Breckenridge photographer’s wilderness photo chosen for display in Smithsonian museum in D.C. |

Breckenridge photographer’s wilderness photo chosen for display in Smithsonian museum in D.C.

A landscape photo shot by Nate Zeman, 32, of Breckenridge, recently was one of 63 photos chosen to be hung in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. with an exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
Courtesy of Nate Zeman |


Great Sand Dunes Wilderness: A photo of dune ripples by Michael O’Keeffe, of Olathe, Kansas, and a shot of a lone person who looks like an ant among the dunes by Richard Hebhardt, of Juneau, Alaska.

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness: A photo of a lone evergreen in an aspen grove by Benjamin Walls, of Bristol, Virgina.

Mount Evans Wilderness: A wildlife shot of mountain goat kids and a lightning strike by Verdon Tomajko, of Superior, Colorado.

Mount Sneffels Wilderness: A landscape shot of a rainbow and a storm by Phillip Noll of Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness: Three wildlife photos (a howling coyote, yellow-bellied marmots and an American pika) by Fi Rust, of Longmont, and a photo of a friend at The Keyhole on Longs Peak by Ethan Welty, of Boulder.

Sangre de Cristo Wilderness: A photo from near the Crestone Needle by Kimo Boeche, of Boulder.

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Around sunset, Nate Zeman entered Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and drove a familiar four-wheel-drive road. He parked at his usual spot, jumped out of the car and grabbed his camera and tripod.

It was late autumn 2012. The Breckenridge-based photographer had been trying to capture a majestic 14er, Capitol Peak, from that spot for years. He’d already visited the place a few times that season.

This time, his timing, the weather, the clouds and the fall foliage all came together for one photograph.

“It’s mostly just a persistence game,” said Zeman, 32, later. “It’s really about going there over and over and over again.”

That shot, with its golden aspens and pink sky lighting up the peak, was unveiled Sept. 3, on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Zeman entered the photo in a contest organized by the museum, the Nature’s Best Photography Fund and Wilderness 50 — a coalition of government agencies, nonprofit groups, foundations and other supporters — to celebrate the anniversary.

From more than 5,000 submissions judged by photography, science and conservation professionals, Zeman’s photo was chosen as one of the top 100, and he won an honorable mention in the scenic landscape category, professional division.

The photo was also one of just 63 that will be displayed in the museum until next summer.

Signed into law in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Wilderness Act aimed to preserve forever certain landscapes of America and the natural heritage they represent.

Federal wilderness designations aim to create lands “untrammeled by man.” Once designated by Congress, wilderness areas allow non-motorized recreation, livestock grazing and scientific research, while mineral development, oil and gas drilling, logging, ATVs, snowmobiles and mountain bikes are forbidden.

Today the National Wilderness Preservation System has protected more than 100 million acres.

“That was a such a crucial, landmark act,” Zeman said, describing wilderness as a place where you visit but don’t stay.

Two more of his photos won honorable mentions in the contest: a shot of a blue heron in Florida and another photo of Capitol Peak, taken earlier in the season and earlier in the day from almost the same spot.

“It’s one of those places I always seem to end up every fall,” he said of the 30th highest mountain in Colorado.

As far as his photography process goes, Zeman said, “I try to do as much of it in camera as possible to keep the editing to a minimum.”

He shoots images in the raw file form and normally uses a graduated neutral density filter and a polarizer.

When he uploads the photo to his computer, he doesn’t add or remove anything or change the colors. He bumps up the saturation a little, he said, because raw files come out under-saturated compared with what he sees when he’s out shooting.

“Everything’s always more impressive in real life,” he said.

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