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Writer turned photographer is conservation crusader

By Amanda Eggert

When editors started telling Michael Furtman, “Nice story, where are the photos?” he decided to pursue photography to support his articles. It wasn’t long before he was selling photographs independent of articles. Furtman, 54, has since earned a reputation as a talented and dedicated photographer willing to help others in the business while still producing a remarkable volume of writing.

Michael Furtman

Furtman, an OWAA member since 1985, is also known for his commitment to conservation. In 2000, he received the Circle of Chiefs Award for his work in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeast Minnesota.
“Mike is a real crusader on conservation,” said Joel Vance, a fellow writer and past Circle of Chiefs recipient. “He’s worked awfully hard to protect the Boundary Waters … That’s probably his number one fight.”
The Boundary Waters holds special meaning for Furtman; he’s gone there on family outings since he was five years old. “I came from a very modest economic background, so camping, going on picnics, and fishing were inexpensive ways for my mom and dad to entertain the kids and instill a love for the outdoors in all of us,” Furtman said.
This summer he spent quite a bit of time in canoe country with his wife Mary Jo, a middle school math teacher.
“I love my own backyard here. I love the north woods and the nearby prairies,” he said. “I’m fortunate that I can make a living wherever I want to live, so I stay here.”
When the 1996 OWAA conference was held in Furtman’s hometown of Duluth, Minn., Furtman served as the local conference chair.  He met Randy Zellers, the managing editor of Arkansas Wildlife at the conference. Zellers praises Furtman’s talent and professionalism.
“Michael probably knows more about photography, digital photography and Photoshop, than a lot of the photo editors out there,” Zellers said. “I would suggest that anyone who goes to an OWAA conference attend all of the classes he teaches.”
Furtman is lauded for his tack-sharp images of birds. “One of the things that he does absolutely great is catching birds on the wing with crisp images,” Zellers said. “He almost specializes in it.”
Furtman’s dedication to his craft – or crafts, more accurately – is evident in both the volume of work he produces and his day-to-day work ethic. He has won dozens of awards from OWAA and other organizations for his writing and photography.
He goes out into the field to photograph nearly every day, rain or shine. His dedication has paid off. Since the late 90s his photography has evolved into a stand-alone part of his business that makes him as much, if not more money than his writing.
Reliability and professionalism have been distinctive features of Furtman’s career.
“You don’t have to be the greatest writer or photographer in the world to make a living at this, but you do have to be a professional, you do have to be reliable. Editors cherish both of those qualities,” Furtman said.
Furtman’s career also includes some time spent writing television scripts.  For a period of about two years, he wrote scripts for Ducks Unlimited television and Trout Unlimited television. He also wrote the script and co-starred on a television program called Outdoor Ethics that appeared on ESPN 2. It was a five-minute program sponsored by the Isaak Walton League of America and Orvis that appeared between sporting shows and focused on ethical dilemmas that sportsmen and women might face out in the field.
“The one thing that I love most about this job, other than the fact that I get to be outdoors a lot, is just the creative part. Whether you’re creating a photograph, creating an article, or creating a television script, it’s all very mentally stimulating,” Furtman said. “[It’s] very immediately rewarding, if not financially, at least spiritually.”
Fellow photographer Tim Christie is impressed by the friendly, helpful attitude Furtman takes towards other photographers. “He’s very giving in terms of both his expertise and his knowledge,” Christie said. “Michael is the kind of person that will not only tell you how he took a particular photograph, but he will probably tell you where he took it and that’s pretty unique.”
“If someone told me that they wanted to get started in freelance outdoor photography, they’d be hard-pressed to find a better role model or mentor,” Zellers said. ◊
Photo courtesy Michael Furtman.
Amanda-EggertAmanda Eggert grew up in Billings, Mont., skiing in the Beartooth Mountains and rafting the Stillwater River. She has since moved to Missoula, where she is finishing up a degree in print journalism at the University of Montana. Her intern duties include crafting Character Sketch articles, compiling Supporting Group News Tips, News Briefs, Bookshelf items and Outdoor Market listings.

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