The Woodward News

Local News

April 28, 2013

Wildlife photography a passion for Wilberforce

Woodward, Okla. — The art gallery at the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum is currently featuring the wildlife photography of Dick Wilberforce of Canadian, Texas.

The exhibit, titled "God's Critters," will be on display at the museum through May 16.

Wilberforce's photography career sprang from an entirely different career.

"I started out many, many years ago when I was a dog trainer," he said.  "I would take the dog for 90 days and almost always within the first 30 days the owner would want a picture of their dog."

So he would take a quick snapshot of the dogs to send back home as he continued training the dogs to become sporting dogs or working dogs.

But Wilberforce said he noticed that some of his pictures weren't turning out so great, especially when it came to all black dogs.

"They came out looking like big black spots," he said.

And he wasn't the only one who noticed.  "My wife said I ought to learn how to take a real photograph," he said.

That's what he did and he has capturing amazing wildlife portraits ever since.

The photographs currently on display at the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum (PIPM) are just a small sampling of Wilberforce's decades-long catalogue of work.

Nevertheless they each show his tremendous appreciation of and respect for wildlife and the natural wonders around us.

One wall of the gallery is almost exclusively dedicated to photographs of the Lesser Prairie Chicken.

"I've been working with prairie chickens for 50 or so years," Wilberforce said.

His passion for the now rare prairie birds stems from the important role they used to play for past generations.

"He (the prairie chicken) meant so much to the Redman and the settlers.  He helped to make the west by providing food, both he and the buffalo," Wilberforce said, noting "At one time we had millions of prairie chickens in this area."

And while he may "specialize in quail, pheasants and prairie chickens," Wilberforce said that his favorite animal to shoot is always "just whatever is in front of me."

His PIPM exhibit also includes photographs of antelope, buffalo, longhorn cattle, a bobcat, fox, and even one of his hunting dog images.

He has photographed wildlife all over the world from elk in the high country of Colorado and Idaho to big game in the wilds of Africa.

Over the years his photographs have been featured in a variety of shows and earned him numerous accolades, so many that he cannot even recall them all.

His photographs have also earned him "over 150 front covers of national magazines," including Ducks Unlimited, Wildfowl, Sporting Dog, American Quarter Horse Journal and many more.

"I would consider that my biggest achievement," he said of the magazine covers.  "I just love to see my front covers when I go into magazine stores."

Wildlife photography has a lot of draws for Wilberforce.

He said he enjoys how photography allows him to experience "just the critters themselves, the anatomy, the colors, the habitat."

Also he said, "I like the challenge of it."

"Shooting something at 200 yards with a rifle is different than trying to get within 15 yards of him with a camera," Wilberforce said.

That's why he said the key to wildlife photography is patience.

"I shoot from blinds and sometimes it's nothing for me to stay in a blind for 8, 9, 10 hours," he said.

Besides being patient, Wilberforce said his biggest piece of advice for amateur wildlife photographers is to learn about the animals they plan to photograph.

"I personally believe the best wildlife photographer is one who studies his subject much more than he photographs it," he said, noting "studying gives you an advantage when you do go photograph because then you know what to expect."

Wilberforce said he sees his photography as a way to share his passion for and knowledge of wildlife with others, to help inspire them to share in that passion and knowledge.

That's why he uses his photos as part of children's programs that he presents to share "knowledge on our natural heritage and God's critters."

"I love to do programs for 4th, 5th and 6th graders and hear the oohs and aahs when they see a photo of interest," he said.

Wilberforce said he also enjoys having photo shows like the one at Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum because it allows him to share his photographs with an even wider audience.

"It makes me feel like my time is worthwhile.  When I have a show and people enjoy it, then I know I haven't wasted all my time in a blind," he said.

To learn more about Wilberforce's photography, visit his website at

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