As the official action photographer of the Franklin Rodeo, he’s the only other person inside the ring with the clown, the bull and the rider. But that’s where he feels most alive – whether it’s on the plains of Africa, diving with great white sharks, in a Central American jungle, or wherever else his adventures might take him.
“I love being out there, and the harder I have to work to get the shot, the more memorable it is,” Thomson says. “The picture preserves the memory of being there, and my objective is to capture what my eye saw in that moment.”
Thomson (known as Boone to his friends) discovered a love for photography shooting his children’s sports teams, learning how to handle the lighting challenges of a rainy night football game, and how to stop motion – but most importantly, how to be in the right place at the right time to capture the spirit of the event, as a way to memorialize it.
A service trip with the Franklin Noon Rotary to Honduras took him to the jungle for the first time in 2011, and the travel bug bit hard. That experience led to a wildlife photography workshop in Costa Rica, where he captured four species of monkeys on the Osa Peninsula, and then a trip to Brazil, and the experience of watching a jaguar stalk and capture a nine-foot yacare caiman on the banks of the Pantanal River.
“They call the jaguar the ghost cat because they are so elusive,” he explains. “But there we were, in a boat 20 feet away as one predator battled another, and I was hooked. As I started dreaming about places to go, I got curious and started learning about different animals that I wanted to go see in the wild and capture with a camera.”
The noted wildlife photographer Roy Toft introduced Thomson not only to the art of photography in physically demanding and often dangerous locales, but also to the idea of doing it on a full-time basis.
Thomson has now visited Africa multiple times, witnessing the Great Migration of millions of wildebeest and plains game from the Serengeti through southern Kenya into the Mara Triangle. Despite his thirst for new destinations and subjects, the natural wonder that occurs in the late summer on the Masai Mara is enough to keep him coming back – and this time, he’s taking people with him.
“I’ll be 60 old in five years, and one of my life goals is to become a full-time photographer by then,” he says. “I sell a few images here and there, but it’s tough to really make a living doing it. The way that I can fund my passion is by introducing my friends to new places, and to a love of wildlife photography.”
Thomson’s photo safari this August will find him leading a dozen others as they witness lions, zebras, hippos and countless other species en masse from an open Land Rover. He describes the adrenaline, the smell, and the heat as herds of large mammals approach the Mara River.
They’ve followed the rains that have grown the grasses, as they have for eons, and the photographers camp on the bank of the river as they await the waves of migrators.
The first wildebeest takes the plunge and thousands follow, hoping to make it across without falling victim to a hungry crocodile. Next year, he hopes to do two trips, and to begin introducing aspiring photographers and adventure travelers to his other favorites: northern Japan for snow monkeys and Steller’s eagles, grizzlies and wolves in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks out west, and even Radnor Lake State Park in Nashville.
He’s already planning to visit India next spring to photograph tigers, and has been researching the mountain trek to see the gorillas in Uganda.
“I was 50 before I ever visited Grand Tetonand Yellowstone, but I’ve been going twice a year for the last several years,” Thomson says. “It’s never too late to dive in, and most Sunday mornings I’m out at Radnor Lake before the sunrise. There are incredible opportunities all around us, and all over the world, and just I want to share that with others.”
He says we all can play a role in helping ensure that our grandkids will be able to see these animals.
“You hope that you can share an image and capture someone’s attention, and through that spark an interest in conservation. If we can grow that passion, hopefully we can perpetuate it,” Thomson explains. “I love doing presentations and sharing photos on social media and now, I’m excited to organize trips and hopefully help make other people’s dreams come true.”
To learn more about Thomson’s photography and focus on promoting the need to protect the environment and the wildlife who inhabit it, visit thomsonfoto.com or follow him @tboonethomson on Instagram.
Jay Sheridan is a lifelong Middle Tennessean living and working in Downtown Franklin. He has covered interesting people and places for a number of books and magazines.