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Jim Foster’s advice for outdoor communicator

BY JAKE McGINNIS
Forty or so years ago, Jim Foster was considering a career in the outdoor communications industry. Although he was already a photographer, he was unsure of what to do next, so he asked a friend about writing for newspapers and magazines. The answer he got was simple, but valuable, and it has stuck with him through the years.
In a phone interview earlier this summer, Foster passed that advice on to another young writer. “How do you get started writing?” he asked, repeating the interviewer, as though the answer was obvious. “Well, you get started writing!”
Foster should know. He now works fulltime as a freelance writer and photographer, but he admits that he did not major in journalism. He simply read articles, shot photographs and got to it, and shortly afterwards he became an active member of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association.
“That’s when I found out I was an outdoor writer,” Foster said.
He went on to serve on the TOWA board of directors for two terms, a total of eight years. He was also the vice president and president, spending two years in each position. Although he has since moved to Idaho, Foster remains active in Texas outdoor communications.
Kathy Magers, a 2005 inductee into the “Legends of the Outdoors” National Hall of Fame, was also given some helpful advice at an important time. When digital photography first entered the outdoor communications industry, many were reluctant to fully embrace it. Foster was among the first, and he offered digital photography workshops at TOWA conferences. Magers began using the new media after his encouragement, and she still occasionally looks to him for advice.
“He was always really helpful with me and with others who needed the help,” she said. “I always know how to get in touch with him when I have a question.”
Magers clearly holds Foster’s work and his advice in high regard . Thinking of some of his images of birds and other wildlife, she remarked, “Jim Foster has to be one of the best photographers today.”
Lisa Snuggs, executive director of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, is also familiar with Foster’s work, and she too has only praise for his photography. For Snuggs, Foster’s career seems to have jumped right in with some of the best in the industry. “Jim has such a strong presence about him that in my eyes he’s always been a strong photographer,” she said.
In fact, she watched as the industry caught on to Foster’s photography. “When I met him he was shooting mostly for Texas publications,” she explained. “The biggest jump in Jim’s career, that I saw, was when he started selling his photography internationally.”
Foster certainly has the experience to back up his reputation and give merit to his advice. He is currently a member of the American Society of Media Photographers and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, as well as an active member and past board member of OWAA.
“I don’t have the slightest idea how many photos I have in stock,” he admitted, opening a folder on his computer. He found 571 photographs of yellowbellied marmots, and about 150 of the moon. Foster, an avid birdwatcher, estimated his avian images at more than 42,000.
Some of those images have been used in brochures for Port Aransas, Texas, and Henderson, Nev. Many have found their way into newspapers, magazines and books in the United States and Europe, and still more have been sold as stock images. His work has brought him to Africa, Europe, SouthAmerica and nearly every state in the country, and his camera is usually not far behind.
And as much as he is an active and accomplished photographer, Foster is also a writer. He just completed his second book and is contracted to write a third. He has regular columns in two Texas newspapers, writes dozens of freelance articles each year and maintains a sponsored blog.
Snuggs, when asked to describe Foster, chuckled. “Tenacious comes to mind,” she said. “He’s as hardworking and serious as anyone I know, and that’s probably what it takes to make it.”
By his own admission, though, Foster is busy, and he relates a familiar struggle. “I really hate deadlines,” he said, “but I’ve learned to live with them.” ♦
—Jake McGinnis is currently completing a B.A. in writing at Northland College, where he serves as an editor of an independent student newspaper and a writing tutor. A lifelong outdoors enthusiast, he enjoys canoeing, fly-fishing and Nordic skiing. McGinnis is OWAA’s summer journalism intern; he works primarily on writing Character Sketches, plus Outdoor Alerts for OU Online.
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