People get into nature photography for a variety of reasons. Some of us are high-minded enough to do it with conservation in mind, but for most, and that includes me, it comes down to the fact we want to share the wonder of what we’ve seen with others. There might even be some bragging involved. Ha ha! Look where I’ve been. See what I photographed. We may do it partially to remind ourselves of exceptional experiences. I know my memory is not what it used to be, and sometimes it takes a photo or two to bring back the memory of the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen. But then I’ve been doing this for more than half my life. That’s a lot of photos under the bridge.
For me it began way back in high school, decades and decades before NANPA and its High School Program existed. This love of nature photography didn’t develop because of any classes I took or any books I read. It happened because I averaged a backpacking trip every other weekend during my junior and senior years—fall, winter and spring being the best times to sleep outside in Southern Arizona. I made my first overnight hike in penny loafers and no socks. My friend and I slept under a 4×6-foot tarp, and we woke up the next morning lying in the mud because of a rain storm that had us huddling under that tarp for four hours during the night. For some reason we decided to do it again only a month or so later. More importantly I knew I had to document it with a camera because I wanted to show people the incredible things that existed right in their own backyard, especially if you’re willing to wallow in the mud. So, with a cheap camera, I began the arduous task of teaching myself how to take decent photos, how to expose, how to compose. It turns out I was not a very good teacher at that time.
Without the help of a photo club and some friends who were exceptional photographers, we probably never would have excelled. Oh sure, we could’ve relied on the books we bought—books by John Shaw and George Lepp to name of few of the authors—and the books did help, often a great deal. However, for us, direct input was often necessary to make the leap to the next level of competence. We were extremely lucky to have joined a photo club started by two professional nature photographers, Wendy Shattil and her partner, Bob Rozinski. They started this photo club for a book project, Close To Home; Colorado’s Urban Wildlife, and all of the club members were invited to submit for the project. The examples they showed and the critiques they gave are what allowed us to improve so quickly. I can still remember one of their first personal critiques, “These would be great images if only they were in focus.” That was a bit of a letdown but, in our defense, it was a lot more difficult in the days before autofocus, and it did force us to examine our work carefully to make sure it was sharp. Our first published wildlife photos appeared in Close To Home.
NANPA plays the role of a photo club on steroids, providing instruction and inspiration from a fantastic pool of talent. The Summits and Celebrations offer these gifts in huge dollops, concentrated in a few short days. Attendees are gleaning the culmination of years of experience from the people conducting the Breakout Sessions and giving the keynote presentations, and the most recent one in Las Vegas was fabulous. Not only were the presentations immensely entertaining for someone interested in natural history, the information that was free for the taking was invaluable. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
Regarding my backpacking career, I was surprised to find that, considering how much time I spent sleeping on the ground in my youth, as I entered my sixth decade in life I developed an addiction for comfortable beds. I didn’t think I would ever be an addict, but it can happen to anyone. The accompanying image was taken when I was 46 or 47, and it may have been the last time I went backpacking. Luckily, I still have my photos to remind me of the exceptional experiences I’ve had.