Open Spaces

Catch of the Day

Nature photographers Diane and Jim Bodkin share a love for nature and life

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By April Anderson | Photo: Jim Bodkin

What do an engineer and a medical nurse have in common? It turns out a lot more than love. A South Barrington-based husband and wife team of nature photographers, the Bodkins initially delved into photography as a way of capturing precious vignettes of family and vacations.

“We always enjoyed the national parks and wanted to capture more than landscapes,” explains Jim. “With the advent of digital technology and more available time (retirement), it formed the perfect storm to get us into serious nature photography.”

Getting back to nature

Diane led the way, joining Riverwoods Nature Photographic Society in 2005 and Citizens for Conservation (CFC) three years later. Currently, Jim is the Nature Division chair and co-chair of the Outing Committee for the Photographic Society of America (PSA), and Diane is chair of South Barrington Conservancy Commission. Together, the Bodkins completed the Nature Photography Certificate Program at Morton Arboretum a few months ago.

Since most nature photographic organizations require the capture of subjects with “no hand of man,” the Bodkins have discovered an exquisite palette of local wildflowers, birds, and landscapes (without banned subjects and alterations), and have been winning awards in local, regional, national, and international competitions since 2008.

“My interest and Jim’s expertise have improved our commitment to what we’re doing,” says Diane, who acknowledges the complementary relationship of her husband’s technical approach to her more emotional connection with nature photographic style.

“Jim looks more at the physical aspects of the scene—the technical excellence, light direction, saturated color, tone on tone. Impact for him is in the vista or the natural setting,” explains Diane. “My specialty or favorite subjects are pairs, couples or parent and young. Impact for me is in the emotion that is elicited.”

Taking pictures of everything from waterfalls to water lilies and wildflowers to tigers in the wild, Jim and Diane have their favorite subjects. Jim enjoys photographing birds, large mammals, and landscapes (especially waterfalls) while Diane enjoys the challenge of wading birds, wildflowers, and macro photography. “One of the beauties of nature photography is that nature is constantly around us and ever changing,” Jim says, “and a true nature photographer must be prepared to capture whatever is presented.”

When there’s an image both photographers would like to capture, they take turns. Initially, they tried to share a single camera, but soon discovered it to be more efficient to shoot separately. Jim uses a continuous shoot approach in contrast to Diane who strategically snaps the shutter of her camera to garner a few select images.

“Even though it is exciting to be in the presence of the polar bears or a rare bird, it is just as awesome for us to have a great image of that animal or bird to look at later and enjoy again,” reveals Diane. “We are motivated by the joy that our images bring to others, people who can’t necessarily be where those images were taken, but can still appreciate the wonder of it all.”

Technical Specs

In spite of travelling to 50 states and 43 foreign countries, the Bodkins’ quest for “that perfect image” continues, both here and beyond.

For photographers looking for beauty in the Barrington area, the Bodkins recommend visiting local forest preserves and natural areas that are open to the public, using camera lenses that suit the subject, and being alert to lighting.

A telephoto lens for distant subjects (such as birds), a wide-angle lens for landscapes, and a macro lens for wildflowers and insects can expand the options of a basic camera. For the best natural light, early morning and late afternoon circumvent the harsh shadows of midday. A bright overcast sky provides even lighting while backlighting commands attention, and side lighting highlights texture.

Understanding the precious role of light in nature photography, the Bodkins plan to pursue one of their “dream” images in 2017—the Northern Lights. As brilliantly colored waves of light permeate the darkness of the snow-covered mountains and fjords of Norway, the Bodkins will be standing side-by-side dressed in their warmest winter gear, watching and waiting in excitement mingled with awe. “Once you spend time in nature you have a raised awareness of the interrelationship of all things and the impact of humanity on nature and the habitat,” says Jim. Nature photography nurtures patience, optimism, and a desire for continued improvement. It brings beauty to those who are unable to go to the places where beauty is found and gives its beholders a precious moment in quietude amid the distractions of daily life. More than pretty pictures, insightfully captured images of nature touch the soul by inspiring the heart.

Tips for Better Nature Photos

  • Use your phone: You don’t need an expensive camera to get great pictures.
  • Make sure your images are in focus: This is one thing you can’t fix later!
  • Background check: Make sure the background doesn’t detract from your subject.
  • Be patient: Take the same subject from more than one angle or pose.
  • Go eye-to-eye: Photograph your subject at its eye level.
  • Be prepared: Weather, walking, and heavy equipment can make this activity a challenge.

Invest in appropriate equipment for the subject you want to capture:

  • Consider a 20-25 Megapixel DSLR or mirrorless camera body with
  • inter-changeable lens to allow lenses to be added as the need arises and skills improve. (Note: While 30-50 Megapixel DSLR cameras allow more cropping, they are also more expensive and create very large files.)
  • Look into a zoom lens for general photography and all around flexibility.
  • A good range is 28mm to 200mm, but 16mm to 300mm is better. Specialty lenses for macro, extreme telephoto, extreme wide angle will become important as your skills develop.
  • A solid tripod is important, so buy a quality one from the start. Many photographers underestimate the importance of a tripod and must replace flimsy ones later.

Once You Have a Camera

  • Be mindful of your camera’s settings
    • The minimum setting for most nature photography should be between ƒ/8-ƒ/10 at 1/125 sec and a minimum ISO to achieve it.
    • To stop action such as birds in flight: use a minimum of 1/1,000 sec and ƒ/6.3.
    • For landscapes without wind blowing: use a minimum of 1/125 sec and ƒ/11 - ƒ/22
    • To create silky flowing water: use around 0.4 seconds shutter speed with the camera’s lowest ISO and appropriate ƒ stop.
  • Use a tripod whenever possible for sharper images. If no tripod is available, brace your camera on a tree, a wall, a fence post, or someone else’s shoulders.
  • Continue to learn and experiment.
  • Attend an online webinar or check out a free video or visit a photography group — www.creativelive.com, www.youtube.com, or www.psa-photo.org

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April Anderson is a naturalist and freelance writer who can be contacted at team.nature.ed@gmail.com.