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Deb Harder shoots for perfection

In December 2006, Dave Harder bought his wife, Deb Harder, her first digital, single-lens, reflex camera: a Nikon D200.

"I think he's regretted it ever since," Deb Harder says.

Since then, Harder has become obsessed with finding the perfect lighting, perfect angle and perfect composition to create the perfect photo. Anything less than perfect isn't good enough.

This week, Harder made her eighth trip in six weeks to Union Creek along the Rogue River. She arrives around 4:30 a.m., about a half-hour before sunrise, to set up. From the time the sun breaks the eastern horizon, she has about a five- to 10-minute window in which to capture the "perfect" light. Otherwise, she'll be back.

"You want that light just off the horizon," she says. "If you have a bank of clouds and an opening, you'll get the light reflecting off the clouds, and that's when you get the vibrant pink, purple and orange light."

Before 2006, Harder's only exposure (pardon the pun) to photography was a black-and-white film photography class in college.

"It's come a long way from when I used a wire hanger, and a dodger and burner to get the shadows," she says.

Harder's forte is landscapes, portraits and, more recently, vampires.

Since she was 7 years old and would rush home from school to catch "Dark Shadows" on television, Harder has had an affinity for horror in all its forms.

"I just love horror flicks," she says. "As soon as 'Paranormal Activity' came out, I was the first one in the theater."

Jim Zuckerman, editor of Shutterbug, encouraged her to pursue this subject in her photography. She designated her niece, Mandy Ginos, and friend, Gibson Smiley, to be her bloodsuckers and headed for the coastal redwood forests. The three spent hours and days posing and reposing, shooting and reshooting, waiting for the right light, expression and pose.

At home with Photoshop, Harder desaturated the forest's green habitat to an ominous blue, a sharp contrast to the vampires' pale skin, gold-toned eyes and red capes.

On a visit to Ireland, she also photographed the Gothic architecture and gargoyles to use as backdrops for other photographs in the series.

In her landscapes, Harder highlights the Oregon Coast, local lakes, the Columbia River Gorge, Maine and several national parks.

Harder has no qualms about using Photoshop or other photo-editing software and usually spends as much time editing the image as she spends in the field.

"I usually go and shoot, shoot, shoot, and then the rest of the week I spend on the computer — sometimes six hours a day," she says.

While many photographers would argue that digitally altering a photograph is "cheating," Harder says those people are missing out.

She quotes Ansel Adams, who said, "The negative is the equivalent of the composer's score, and the print the performance."

Harder will demonstrate basic photo editing and composite techniques in a presentation, titled "Exploring the Outer Limits of the Digital Darkroom," at the next Southern Oregon Photography Association meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13, at the Twin Creeks retirement community, 888 Twin Creeks Crossing, Central Point. The presentation is open to the public. Call 541-772-7693.

'Deyanira,' which literally means 'devastating, capable of great destruction,' is one of the photographs in Deb Harder's vampire series. Harder says it took her and her niece, Mandy Ginos, more than three hours to get the shot right.