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Image hunters

Brushes with wildlife in his native Lake County compelled Bart Elder to trade one kind of shot for another.

"I saw the big buck, and I was reaching for my camera instead of my gun," says the longtime amateur photographer.

Winner of the wildlife category in the Mail Tribune's inaugural Oregon Outdoors Photo Contest last summer, Elder likens his pastime to hunting game. Success requires patience, willingness to brave all kinds of conditions and no small amount of luck, he says.

"I know where different animals hang out," says Elder, explaining that he takes "any chance possible" to trek outdoors to shoot photos "as long as it's not a blizzard."

Persistence paid off when Elder, 51, encountered nine bighorn sheep near Summer Lake in 2008. The grazers' gaze from a rock-strewn ridge topped Elder's competition in the newspaper contest. A contest-worthy photo, says Elder, is in focus, depicts an animal's behavior and makes eye contact.

The Grants Pass resident also won first place in the 2007 Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest with a bald eagle's launch from a bare-branched tree toward Elder's lens. The prize-winning moment came after several hours of waiting around Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge.

"Get out and about and shoot lots of pictures," he advises.

Shooting numerous frames has become easier for outdoors photographers since digital technology replaced film, not to mention glass plates used in the medium's earliest days. Modern-day equipment rewards photographers for experimenting with light and exploring all the angles.

"Digital has completely changed how accessible photography is to the general public," says Ashland photographer Sean Bagshaw. "There's no cost penalty to taking lots of photos. And you get instant feedback."

Feedback for fellow photographers is an important element of Bagshaw's popular Outdoor Exposure Photography workshops. The multiday excursions take participants from the Oregon Coast to the state's Cascade mountain peaks.

"I visit places where I hope there will be good photographic opportunities, but many of my favorite images take me by surprise," says Bagshaw. "You can always do something new, especially in landscape photography."

Even innovative photographers, however, should adhere to the art form's fundamentals. Compose the frame so distracting elements around the edges aren't visible, says Bagshaw. Include a single, strong foreground element or visual line leading into the scene, he adds. Because it's common to include too much visual information in a landscape, photographers should strive for simplicity.

Yet don't simplify photos to the point of being mundane, says Ashland photographer Jim Kurtz. As a judge for photography competitions in Southern California, Kurtz rewarded the "rule of thirds," a composition technique thought to create not only more visual interest but energy and tension. The viewer's eyes "flow across" and "linger" on these images, says Kurtz, composed as if they could be divided into nine equal parts with two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines.

Visual interest, says Bagshaw, also comes from unusual lighting and vibrant color. Just as hunters and fishermen know which time of day and which conditions their quarry favors, seasoned photographers seek subject matter in the best possible lighting — twilight and the hour after sunrise and before sunset.

"The quality of light is the most important element in landscape photography," says Bagshaw.

Cloudy days cast forests and wooded streams in intrigue, he adds. And amid unsettled weather — before, during and after a storm — any time of day can be dramatic.

Shooting in low light with long exposure times requires a tripod, explains Bagshaw, adding that it's the most important piece of equipment he owns other than his camera. A lens hood, says Kurtz, is essential when shooting a sunset.

Photography, like any outdoors pursuit, has its gear. But a fancy camera doesn't guarantee great photos, says Medford photographer Jim Craven.

"Learn everything you can with whatever you already have and then think about buying new lenses or cameras," says Craven. "Consider this: Nobody ever complimented a master chef by saying ... "You must have a great stove!"

Dustin Peters of Eagle Point won the People's Choice vote with his photo of National Creek Falls near Union Creek. - Courtesy Dustin Peters