Jerod Foster is a native son, raised on a cattle ranch in Paradise–literally. Growing up in a small town near Ft. Worth, he supplemented his undergraduate work with writing stints at various magazines and agricultural publications, which stoked his love of nature and opened the door to an interest in photography. But a single elective class changed his entire trajectory; in 2005, he registered for Special Problems in Color Photography, a course at Texas Tech University taught by Texas’ state photographer Wyman Meinzer. The class “was one of the more transformative experiences in my life,” Foster said.
As part of the summer class, Meinzer took his students to The Nature Conservancy’s Independence Creek Preserve; Foster was immediately hooked, and after several years of co-teaching with Meinzer, it was Foster alone who led the class to the desert this summer to once again visit Independence Creek. In addition to capturing the power of the Pecos River, the group of 15 students also stayed at the Conservancy’s Dolan Falls Preserve, situated at the southwestern edge of the Texas Hill Country.
In teaching what he calls an ‘editorial field class,’ Foster hopes students will understand the guiding principles of photography that have worked for him. He shared the four he considers most important:
- Immerse yourself in your subject and the surrounding context: This is Foster’s main piece of advice. “I’ve learned through the years that you have to become somewhat of a temporary expert on your subject,” he said, noting that his passions dovetail with the mission of the Conservancy. “One of the things I’m passionate about is natural conservation and the people who do it.”
- Find an interesting subject: “It could be nature, broadly speaking, or something more specific like Texas land conservation, but find something you’re passionate about and start there,” Foster advised. “Find a subject or an issue that really interests you… then let your [work] organically develop.”
- Just shoot: “You can’t just read, read, read and try to become an expert through a textbook. Find that area you’re passionate about and just get to it,” he said, suggesting budding photographers start with a basic level of knowledge and learn as they go.
- Don’t let technology override what’s important: “What we [photographers] really do is tell stories, and that’s what I try to emphasize” in class, he said, noting that even the most technically flawless image should tie into a larger narrative. “I tell my students to focus on the story—that is more important than having the most up to date gear.”
Foster called it a blessing to have had the opportunity to work with The Nature Conservancy this year, and he knows his students have benefited, too. “Working with [the Conservancy] has been a way to serve as an example for my students,” he said, adding this experience also allowed each student to become fully immersed in nature and develop “an appreciation for the land and the environment and the work that happens there.”