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click to enlargeLon Lauber of Wasilla, Alaska is a well-known, fulltime outdoor writer and photographer

Question: How long have you been an outdoor writer?
Answer: I've been freelancing full time for 15 years. Before I started outdoor writing, I was a U.S. Navy photographer and journalist for 8 years.

Question: Why did you decide to go into freelancing?
Answer: I didn't like being in a big organization like the Navy where my realm of influence was so small. I wanted to have more control of my career and be in charge of my own destiny.

Question: How did you start freelancing?
Answer: I lived on Adak Island in the Lucian chain of Alaska when I was a Navy photographer. I started photographing wildlife and making photographic prints, calendars, notecards and postcards. The market in Alaska was a microcosm of the United States because everybody on Adak Island was from somewhere else. The real diverse population turned over quickly, and I learned how to sell photos and market on the local level. I moved from Adak to Wasilla, Alaska, in 1991. I started writing to supplement my photos sales.

Question: How did you break into the writing business?
Answer: Even though I had already been freelancing for several years, I wanted to expand. Since I grew up hunting, I had a large photo file of hunting images. I started writing stories about my outdoor adventures in Alaska and combined my photography with my stories. Lamar Underwood at Harris Publications was one of the people who helped me get started.

Question: Who was your mentor?
Answer: I've been really lucky with all of the people who have helped me out. John Phillips and Bob Robb helped with the writing aspect of freelancing, while I also talked to several photographers. I think sharing knowledge and information with new people and helping them out is so important. I have had a lot of people take me under their wings and help me, so I've tried to do the same for others.

Question: How important is having a mentor for writers?
Answer: Mentors are really important because without one, you end up trying to re-invent the wheel. You'll spend a lot of time trying to learn something that so many people have already learned. If a writer is willing to share that information, it's tremendous. I think one of the smartest things I did was joining the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). Although I live in Alaska, the OWAA helped expand my network tremendously.

Question: How important is photography to a writer?
Answer: Good pictures are indispensable. An editor can re-work a fair story, but he can't go back and re-shoot the pictures. So, if you shoot clean images that are well-exposed and in sharp focus, they will help sell your photo/story packages. That's one of the things that has helped me. I shoot strong photos, and they help carry my stories.

Question: How would you tell a young writer to shoot the kind of photography that's featured in magazines?
Answer: Buy the best quality equipment, and spend money on the lenses. Get the quality glass first and not be concerned with a fancy camera body, at least initially. The quality of the glass takes the picture, while the camera body just transfers the film. So, using good equipment, not being afraid to burn film and then editing it ruthlessly are all trademarks of a successful photographer. Burning film means not being afraid to take several pictures of each setup. When you're given a scenario, try to take as many shots from as many different angles as you can figure out. Expose the film differently so that you have lighter and darker slides from which to choose. Then you can be really selective when you edit the pictures.

Question: If you have a hunter and a deer and have time to shoot photos for a magazine, how many pictures will you take of that scenario?
Answer: I'll shoot several rolls of film, especially if it's a respectable species, for instance, a decent and mature clean buck. I like to shoot low, wide-angle shots to make the animal look bigger and give it more presence -- holding its head up alert and showing different poses. Then you can go through and edit those shots.

Question: When you say several rolls of film, how many is that?
Answer: Six or 8 to 30 rolls a day when I'm shooting pictures, depending on the subject matter. After 24 years of being a professional photographer, I've learned that there are certain scenarios or scenes that sell better than others. When I see something that works, I'll burn up film. When I was younger, I would shoot only one roll and then develop them and later wish that I had more to choose from. A key to success is critical mass, which is having enough photographs of enough different subjects and various markets to sell them to so that you have a steady trickle of sales and money coming in from them.

Question: What do you mean when you say, "edit ruthlessly?"
Answer: I think you have to divorce yourself from your work to get the best photographic results. Sometimes your efforts don't equal the results you need, and you just have to accept the fact that the picture hasn't turned out the way you've hoped it will.

Question: How many pictures will you probably use out of 36 rolls of film?
Answer: Normally, if I'm doing hunter setup pictures, I probably will keep 25 to 30 of them. If I'm photographing wildlife, I may only keep half of that number. Or, if I shoot wildlife in action, I may only use a couple out of a whole roll.

Question: How did you get your writing business started?
Answer: I went to Syracuse University and studied photo journalism so I had some basic experience. Then, I wrote for newspapers when I was a Navy photographer. I'd grown up as a hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman. So, to start writing for a hunting magazine was a natural transaction. My specialty is bowhunting, and I think what works best for me is writing what I know and what I love.

Question: How many articles do you produce a year?
Answer: That number varies, because most of my income is derived from my photography. Writing and pro-staff sponsorship is also a lower percentage of my income. I may produce 20 to 50 stories a year.

Question: What advice would you give a young writer?
Answer: I suggest that they study the magazines and see how the stories and photos are formulated. Look at how the writers in those magazines write the stories, as well as pay attention to the kinds of stories and pictures the magazines include.