It helps to be a bit obsessive when you're a wildlife photographer - at least according to Richard Seeley, the featured artist at Arts Alive gallery in Breckenridge this month, whose reception takes place today.
Take his quest to photograph snowy owls for example. "My first encounter with a snowy owl was on the tundra above the Arctic Circle while in search of polar bears," Seeley writes on his blog. "I fell in love with these beautiful owls and hoped to someday be able to get a closer, sharper, higher image quality photograph than the one shot that day."
So he followed the reports and chased owls - in Aurora, near the Denver International Airport, even driving 12 hours to Lake Andes in South Dakota - without luck until, on his way back from that trip, he and friend Bob Karcz finally located one (again, following reports) hunkered down on a street lamp off Interstate 80, of all places.
"We took a few photographs to prove that we did see one, but still it was too far away for good photography, and the scene was all wrong," he wrote.
Later, while in Seattle, he drove to Vancouver, British Columbia, and found the mother lode of owls - but the light was wrong and they had limited time. He returned again and it rained almost the whole time. "During a window of no rain, I did get a few shots worth sharing ... However, I did not get the photograph that I came for: a head-on, razor-sharp, two-yellow-eyes-wide-open-looking-at-the-camera, bird-in-flight photograph of a snowy owl," he wrote.
To this day, the quest continues.
"You have to be a little crazy to be in this business - long hours, little pay, standing in the cold for hours on end waiting for a wildlife happening, constantly searching for wildlife photo opps, heavy equipment to carry on your back, expensive equipment to purchase that becomes obsolete every two years, long hours on the computer processing images with many software programs and endless updates," said Seeley, who is a regular photo contributor to the Summit Daily.
His images are also sold by National Geographic, which invited him to join its stock photo site and soon, its new site for stock video.
At Arts Alive, Seeley is displaying images from a 60-day trip he took from Silverthorne to central Alaska in his RV last summer. The journey involved travel through British Columbia, the Alaskan inside passage, the Yukon and a week in the interior of Denali National Park. A professional photographer's road permit allowed him to travel into inner Denali in a private vehicle. The photos on display include Mount McKinley at sunrise, black bears, grizzly bears, moose, owls and other wildlife caught in the act of doing what they do.
Close, and sometimes amusing, wildlife encounters are part of the job. At Brooks River in Katmai National Park, for example, he and his wife, Beth, were within 50 yards of their destination after carrying heavy camera equipment for a mile when they met a young bear coming along the path in the opposite direction. They backed up, waited, then backed up and waited again for a total of three times before realizing the bear had no plans to change course, so they squeezed into an outhouse together and let him pass. Visitors to the area are required to go to "bear school" so they know how to behave around bears, Seeley wrote.
In 2012, Seeley's photo, "Spin Cycle," picturing a bear vigorously shaking water from its head, won the grand prize in Nature Photographer Magazine's inaugural international nature photography contest.
"Wildlife is very challenging," said Seeley. "To capture a winning shot, one must learn about the behavior of the wildlife; one must become a naturalist. I love learning about my subject matter. A good photographer must be able to anticipate animal behavior, be ready and shoot before the action takes place."
The Seeleys live in Silverthorne during winter and Gloucester, Mass., in summers, though they hope to relocate to Silverthorne permanently. On March 8, Seeley will host a "Denver to Denali Wildlife Photography Adventure" slideshow at the Silverthorne Library. For more, check out Seeley's photo blog at richardseeleyphotography.wordpress.com.