Nature up close: A career shooting outdoors

Videographer Doug Jensen at Grand Teton National Park.

Doug Jensen

By "Sunday Morning" contributing videographer Judy Lehmberg.

It is fitting that the subject of this week's Moment in Nature is beavers. Just like the man who filmed them, beavers are super-hard workers. They are either cutting down trees, repairing their dams or maintaining their lodges, while Doug Jensen (who filmed these beavers) is either filming, editing, or teaching others the crafts he has so thoroughly mastered.

That type of mastery takes time, and Jensen has certainly put in that time with passion and enthusiasm.

Jensen was born in Salt Lake City but grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Photography grabbed his attention from an early age while he shot for his school newspaper and yearbook. He became so passionate about it he and his brother built a darkroom for processing black and white photographs in their parent's basement.

At Brigham Young University (where he began majoring in film), he quickly realized he should take advantage of the two tracks the university's film department offered: film and broadcasting. The film courses delved deep into the theory of production with very little hands-on experience; the television broadcasting track was just the opposite. With very little prior knowledge Jensen was handed an expensive camera and told to go "shoot something." So he did.

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Videographer Doug Jensen.

Doug Jensen

He was the first person to combine the two programs. He worked on every film and television production that would have him.  When he wasn't in class he basically lived at the studios, watching and learning. By the end of his freshman year his enthusiasm for everything film was noticed, and he was hired by KBYU, the local PBS television station, to manage student crews as well as coordinate multiple sports and news productions. That position felt strange for a 19-year-old, who was suddenly in charge of seniors about to graduate.

On weekends he shot highlights of campus sporting events, which meant he had a van full of broadcast TV cameras at his disposal. He took full advantage of that unique opportunity to shoot as much as he could, including non-collegiate sports, wildlife, natural scenics, and anything else that caught his fancy. That is where he learned his skills. You can't learn how to shoot in a classroom; you have to get out and do it. Malcolm Gladwell postulates in his book "Outliers: The Story of Success," that it takes 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" to become proficient in any field. Jensen got a good chunk of those 10,000 hours during his years at BYU, even though he graduated in three years.

After graduation he began working as a freelance shooter on documentaries and other productions. The mid-'80s were a boom time for non-broadcast video production because VHS distribution was gaining traction with businesses and consumers.  Jensen recognized a huge untapped market for affordable corporate, government, and educational production work and he quickly figured out how to be a part of it. He formed his own production company that focused primarily on training and promotional videos for businesses and various state and federal government agencies. He could be his own boss and exercise full creative control over all aspects of the production, but while his production company experienced excellent growth, after a few years he realized he was spending more time running the business and had very little time to do the fun stuff, such as shooting and editing.

In 1998 Jensen sold his production company in Utah and moved to New England to start over fresh with no employees.  For about several years he was strictly a freelance broadcast shooter who owned his own gear. Today he devotes his time to producing instructional videos and writing field guide books for professional television cameras and DSLRs. He also works with Sony evaluating new cameras, teaching training seminars around the world, and working for them at tradeshows, as well as teaching cinematography classes at Maine Media Workshops and conducting private classes for corporate clients and broadcasters.

One of the best things about producing a new instructional video every few months is that he gets to shoot a ton of video with each new camera. And what better subjects are there to shoot than wildlife, nature, and beautiful landscapes? In the past decade he has re-discovered his passion for that type of shooting, especially since HD and 4K cameras are now readily available.

Today he and his wife spend several months a year traveling to some of their favorite wild places, including Yellowstone National Park, Arches National Park, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and lakes and ponds in Massachusetts, where he filmed the beavers we saw this week.

If you would like to look at more of Doug Jensen's work visit his websites:

Judy Lehmberg is a former college biology teacher who now shoots nature videos.

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