Mike LaLonde

by Jody Kerzman  | Submitted Photos

Mike LaLonde is a regular at Bismarck’s Dakota Zoo. It’s where he finds his favorite subjects of his photographs.

“I’m not much of a people photographer. I prefer taking photos of wildlife,” says Mike. “The animals have personalities. You can see it in their faces, in their eyes. They’re not all cute though, but are all good photo subjects.”

Over the years Mike has snapped thousands of pictures of the wildlife at Dakota Zoo. His favorite animal subjects are the foxes.

“They’re so animated,” he says. “I also really like taking photos of the raptors, the wolves, the primates, and all of the cats.”

It’s not uncommon to find Mike strolling the paths at the zoo before the gates open in the morning, always with a camera in hand.

“I never come to the zoo without my camera. I even bring it to board meetings because I might have time to capture something great something great after the meetings.”

Some of his favorites hang on the walls of the Cass-Clay Ice Cream Parlor. There are prints of snow leopards, geese, camels, racoons, turkeys, otters, and more.

“The otters are fantastic. I could watch them all day,” says Mike. “If you can get good shots of their eyes, you’ve got a great photograph.”

And each December, Mike gives his time to photograph the annual Santa at the Zoo event with other volunteers. Proceeds from the popular event help fund children’s events at the zoo throughout the year. They are long days for this photographer who would really rather be taking photos of animals than children, but the smiles from the kids and the gratitude from the parents make it worthwhile.

“It’s fun to see the same families year after year. We’ve seen some of the same kids as babies all the way through junior high.”

Mike grew up with a camera in his hand. His dad, Leo LaLonde, was a long-time photographer for the Bismarck Tribune, and during high school and college, Mike always found work at camera stores and photo studios.

“I was always around cameras.”

Mike spent 35 years as an adjunct professor at Bismarck State College where he taught photography classes and inspired hundreds of young people to take better photographs. Now retired, Mike stays busy volunteering.

“I’m a full-time volunteer,” he says with a smile.

He has served on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations in the past: the United Way, the Bismarck  Rotary Club, and the North Dakota Wildlife Federation. He presently serves on the Dakota Zoo board, Bismarck Library Foundation Board, Lewis and Clark Wildlife Club, and the Bismarck Historical Society. He graciously shares his talent for taking great photos with all these organizations.

“I take photos of annual meetings, events, and other things. They’re all nonprofit organizations so they don’t have a lot of money to spend on photographs for their websites and marketing. I’m happy to do it for them. It’s my way of helping the community. This is a wonderful community and we’re really lucky to live here.”

His photographs have graced the covers of many magazines, including the North Dakota Outdoors magazine several times. Mike’s photos are real, with little to no editing.

“I guess I’m old school. I don’t use Photoshop and I don’t really edit my photos more than just some minor color corrections sometimes,” he says. “I figure if I shoot the photo correctly in the first place, I shouldn’t need to edit it.”

Always the teacher, Mike offers some advice to amateur photographers who want to get a good photo from the zoo.

“Some of the animals at the zoo are tough to photograph because of the mesh screen,” he explains. “The secret is to get close, use a long lens, and open your aperture as wide as you can. That will blur out the mesh screen.”

He adds, it’s okay to take more than one photograph. Digital cameras make it easy to keep trying for that perfect picture. And Mike says the zoo is a great place to practice your photography.

“The Dakota Zoo is a community treasure,” Mike says. “It is an affordable, relaxing place to go and the whole family can have fun.”

For Mike LaLonde, it’s the perfect place to capture the beauty of God’s creatures.   

Click here to listen to Mike talk about some of the favorite photos he’s taken at the Dakota Zoo.