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July, 2005

Learning Curve

by Valerie

I've been taking nature photographs for over 20 years now, and it's been an interesting journey from the beginning. When I was a kid, I had no desire to use a camera, instead preferring to draw the things I saw around me. It's not like I carried a pencil and sketchbook around all the time, but when I felt the need for artistic expression, that's the medium I used. Much of my free time was spent outdoors, watching animals, and noticing all the interesting things in nature, but I never had the urge to record what I saw. It seemed, when I was young enough to not have forgotten so much, that I would just remember every last detail forever. Ha.

Somewhere in my 20s, I discovered what everyone eventually does: memories fade away. I realized that some of the very cool things I'd seen when I was a kid were, perhaps, once in a lifetime experiences. I'd probably never see them again. Ever.

By the 1980s, cameras had become cheap and easy to use, so I decided to give photography a try and bought a 110 Instamatic camera at a garage sale for $1. It was small enough that I took it with me when I went kayaking or hiking. I took fuzzy, poorly composed pictures such as of a bird caught in a spider web, a big frog hiding in clear shallow water, or a hognose snake feigning ferocity. My technique matched the camera in sophistication. If a young armadillo wouldn't hold still while I took its picture, I simply caught it, held it at arm's length, and snapped a shot: the true meaning of "Arm 'n' 'Dillo." The resulting photo was a joke, and my reluctant subject was quite unhappy.

As I took more pictures, I did a little better. It was a big improvement when Larry gave me a 35mm Point-n-Shoot camera as an anniversary gift. The resulting pictures were clearer and had brighter colors. Landscapes and plants looked pretty good. I still had problems with animals, though. They never seemed to want to hold still for their portraits. I experimented and found that dead animals were more accommodating subjects. (No, I didn't kill them, I just took advantage of those that had arrived at that state on their own.) Unfortunately, they often looked, well, dead.

By now, through two more upgrades of camera equipment and lots of practice, plus many opportunities with excellent subjects, I've actually taken a few good photographs. I've caught insects in flight, successfully stalked wary spiders, and recorded the intimate behaviors of damselflies. Every so often, though, I revert back to my earlier nature photography technique. If my subject won't cooperate, I just hold it and snap a shot. While this satisfies some sort of mischievous impulse, like spouting out bad puns, the resulting photos are still a joke, and the subjects are still very unhappy.

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