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Nature & Nurture

Unique perspectives on outdoor photography and the importance of preserving our environment
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Sandhill cranes congregate in sunrise fog near San Luis Valley, Colorado.

Nature photographers not only are major contributors to the profession of photography, but also to our growing understanding of the natural world. Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to lead through example and practice, spearheading conservation efforts and capturing the physical world in its pristine state. Others have chosen to inspire through their imagery and words, passing on the lessons that they have learned to future generations of photographers by teaching and writing. With luminaries such as Heather Angel, the late Peggy Bauer, Tui de Roy, Pat Leeson, Kathleen Norris Cook, Kathy Adams Clark and Connie Toops, to name just a few, there are extraordinary nature photographers who have become driving forces in the world of photography and conservation, and while they’re linked by a common gender, their imagery transcends to push the boundaries of modern nature photography while bringing much needed attention to a changing environment. A number of women are continuing this tradition today, and here they share some of their thoughts about nature, photography and protecting a changing world.

Wendy Shattil also composed this image of a young red fox, which helped to make her the first woman awarded the Grand Prize as BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Conservation Through Action
Wendy Shattil
For nearly 30 years, Wendy Shattil has explored, photographed and written about the natural history of the United States. Traveling with her partner Bob Rozinski, she has dedicated her life not only to showcasing the wonders of the natural world, but the threats facing it as well. Together they have produced 12 books and have had images appear in hundreds of publications. They’re internationally known for their pioneering work documenting the natural diversity of life found at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge located just outside Denver, Colo.

The crowning achievement in Shattil’s photographic career occurred when Sir David Attenborough presented her with the Grand Prize in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the first woman so honored with this award. And while Shattil has always been a nature lover, she didn’t embrace photography until she took a course in scientific illustration at the University of Arizona. She finally had found the perfect avenue for connecting her love for nature with a purpose—to document nature and share it with others. Before long, she found herself as the photographer for an archaeological dig at Tel Gezer in the Middle East.

Shattil doesn’t hesitate to admit how difficult and challenging it is to be a “full-timer” in this profession. During the first six years of her photography partnership with Rozinski, it was a part-time venture. “Bob and I both had full-time jobs,” Shattil recalls. “Nevertheless, we spent an average of 40 hours each week on our photography. Every weekend and vacation we were in the field photographing, and every weeknight we kept busy submitting images and conducting lectures.”

Of course, Shattil’s favorite moments are when she’s surrounded by nature. “I feel I’m a part of nature and not simply an observer,” says Shattil.

Whether it’s spending four hours sitting on a rock in the high-alpine tundra photographing a pika or spending 22 hours in a tiny plywood blind photographing bald eagles along the Rio Grande, these are the experiences that make it all worthwhile for this conservation-minded and well-focused trailblazer.

To see more of Wendy Shattil’s photography, visit

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A female jaguar housed in a tiny bamboo/wire cage in the center of an outdoor restaurant. “As I was about to take her picture,” Lynda Richardson says, “I noticed she got very tense. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a worker to my right preparing to squirt her with a nearby hose ‘to get her to do something’ for me. I can’t imagine living my whole life in that tiny space. How cruel.”

Naturalist Photographer
Lynda Richardson
Lest anyone think nature photography doesn’t happen without risks or obstacles, you might talk with Lynda Richardson. “I had to get rabies shots for a month after a bat bit me five times during a project in Ecuador,” recalls Richardson. “But it’s the people I’ve encountered that are more dangerous than the wildlife I’ve encountered. I was almost shot at a roadblock, nearly got stabbed by glue-sniffing thieves and had dinner with a couple of mercenaries. Oh, yeah, I drank with one of Idi Amin’s hired assassins.” Exciting stuff, eh?

Richardson’s entry into professional photography began in 1983 when she started photographing news events, politics and sports. “On weekends, I would photograph wildlife and nature,” says Richardson. “I would get my nature images on the AP wire, and some of those images would appear all over the country.” She soon discovered that while news photography satisfied her ego, it was wildlife photography that filled her heart. “I started full throttle at nature photography around 1985. All those years of Wild Kingdom and David Attenborough finally paid off.”

A remote shot of an osprey fledgling, the York River, near Williamsburg, Pennsylvania.

Richardson’s nature photography revolves primarily around conservation issues, including photo essays about the illegal wildlife pet trade in Nicaragua and sea turtle conservation. “I’ve been fortunate that nearly all my assignments have been focused on projects that relate to saving wildlife and the environment,” explains Richardson. And she doesn’t stop at just capturing images. Beyond her photography, Richardson takes time to donate images and speak at major conservation organizations such as The Explorers Club in New York and Safari International. She even has been a guest speaker at the South African Embassy.

Richardson recognizes the challenges of the profession in today’s world. “The way to deal with the path this industry has taken is to stay on top of the trends and come up with something that sets you apart from everyone else,” she says. “You’ve got to really want it and be able to bear with criticism and rejection. Persistence and patience is the key.”

To see more of Lynda Richardson’s photography, visit

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Natural Design

Brenda Tharp explores shape and texture in this image of a leaf, Double Arch Alcove, Zion National Park, Utah.

Brenda Tharp
No mode of transportation is too unusual for Brenda Tharp if it means getting the image. She has used llamas, kayaks, helicopters, hot air balloons and cycles, as well as her own two feet, to reach special locations to photograph. Her love for nature stems from her childhood days following her father as he explored the great outdoors. “My Dad’s fascination with the outdoors sparked my love for nature,” remembers Tharp. “He was the family photographer, so I grew up with someone always taking pictures.”

Today, as one of the country’s most respected nature photographers, Tharp uses her skill as a photographer and naturalist to impart to others the same excitement she has for nature. Tharp’s photographic signature is her extraordinary ability to discover unique compositions and designs in nature. Her book Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography has become a well-used guide on the concepts of compositional design.

Tharp’s immersion in nature photography as a career began in 1985. “I think that being a woman made things a little harder, but I truly tried not to let that be an issue,” says Tharp. “As a friend of mine once said, we’re just photographers. It doesn’t matter whether we’re guys or girls; it’s the pictures that matter.”

A bear and her cubs peer into the Alaskan distance.

The most challenging aspect for Tharp wasn’t the photography, but the business side of things. “The most difficult part was marketing—how to get the word out about what I do,” she says. “It wasn’t in my nature to be a salesperson, but I taught myself how to make those calls and do all the other things required in the business realm of this profession.”

Tharp’s advice to others planning to make a career of nature photography is to become experts of the craft of photography and to find something they love to photograph. “Make it a niche or specialty, if you can,” recommends Tharp. “And don’t forget about the people-to-people connection. You still have to develop those personal relationships to achieve a measure of success.”

To see more of Brenda Tharp’s photography, visit

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Natural Eloquence

Cheryl Opperman’s “Eagle Spirit.” “It’s often easy to imagine the elements of an image coming together in harmony,” she says, “but seldom is the convergence of subject, light and situation easily attainable. Creative decisions must be made quickly, sometimes in only seconds, to realize your vision. In a very true sense, a photographic image may be the rarest art of all. A recorded moment in time will never occur exactly the same way again.”

Cheryl Opperman
Cheryl Opperman credits her father with starting her on an incredible journey into nature photography. At age 15, while attempting to photograph a stunning moonrise over the ocean, her father reminded her that she would need something more than the point-and-shoot camera she was using to capture the amber glow of the moon reflecting on the ocean waves.

“Little did he know that this single remark would spark a lifelong interest in photography and form the basis of my career,” recalls Opperman. “That Christmas, he surprised me with a professional-quality camera and some lenses. I took a photography class at my high school, and within two weeks I knew I had discovered my career path.”

An honors graduate of the Brooks Institute, Opperman has explored the natural beauty of 15 countries on six continents. Her imagery has graced the pages of several major nature and photography magazines, and she has been the recipient of many national and international awards.

While working on a book project about Africa, Opperman discovered the power of photography to promote conservation. “I worked with the publishing company to market and promote the book’s goal of encouraging the conservation of Africa’s wildlife through responsible ecotourism,” says Opperman. “It was an opportunity that changed my life and expanded my view of what could be achieved through the medium of photography.”

An autumn storm engulfs the mountains in clouds.

When asked about her favorite location to photograph, Opperman is hard-pressed to answer. “For me, there’s no single location or moment that I love more than another,” she answers. “What I love most about nature photography is that I never know what to expect.”

And while she sometimes goes into the field with a predetermined image, Opperman often returns with something completely different. “I feel fortunate to witness whatever nature has to offer on a given day,” she says, “and if I come away with a striking photograph that even comes close to capturing the mood and spirit of the scene, it’s a satisfying accomplishment.”

To see more of Cheryl Opperman’s photography, visit

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Sandra Samojeden captures a South American lightfoot crab expelling seawater from its exoskeleton.

A New Vision
Sandra Samojeden
A visit to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies 15 years ago sparked Sandra Samojeden’s love for nature. “The blue-green hue of the glacially fed streams and lakes, along with the towering snowcapped peaks and abundance of wildlife, inspired me to want to continually have these types of experiences,” recalls the photographer.

Samojeden captures the true essence of a wild animal in its natural environment. She has done this not just by going out as much as feasibly possible to photograph, but also by learning as much about the animals she photographs. “When I’m not in the field,” she say, “I’m researching for additional information about the animal’s behavior and environment.”

While attending a workshop sponsored by the North American Nature Photography Association, Samojeden was inspired and motivated to take her photography to the next level. “One of the instructors not only encouraged me to continue pursuing my dream as a nature photographer, but he also offered advice on how to proceed,” she recalls.

A brown pelican in mating plumage as it flits along ocean waves.

While Samojeden’s favorite location to photograph is Alaska, she’s working near her home on a major conservation project to restore habitat for the barn owl. “A conservation group was formed to raise awareness for the need to protect habitat for the barn owl in Illinois,” says Samojeden. “I’ve donated my photos to be used in their presentations to local businesses and schools for fund-raising and educational purposes.”

For Samojeden, she knows that the nature photography profession is competitive. “I’ve learned in the short time that I’ve been in this profession that the key to success is to develop relationships not only with the business entities of this vocation, but the experts in the field of natural history as well,” she says. “It’s easy to believe you’re not good enough to make it in this business. You must understand that criticism comes with the territory and that you need to develop a thick skin.”

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A sulphur butterfly poses in the crook of a tulip for Nancy Rotenberg. Rotenberg supplements her photography as a writer, including penning books such as Photography and The Creative Life and How to Photograph Close-Ups in Nature.

Persuasive Inspiration
Nancy Rotenberg
When meeting Nancy Rotenberg, you immediately sense the presence of a woman who uses her innate passion for life and love of photography to inspire others. For Rotenberg, nature photography not only is a celebration, but an affirmation of life.

“Photography gave me the ability to connect with nature and become the conduit for awareness of details that might otherwise go unnoticed,” says Rotenberg.

Rotenberg taught herself how to use a camera, but she credits photographers such as Freeman Patterson and Eliot Porter for inspiring her to pursue her passion early on. She also credits the writings of Rachel Carson and Thomas Moore and poet Nancy Wood for opening her eyes to the wonders of nature.

Rotenberg remains one of the most popular nature photography instructors in the country today. “Teaching became a second passion once I discovered the potential of using it in combination with my photography,” says Rotenberg. “I saw teaching as an avenue to show people how to engage in childlike, joyful ways and how to live creative lives.”

Understanding the competitiveness of the profession, Rotenberg has stayed true to who she is and what she values. “My goal is to discover subjects in which a personal expression is possible,” she says. “I get more satisfaction from photographing flower petal patterns or reflections of colors in a stream. Because of this, I’ve developed a niche, and I have a better chance of marketing my own expression of images.”

With four books to her credit, including the classic Photography and The Creative Life, Rotenberg also writes poems to describe her observations in nature. “I look for metaphors or allegories to describe a subject,” she says. “I try to find what’s unique about a subject or a situation and transfer that special quality into words and pixels.” Whether she writes, photographs or teaches, Rotenberg personifies eloquence in everything she does.

Spending a few days with Nancy Rotenberg at one of her workshops not only will fill students with knowledge, but also their hearts with inspiration and hope. Concludes Rotenberg, “Don’t allow others to limit your creativity or to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing.”

To see more of Nancy Rotenberg’s photography, visit