Q&A: Finding His Own Way to Photograph Wildlife

Courtesy of Jamison Lundgren

We're sponsoring a wildlife photography contest, and one recent entrant isn't letting his disability slow him down.

The contest, co-sponsored with Arizona Wildlife Views (an Arizona Game and Fish Department publication), has an August 1 deadline, so you've got plenty of time to enter your photos of Arizona's animals. Jamison Lundgren did just that a few weeks ago. Lundgren has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle-wasting disease, and has had to adapt his love of photography to fit his condition.

Lundgren says his ventilator can make him hard to understand on the phone, so we asked him a few questions via email. (Interview has been edited and condensed.)

Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm 25 and going to be turning 26 in August. I was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when I was 3 1/2 years old, but I've been in a wheelchair since age 8. I'm basically immobile, and I require a ventilator 24 hours a day to help me breathe. I depend on machines to help me do everything that any "able-bodied" person can do.

My family and I have been very creative in engineering, researching and inventing/modifying necessary equipment. For example, I don't have a trach [tube] for breathing; I use a custom mouthpiece instead. To drive my wheelchair, I used to use a modified Playstation 2 controller. But my thumb got too weak, so I use an isometric eraser switch (like a trackpoint mouse from an old laptop). With it, I am able to drive my wheelchair, operate my computer and operate my camera.

When and how did you get into photography?
Last Christmas, we were looking into getting a digital spotting scope that we could modify so I could operate it independently and view the wildlife/scenery at our rural home in New River. We found out that the new DSLR cameras with telephoto were a better option, because they could be controlled by my computer through a tether. So, I got a Nikon D3300 and downloaded a free program, Digicamcontrol, and I got hooked on shooting pictures.  

Then, after four months and 1,200 pictures, I went to a Game and Fish expo at the Ben Avery Shooting Range. I found out about the wildlife photo contest, I acquired an even stronger telephoto lens, and I started getting more serious about taking pictures.

Is wildlife your favorite thing to photograph? What do you enjoy about that subject in particular?
I've found that I really enjoy capturing the wildlife. It takes a lot of patience — kind of like fishing (we make a motorized fishing reel out of a rechargeable screwdriver), but it is rewarding when I catch a unique shot. Taking pictures of wildlife is also very challenging. The pics I have entered are not posed, and the animals are in their natural habitat.

What other tools do you use to make it possible to do photography with your disability?
My electric wheelchair has tilt and recline, so I am able to aim my camera, which is mounted via a modified monopod. I have my mini laptop/tablet mounted on the chair as well.

Are you able to get “off-road” and make it to places that might not be all that accessible when you’re photographing?
I am limited by where I can maneuver my wheelchair. Some trails are a little rough, so my folks modified a wheelchair seat and mounted it in a Yukon 4x4, so I can access off-road Arizona. We even have come up with a concept of a wheelchair seat system mounted to a burro cart with a single wheel, like the big-wheel rescue stretcher for mountain rescue. Then I could go anywhere, including narrow trails, to take pictures.

Besides photography, what else do you do?
I enjoy riding our adapted pontoon on Arizona lakes like Saguaro and Pleasant. I got a few nice burro shots there. 

When we moved to Arizona from Northern Minnesota 15 years ago, I discovered an adaptive wheelchair sport called Power Soccer — a nationwide league sport for power-wheelchair-bound athletes. Through this sport I have met dozens of friends (in wheelchairs) with a variety of conditions/disabilities. We all have in common the desire to make the most of our abilities and enjoy being a part of a team.

What would you say to others in your situation who want to do what you're doing?
Through my interactions with others with physical challenges, we are always sharing ideas and helping others. That is why I sent you the picture of me (taken by my sister). Maybe there is someone who thinks they can't — well, I say you can. Philippians 4:13 — "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."


How exciting! What skill and talent has gone into adapting your appliances to make them work for your passion of photography! Way to Go!

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