Chacma Baboon. Courtesy photo

Liffmann’s ability to catch the gaze of wild animals makes for a powerful image, like this one of a Chacma Baboon. Courtesy photo

Whether you’re using a cell phone or a top-notch camera, Salem photographer Steven Liffmann says just get out there and shoot! Here are some of his tips for nature photography:

* Seek feedback through competitions like online sites Pixoto, Photocrowd, Gurushots
and Viewbug. “Feedback is a gift. … It encourages me to be more critical of my photos
and see them through the eyes of other people,” he said.
* Take lots of pictures. While birding in Peru, he “took 3,788 pictures. I edited 304 so
roughly 8% of my photos were keepers.”
* Be patient and open to opportunities. “Sit still in one spot and return to that spot. Birds,
in particular, have strong habits. Some return to the same nest every year.”
* Know your subjects. “Study the behavior of the bird or animal. By doing this, you can
anticipate their actions and you can be ready to grab those fun action shots. Did you
know owls and eagles usually poop before they fly?”

* Catch the animal looking at you. “I typically look for the shot where I have the best eye
contact between the bird/animal and the viewer.”
* Don’t disturb wildlife. Being disrespectful of nature or the animals can interrupt a bird’s
nesting or eating patterns.
* Look for a hospitable environment for animals. Liffmann sets up perching branches in
front of his bird feeders, placing them near a window in his house.
* Learn from others. “Bird Watchers of New Hampshire” is a good Facebook page for New
Hampshire residents, he said.
* Set goals, but don’t get discouraged. “I really want to photograph a moose and that just
hasn’t happened in all my years taking pictures.” He’s even driven through Moose Alley,
spanning Route 3 between Pittsburg and the Canadian border. It is one of the most likely
places in New Hampshire to encounter a moose.
* Hire a local guide if you are photographing in an unfamiliar place.

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