Landscapes through lenses
Thirty years ago this February, my home in the Shenandoah Valley had 30 inches of snowfall. My new wife and I quickly realized that we didn’t own a camera to get pictures of it. So we purchased, after some snow melt, a used 35mm rangefinder camera.
I still have the first landscape I took on that first roll of film hanging by my office door.
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The next 26 years were spent shooting and learning, as I improved my equipment and worked in various engineering and engineering management jobs. I had always enjoyed my time outdoors hiking and seeing and experiencing new places.
The challenge was capturing the moment in time of a place. Even if I had been to the same spot time and again, I tried to see it differently each time.
Then, after yet another plant closed, I decided to go into photography full time.
Now I had photographic freedom. So I spent July of 2009 as the photographer in residence at the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Tucker County, West Virginia. This new program included not only the time getting into the back areas of refuge to shoot, but also talks to the community about my photography.
My main subject had always been landscapes, mainly because I really had never taken the time to be in one place. But, here I was, in one spot for an extended time. I started to take time to notice the small things that make the refuge special.
After a few days, I found myself hiking and shooting as much as I could to document my time and experience on the refuge. I adapted using what I had in my bag (gear for landscape photography) to try and capture not only the many different scenes in the refuge, but also the plants, insects, birds, and mammals I could find.
At the moment I captured some barn swallows feeding, I felt that wildlife shots would work themselves into my portfolio.
I came across this bush in a bog or ex-beaver pond area where the immature swallows had gathered for lunch. I slowly approached, since I only had a 400mm lens. As I sat there, I shot as the adults approached, hoping to catch an interesting moment.
Suddenly, my phone rang. But the young birds weren’t bothered, so I spoke to the customer and clicked off a few more images.
From this experience forward, I determined I was spending time with my subjects, not just to capture portrait shots, but to catch them in some type of activity. The naturalists at the refuge helped me identify and confirm the plants and animals that were my subjects. In fact, a summer intern even identified not only the bird, but also the remains of a moth it had in its beak.
Practice, practice, practice. This is what I would suggest to anyone wanting to take wildlife images. Set up at a bird feeder in your yard. Go to a local park and take squirrel pictures. Develop your style and technique in places like this. With digital this is so easy to shoot to your heart’s content practicing and then just erase the images with no real waste.
Then, when you get the opportunity to visit a special place like Canaan Valley, you are ready.
The National Wildlife Refuge System offers many great photo opps for wildlife. Which refuge is near you?
Getting into photography? Share your experience in a comment below!