Deb Harder's newly adopted shutterbug lifestyle keeps her on the move, pulling out all the stops to capture nature's essence in photographs.

Deb Harder's newly adopted shutterbug lifestyle keeps her on the move, pulling out all the stops to capture nature's essence in photographs.

Be it stepping out of a bush plane to photograph bears in Alaska or scrambling over eight miles of boulders and streams for a landscape shot last week in Utah's Zion National Park, Harder works to harness the peace of nature — one jpeg moment at a time.

"It puts me in kind of a Zen moment," says Harder, 49, of Medford. "All my images are tranquil, serene. And when I'm out there, that's how I feel. It takes me away from all the chaos.

"And I'm a perfectionist," she says. "So this can be very consuming."

And now it's time for another round of public consumption of photographs by Harder and others as part of the Mail Tribune's annual Wild Bird Photo Contest.

Beginning today, the Mail Tribune is taking submissions to the annual contest that is popular among bird lovers and nature photographers such as Harder, last year's winner.

Last year's contest drew 466 submissions, and readers cast nearly 2,000 votes in online balloting.

Harder won the grand prize with her shot of a crane skittering across the water at the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

If the rules had allowed it, she would have taken first place as well for a shot of a golden sparrow. Her two photographs were running neck and neck in online voting until the final day, when the crane nipped the sparrow.

Instead, first place went to Tara Behnke of Medford for a photo of a rufous hummingbird.

Second place went to Jenny Grimm of Rogue River for a photo of thousands of snow geese at Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge.

Long-time sponsors Wild Birds Unlimited and Total Camera and Video are joined this year by BlackBird Shopping Center.

Harder is relatively new to life through the lens.

A black-and-white photographer in college, she put film aside. Four Christmases ago, her husband bought her a Nikon digital camera, and she's been filling memory cards ever since.

Harder and her husband sold their Medford veterinary clinic two years ago. Since then Harder has been chasing sunrises and critters regularly — most recently to Zion for a photography workshop. She plans to attend another next year in Ireland.

"It's been quite an exciting journey," Harder says.

Harder's images can be viewed and purchased through her website, drhimages.com.

There, visitors will find mostly landscape shots, which are her first love, as well as a mix of wildlife photography, such as last year's winning bird shot and even a few campy shots of the family dogs.

"They're dressed in Christmas outfits," she laughs. "OK. That's tacky. But what are you gonna do?"

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.