Photographing Furry Felines Big & Small

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Paige Fulton

You don’t have to be a cat person to admire (exquisite) images of them. But to get those (great) images, it helps to understand a little bit about them. According to Paige Fulton, of Estes Park, Colorado, big cats behave very much like your small domesticated house cats. They hunt, wind their hind ends up before pouncing, play, run up trees, and vocalize in a variety of ways to express their emotions. “Other animals enjoy playing as well and, whether they are captive or wild, having a bit of fun seems to be a universal trait, especially for the young ones,” explains Paige.

Like many of us, Paige Fulton got hooked on photography as a child. She was from the West Texas city of Odessa, Texas, where oil and high school football were the life blood of the community. Her father was a teacher ar Permian High School while her mother taught at Ross elementary. That meant time to travel with the family pop-up camper.
“My parents would take us on camping trips to the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado,” says Paige. “They nurtured my love of the outdoors and wildlife and that has now become a part of who I am and what has shaped the direction of my photography. On those trips, Dad would loan me his camera to photograph landscapes. He saw my interest in photography taking shape and eventually bought me a camera of my own.”

Paige also recalls the first time she actually took a photograph at age six with her mom’s Baby Brownie Special. In fact, she still has that camera and has been dabbling in photography off and on ever since. It wasn’t until she purchased her first digital camera that her interest began to pick up once again. In 2007, at an art festival in Estes Park, Colorado, Paige met professional landscape photographer Erik Stensland. “As I walked through his booth, I was in awe of his images. I immediately signed up for an early morning excursion with Erik to photograph the sunrise and what I came back with were images that truly captured the beauty of sunrise I had always dreamed of.”

Her quest for adventure also helped shape her career path. During her senior year in high school, Paige took flying lessons at a small airport in nearby Midland, Texas, earning her pilot license and then her instrument rating a few years later. After attending college and earning a degree in accounting and information systems, she landed a job working for her flight instructor’s wife, doing bookkeeping and tax returns. From there, Paige began working as a bookkeeper for an aerial pipeline patrol company that was co-owned by her flight instructor. Seven years later, Paige and her husband took a leap of faith and bought the company, owning it for another eleven years before selling it and retiring to their beloved vacation spot of Estes Park, Colorado.

At last, she had the time to really dive into photography! Paige studied and learned how to use different software programs to take her craft to a higher level. That’s when her friend, Kory Bumgardner, nudged her to start entering image competition. “Kory and I met during the second big cat workshop I attended. She later organized a few other workshops that I attended but when we moved to Colorado, she took me under her wing and invited me to go photograph all sorts of places with her.”

In 2020, Paige was scheduled to attend a workshop in Utah with Doug and Laura Bennett but the day before the workshop, Paige and her husband, along with their four cats, had to evacuate because of the East Troublesome wildfire. “I called Kory to let her know I would not be able to attend the workshop because of he evacuation and, without hesitation, she told us to come and stay with her and her husband, John, at their home. I was so impressed with their generosity in our time of need and knew they were special people and it was John who convinced me that I still needed to attend the workshop.”

Growing up with cats led Paige to have a special place in her heart for photographing the bigger cats. To this point in her life, the big cats she’s photographed have been in a captive environment. “This type of situation puts less stress on the animals since they are used to seeing people and it is a safer environment for the photographer as well,” says Paige. “I’ve seen a few bobcats in the wild, but I have not been fortunate enough to have a camera with me at the time.”

Her cat images are made using a Nikon D850 body, several fixed Zeiss lenses, Nikon lenses ranging from the 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 300mm, 400mm, and the 500mm telephoto lenses. She also uses a Gitzo tripod with a Really Right Stuff ball head and fluid gimbal head. For her wildlife photography, Paige likes to use her fixed telephoto lenses on a tripod and uses manual settings on her camera for making quick adjustments to shutter speed and f-stop based on how fast the animal is moving and the available lighting. In some situations, Paige shoots with these big lenses hand-held. Using an f-stop of f8 or higher, along with a faster shutter speed helps to maintain a sharp image.

Paige began photographing big cats by accident. While attending a horse photography workshop, she met another photographer who was organizing a workshop photographing horses along with a tiger, arctic foxes, lynx, wolves, and several other animals. “At first, I was a little disappointed that we only had two horse sessions, but once we started photographing the mountain lion, bobcat, tiger, snow leopard, and other animals, I was hooked! We photographed them inside a large enclosure area. There was no glass or netting between us and the animal, so it was a more intimate and controlled setting. The animals were comfortable with their handlers and followed their handler’s commands to the extent that a big cat can follow commands. Photographers were given instructions to follow to keep things as safe as possible. We did not enter the tiger enclosure and photographed her from behind a fence.”

But cats aren’t the only animals Paige photographs. “My husband is a fly fisherman and he arranges float trips down the Colorado River. On these float trips, I’ve photographed eagles, ospreys, American dippers, and big horn sheep. Although we have deer and elk in our backyard on occasion, I will drive into the Rocky Mountain National Park or other areas around Estes Park to photograph them. I’ve also ventured to British Columbia to photograph grizzly bears, eagles, humpback whales, and orcas. Photographing from a boat, whether big or small, can be quite challenging, especially with a 500mm prime lens,” she adds.

Her images are captured using natural light. “I’ve never used a flash for photographing animals because I don’t want to cause undue stress,” says Paige. “The best times of the day are usually in the mornings and in the evenings. But when I’m in a workshop, I don’t always get a choice. Overcast skies allow for more evenness on the scene and the animals and I can shoot during any time of the day.”

From that first picture using her mom’s Baby Brownie Special, Paige Fulton is living her dream of capturing images of what nature has to offer in one of the most beautiful spots in the country. Entering image competitions and listening to what the judges have to say has honed her skills even more, making her more conscious of composition when shooting. “I will always be a student of photography,” she adds. With that said, Paige Fulton’s adventure continues.

Paige Fulton is a former business owner and Texas resident. She recently moved to Estes Park, Colorado, with her husband and four cats to be closer to the wilderness and outdoor activities. She was awarded Platinum Medalist in the 2021 IPC competition and is working on obtaining her Masters Degree in photography from the Professional Photographers of America. Paige recently co-led her first workshop with Kory Bumgardner, photographing wild mustangs and has begun learning artistry painting.