For four years, Richard Seeley stalked his prey. He followed it north, to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. He explored the wilderness in Vancouver, British Columbia, and South Dakota, eyes fixed on the sky, on the trail of the elusive snowy owl. Finally, at the beginning of the year, while traveling through Calgary, Alberta, Seeley found the perfect moment to take his shot.
Fortunately, Seeley shoots with a camera. The Silver-
thorne-based wildlife photographer found himself in the last fading light of day, snapping photos in an effort to capture that one perfect image.
“I thought it was too dark. I didn’t think I’d ever get the shot,” he said. “But when I brought it up on the computer, it just looked great.”
Seeley’s photo shows the snowy owl in flight, wings extended downward at nearly 90 degree angles, surrounded in a pink aura of light from the setting sun. He titled the photo “Snowy Glow.”
It felt great to finally get the shot he’d been hunting for so long, Seeley said. The photo even won first place in the wildlife category of the Mile High Wildlife Photo Club, which holds a monthly competition.
As Artist of the Month at the Arts Alive Gallery in Breckenridge, Seeley’s work will be featured prominently, and he is excited to display his achievement. He’s decided that his will be a birds of prey exhibit, featuring the snowy owl picture alongside his prized photos of eagles, ospreys and other owls.
“I’ve been traveling around the U.S. trying to get a really good eagle shot and I succeeded in that,” he said. “The idea of an eagle is you want to get not just a portrait, but an in-flight shot, but you also want to get an in-flight shot with a fish.”
Seeley got his shot while visiting a stretch of the Mississippi River, where dam turbines stun the fish coming through and eagles have learned it’s the best place to scoop them up. The photographers have learned this, as well, and sometimes line the shore as thickly as the eagles, Seeley said.
The ospreys in his shots are local, living along Highway 9 in Silverthorne, close to where Seeley lives. One of his popular portraits of them features an osprey coming home to roost with a fish in its talons.
The key to photographing large birds of prey is a mixture of know-how and patience.
“You need to understand their behavior,” Seeley said. “You have to find their locations where they hang out. Where they breed is the best way to go because then you know they’re going to be there and they’re going to be there for a while.”
Once you find your spot, you have to wait patiently for the right moment.
“Birds are a very very difficult, challenging animal to photograph, as you might guess, because they fly, they’re fast, they’re skittish, they never cooperate,” Seeley said. “It generally takes very big lenses, long lenses to photograph them, high-speed camera bodies that shoot at very fast frame rates, which of course means they’re all very expensive. … Then you need the skill to photograph them in flight as they travel — usually, in the wrong direction,” he added with a well-knowing laugh.
Now that he has his snowy owl shot, Seeley’s next subject is a little bit more reachable, but just as elusive.
“The bluebird. It sounds so ordinary and prosaic,” he said. “I have yet to get a really good bluebird shot, so when the spring rolls around I’ll be out looking for them. They’re a challenge.”
Fortunately, Seeley likes a challenge, especially when the reward is a piece of art that can be saved and enjoyed forever.
“If you catch a bird in flight or even posing as a portrait, they can be absolutely beautiful.”
Seeley is also excited about the re-opening of the new Arts Alive Gallery space, which will take place on Friday, March 8, from 4 to 8 p.m. The gallery moved a few doors down within La Cima Mall in Breckenridge, now calling the shop next to Park & Main home.
“The space is larger, which is good, because we are growing,” Seeley said. “That’s much appreciated. We’re excited about the new space and we have opportunities for new artists, as always.”