Your best shot

William H. Logan recalls a friend who was so keen on capturing images of dew-covered spider webs that the guy took to toting around a misting bottle to help Mother Nature along.

“He got over it, I’m happy to say,” reports Logan, a veteran local photography teacher.

Even in the gentle world of amateur nature photography, aficionados can take their passion to extremes. But more often, local nature photographers’ stories of devotion seem to revolve around tales of extreme patience — as in Henderson County resident Dick Spicka’s account of a shot he captured on the west coast of Florida.

As the setting sun cast its golden rays on the water, Spicka waited for about a half hour for a sand crane to meander its way to the perfect spot, all so he could take 10 seconds’ worth of pictures.

“Finally I did manage to get about three pictures of him before the sun sank and the gold on the water was gone,” recalls Spicka. “And one of those was pretty good.”

So how do you tell if you might harbor the makings of a budding nature photographer?

“Just virtually pick any mountain in Buncombe or Henderson County — or anywhere around here — and throw your camera in the car,” suggests Spicka. “If you don’t find something that absolutely knocks your socks off, you’re probably not a nature photographer.”

Something seductive

Right down to the last shutterbug, the photographers I spoke with reveal an abiding love for their subject — and a desire to share it.

“To make good nature photographs, I think you gotta care about it,” offers Logan, co-owner of Blue Ridge School of Photography in Flat Rock. “It’s inconceivable to me that everybody doesn’t care about nature, because this is it — it’s what we’ve got.”

Offers Spicka, an avid amateur: “I think that a lot of nature as we knew it maybe 25 years ago is disappearing to urban sprawl and growth, and I want to kind of keep a treasury of that for my kids and grandkids. After doing this for 25 or 30 years, I’m still in awe of nature, and the beauty of nature.”

That sentiment is echoed by well-known Asheville nature photographer George Humphries, whose lush, vibrant images grace postcards, calendars, books and magazines.

“To me there’s something seductive about taking a moment out of time that will never come again,” reveals Humphries. “The moment is fleeting, and you’re stopping that moment. It defies time, really.”

Along with depicting his own experiences, Humphries sees his work as an opportunity to communicate the wonders — and the indispensability — of the natural world.

“Hopefully in conveying that, it will stir people [to] be better stewards of the land … and to realize how precious it is,” he suggests.

Tips from the pros

Although each photographer has his own viewpoint, many agree that it’s important to take the time to think about a photo — and approach a subject from different angles.

“People are in too much of a hurry,” insists Logan, who studied and worked with Ansel Adams, among others. “I guess to be a nature photographer, you really gotta slow down and see what’s going on.”

Humphries concurs.

“I’m always surprised, really, when you find the right place and the right moment and the right situation as to how many pictures are in it,” Humphries muses. “The big part of it is learning to see.”

Of course, then there are the technical considerations of successfully operating a camera, including knowing its limitations.

“I think that in any kind of photography — and nature photography in particular — we do better at it if we study some of the technical things that we need to know,” posits Logan, adding that learning the rudiments of the chemical developing process will vastly improve someone’s work.

On the practical side, professional photographer Michael Rogers of Black Mountain considers the early morning and late afternoon (within two hours of sunset) to be the best times for nature shots. He suggests a polarizing filter (to cut glare and produce better color saturation) and a tripod (for close-up work). He also advises novices to study others’ work — including that of Humphries (whose photos he calls “pretty awesome”).

But Logan strongly believes that too many rules can squelch creativity.

“I think the biggest mistake that [beginners] make is to follow, quote, ‘The Rules’ — whatever the rules are at the moment,” observes Logan, citing a common one: “‘You never take a picture directly into the sun’ — Bulls**t. It may come out. It may not. But try.”

No matter what else, declares Logan, “it really ought to be fun.

“The key, I think, to nature photography is: Take a lot. Do a lot.”

Ready, aim, click

Indulging in amateur nature photography requires dropping some cash for gear — though exactly how much seems to be a matter of debate.

For the beginner, Spicka suggests that a simple $100 point-and-shoot camera will suffice.

“You can get just gorgeous nature shots from a point-and-shoot,” he adds.

If you have more to spend, Spicka estimates that a new single-lens reflex camera (commonly called an SLR), plus a 50-mm lens, would probably total at least $200. Additional lenses — macro for close-up pictures of flowers and the like, and telephoto for wildlife shots — are going to cost you more.

However, avid local photographer Joe Conn insists that someone who’s serious about nature photography will spend several thousand dollars by the time the cost of a tripod, specialized lenses and other gear is added in.

“It’s kind of outside the realm of the high-school kid or even college student for that reason,” declares Conn. “You have to have some money.”

However, since many people have turned on to digital photography, Spicka sees opportunities to snare good deals on used equipment from those folks unloading their film cameras.

Logan, for his part, suggests buying the best quality camera you can afford — be it digital or film — plus a good zoom lens.

And even if your budget allows room only for the point-and-shoot variety, an enthusiastic Spicka declares that you should pick up that camera, take a handful of film and go.

“You’re in Western North Carolina,” proclaims Spicka. “And this place is a photographer’s haven.”

Help is on the way

Apart from degree programs such as that offered by McDowell Tech in Marion, there are other ways to learn about nature photography and rub shoulders with likeminded shutterbugs. Here are a few:

• Blue Ridge School of Photography in Flat Rock offers a number of classes and workshops in black-and-white photography, as well as a free photographer’s roundtable (the next one is 7-9 p.m. on Friday, April 11). Info: 692-1200 or www.loganphotographics.com.

• Several camera clubs are active in WNC, including f/32 in Asheville (281-2098 or www.main.nc.us/f32) and the Camera Club of Hendersonville (698-5744 or spickad@mchsi.com).

• The Carolinas’ Nature Photographers Association’s 10th Anniversary Meeting, April 11-13, Great Smokies Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort in Asheville. Workshops and a photo exhibit will be featured. Cost: $50 (includes membership). Info: www.cnpa.org, Elvira Butler at lily@mindspring.com or (919) 942-6542.

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