It was one of those moments that seemed worthy of a photo – the swaying prairie grasses, fresh outdoor smells and the visible breath as we chatted on that brisk Nebraska morning.
It all just fit. The hum of a distant train and nearby birds rising and falling in their own little dance.
Familiar, quiet, restful…this was his element.
Michael Forsberg spoke gently but deliberately about his work. He described how he grew up loving and exploring the outdoors, haphazardly fell into photography, trained himself to write because he needed to and somehow ended up being one of the most well-known nature and conservation photographers in the country.
But when Michael talks about his story, he seems a little surprised at how it all unfolded. A job he shouldn’t have been offered, a career he never dreamed of and a family he works to treasure.
He’s surprised, because this wasn’t in his original plan, but it somehow became his plan. His story, camera or no camera, is about appreciating and sharing his home state of Nebraska.
“A lot of folks consider this flyover country, but that’s not true,” he started. “It doesn’t knock your socks off at first glance, but it’s every bit as remarkable…You really have to linger.”
It’s about lingering. That’s what he does best.
As a nature photographer there is a lot of patient waiting that’s involved in the process. The light, setting, creatures and even the elements are all part of making each photo say something.
Michael doesn’t take pictures, he makes them. It’s like a puzzle, everything has its place. He lingers over moments, waiting for the exact one he’s been anticipating for hours or days. Then, he captures it.
Michael’s job is to witness some of Nebraska’s rawest and most striking natural moments – migrating Sandhill cranes, stunning prairie sunsets and rolling ranch lands.
But what he’s seen as he’s grown older, and experienced more as a man, husband and father, is that his lingering isn’t just for the sake of lingering.
Sure, it’s the adventure-seeking job he dreamed of, but there’s more to it than simply capturing breathtaking moments.
Michael loves Nebraska and the Great Plains because he’s spent time taking them in, making them his own and soaking up their subtle glory. Now, he said, it’s about stepping out from behind the camera to share what he knows and sees.
So, he writes books and speaks to children and adults. He teaches classes and pursues new ways to explore and learn about his home state and its surrounding natural habitats.
It’s a terrifying new element of his work, he said. But again, when he focuses on sharing with people instead of pleasing, it taps into why he’s so immersed in this work.
It’s about sharing.
“We each have a story to tell and we’re writing that story our entire lives,” he said.
Michael loves the way he can capture powerful moments with his camera to help tell his story, but he also knows that he can’t capture every story or moment with a picture.
He rarely features people in his photos, because it’s not his focus, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t part of his work.
When thinking back to some of his favorite projects he’s surprised that no specific image comes to mind, it’s just faces, he said. He remembers the people who let him sit at their dinner table, explore their family-owned ranch and those who make up his personal story.
He’s thankful his parents encouraged him to play outdoors until it was dark. He’s thankful his family has understood and supported his work over the years. And he’s thankful for a community that sees his work as more than just pretty pictures.
It’s been about people in an understated but profound way.
People have honored him by sharing their stories, and Michael Forsberg’s work is his way of returning the favor.