Capturing and Sharing the Moment—An Interview with Filmmaker Roger Fishman
BY Zacc Dukowitz27 February 2020
Roger Fishman is an artist who works primarily in photography and video.
He’s had a long, successful career that includes work in corporate marketing and running his own production consulting company. In the last several years Roger has turned his creative energies toward wildlife photography and videography, creating an impressive portfolio of work showcasing nature around the world.
His art stands out for its unique vision and its ability to show us things in a way that feels new and fresh. The word awe comes to mind when thinking of ways to describe his work—check out the videos and images we’ve included in this article, and you’ll see what we mean.
A key tool in Roger’s kit are his drones, and he uses them to get surprising, often incredible aerial shots—like the ones featured in this video:
We wanted to talk to Roger to learn more about how he started his work filming and photographing nature, how he got into drones, and to hear what advice he has to share with young photographers and videographers out there who are just getting started.
You support yourself full-time as a photographer/videographer doing projects you create. How did you get here?
I grew up poor in a broken family. This meant that, as an adult, when I started working my first concern was financial security, which led to me starting a career in corporate America.
At first I worked in marketing, creating ideas that could be used for big brands and doing marketing for media and entertainment companies.
But I’ve always been interested in more creative pursuits. I remember that at some point when I was young my mother and father had cameras, and I was struck by the idea that, through the camera, there are completely different ways to see and feel your entire life.
At a young age I was indirectly taught about not just seeing the physical aspect of a subject being photographed, but also about being aware of the experiential aspect of that subject.
So I always had some of that in the back of my mind while I was doing my corporate work. After working for ten well-known and respected companies, I decided to bet on myself, and started my own production and consulting business.
I ran that business for some time. Eventually I ended up going to Africa, where I discovered the wildlife in Botswana. And that trip really changed things—I felt like I was really getting to see and feel our planet both as it was and as it currently is. The experience was powerful.
After that I wanted to learn how to capture that experience, that feeling, and share it so that other people could also experience it, even if they couldn’t travel or didn’t want to travel. And that’s where my passion for shooting nature really started.
Since then I’ve been doing projects in nature, trying to see what I shoot in different, creative ways each time I go out.
Check out this video Roger released recently with footage he shot on a trip to Greenland:
What inspires you?
To me, creativity is all about sharing an experience. Sharing a feeling, sharing a moment in time.
And when I shoot nature I feel like I’m contributing to a biography of planet earth, which will long outlive me.
What I love to do more than anything is to share, because when you share, you connect with people. And when you connect with people, you create relationships and then you get to learn from each other, you get to bond with each other and hopefully inspire each other.
We have very short lives. Our time on this planet is very short. But I believe that through sharing and inspiring each other, our impact can be eternal.
[Just getting started with drone photography? Check out our Drone Photography Guide for some pointers.]
How did you first get into using drones in your work?
Several years back Brookstone had a camera drone it was selling for about $200, and I was intrigued when I learned about it.
At this point I was already working for myself doing photography and videography. So I bought one of these drones, took it home, and did what a lot of people do—ignored the instructions, started flying immediately, and flew it straight into the pool.
I went back and bought another one. This time I read the instructions, but again, as soon as I took off, boom—straight into the pool.
So I got a third one of these drones. This one lasted a little longer, but eventually it also ended up in the pool.
But it didn’t matter. I was totally hooked, and all the crashes just made me committed to really learning how to fly well.
I started practicing every day. I really wanted to get good so I could capture aerial shots and make drones part of my repertoire.
A few years later, after I’d put in well over 500 flights, I knew I’d finally arrived as a pilot on a trip to Greenland.
On the trip, I was stuck flying my friend Bo’s DJI Phantom 4 Pro for a month because we had crashed mine. Bo is from China, so all the instructions, the controller, all the voice communication, everything on the drone was in Mandarin.
But because of all the time I put into practicing, I knew exactly how to use the controller, how to navigate things, and I was able to fly the drone just fine.
What kinds of drones do you fly?
Right now I’m using the Mavic 2 Pro.
You’ve made some incredible videos featuring aerial footage from Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica. Given that these are some of the coldest, harshest places in the world, what challenges did you face shooting there?
I have found that my drones fly fantastic in cold weather. I really haven’t had any battery issues whatsoever.
The only cold-related issue I’ve faced is that I like to fly without gloves so I can feel the controller, and this can be really hard to do in cold weather. Even with the fingertips cut off of a glove, you get numb.
Another challenge I’ve run into in those places is taking off and landing on a boat. When you’re dealing with pitch and yaw and trying to catch a drone or land it, being on a boat is really difficult.
How do you prepare for your expeditions?
Before I go on a trip, one of the most important things to me is to think not just about what I want to capture, but how I want to capture it.
So sure, I’ll make a rough shot list. But I spend a lot of time thinking about the visual, and what story-telling technique I want to use this time that’s different from what I’ve done before.
After I have that clear, the rest is somewhat up to chance.
Of course, there are shots you want to get, and you need to be prepared to shoot. But expeditions are all about the possibilities, not the probabilities—I like to say, I wonder while I wander, looking for something that could only be captured in that one, unique moment. Something that you couldn’t have planned.
For example, last year we got pictures of narwhals on two separate occasions, totally by accident. We weren’t even supposed to be where we were when we got those pictures. It just happened to be that way.
Photo credit: Roger Fishman
When I’m just wandering around, open to possibilities, that’s when it seems like Mother Earth opens a treasure chest and gives me her best surprises.
What’s one lesson you can share from all your time flying?
If you go for a shot and you get it, bring the drone back.
I was in Antarctica, flying through this incredible arch in an iceberg. It was a very small hole and it was probably a kilometer away from me.
I got the shot, but then I got a little too excited, and I decided to fly backwards through the same hole. Long story short, the battery ran out and the drone ended up at the bottom of the sea.
So if you complete the mission don’t try for more—bring the drone back.
What advice would you give to amateur photographers/videographers out there who are looking to start their own business/support themselves?
First, create whatever really moves your soul.
No, it’s not easy to make a living always doing what you want, but it’s your life, so do what’s most important to you.
Second, find your people.
By this I mean both your potential buyers and also those who do work similar to yours who might want to work with you. Don’t just think about individuals, but also outlets where you might be able to sell your work. As you find these people and outlets, network like crazy with them and make connections all along the way.
Third, think about how to monetize your work before you do it.
If you’re going to go shoot something, whether it’s photographically or video journal-wise, it’s good to have an idea in advance of where that work might be relevant. Make sure to contact those people well before you shoot to let them know what you’re doing so they can provide input that might help make what you produce something they would actually pay for when you’re done.
For example, I collaborate with five or six different scientists. Before going on an expedition I talk to them and see if there might be an intersection between what they’re looking for and what I’m going to shoot. By collecting this information in advance, I can set myself up to do work on a trip that people might be interested in buying when I get back home.
Fourth, be yourself, but be different.
Being different will help you create art you believe in while also helping you support yourself financially. You might be shooting the same place as 1,000 other people, but how are you going to shoot it differently?
I would say photographically, and drone-wise, I’m not the first person to go to Iceland and shoot from the sky, with a drone or otherwise, but I study what other people do and then I want to do something that’s both true to me and different from everybody else.
You’ve done several incredible wildlife projects all over the world. Is this work all commissioned, or how do you find funding?
I fund all of my own projects out of pocket and then sell the work produced from them to cover expenses and make an income.
I believe that, as a creative, it’s important to bet on yourself and own everything you do. If you pay for your work upfront, you own it, and you own any profit that comes from it.
Now, when it comes to thinking about these projects and supporting them, I look at them on two different levels.
First, I look at the projects from an enjoyment perspective and as a creative outlet for me. I ask myself, is this something I want to do? And is this something that will create a unique and memorable experience?
Second, I look at them from a financial perspective. How much is this going to cost me, and how can I make money off of what I’ll produce from the trip?
One way I make money from my trips is by selling my images. (I sell them in three different sizes, and they’re each limited edition of 18).
Sometimes it works out great. Sometimes it’s slower than I expected, but usually the money does come if the work is spectacular and one of a kind.
One thing I’ve found is that if you make something truly unique, something really different that will never be seen again because the moment you’re filming or photographing won’t exist in that exact way ever again, then it will eventually find an audience and a market.
You may not sell that video or image right away, but you will eventually, because it’s the only thing like it in the world. People are drawn to that.
I’m heading to Namibia this week and I’ll be taking my drones with me. Stay tuned for more!
Want to see more of Roger’s amazing work? Here you go:
Did you learn something from reading this interview, or get inspired to go shoot outside? Hop into this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to let us know.