by Janet I. Martineau
Phil Stephens, a senior naturalist at Midland’s Chippewa Nature Center, has been “shooting” wildlife since around 1970 -- first with a Kodak Instamatic, on a wilderness Canadian canoe trip, and now with a more sophisticated digital SLR.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, Stephens will present an “Introduction to Nature Photography” program at the Green Point Environmental Learning Center, 3010 Maple in Saginaw. The program is sponsored by the Friends of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, and free to its members. Others pay $2 at the door.
Stephens says the No. 1 tip he offers is “to be out in nature as much as possible, preferably with your camera.”
Among the other pieces of advice he will offer to budding nature photographers seeking to capture flowers, landscapes and wildlife: Exclude everything that detracts from your main subject, which means paying attention to or manipulating the background and foreground and monitoring the sides of the frame. Understand the idea of 18 percent gray exposure control. Go where the nature is.
So where has he been in those 40 years since he took up the craft. “I have photographed in Alaskan glaciers, moose on Isle Royale, mountains in Glacier National Park, bison in Yellowstone, wintry rivers at Chippewa Nature Center, alligators in the Everglades, waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula, pronghorn on the prairies, the moon, the Big Sur in California, frigatebirds in Hawaii, orchids and insects from various locals, and icy Hudson Bay.”
People attending March 2 can expect to see many of these images as Stephens winds through his program.
He says all the seasons have their pluses, although he has not shot as much in winter as in the other three seasons. He says he has no favorite subject but does admit that “shooting from a plane has its own challenges.”
Stephens, also the land manager at Chippewa, has a master of science in biology degree from Michigan Tech University and for five years worked with the Isle Royale Wolf Ecology Project. He was raised in Grand Rapids, and joined the Chippewa staff in 1982.
So of all those images he has taken, what ranks the highest on his scale?
“It all depends on my mood! One of the more painful, but beautiful, series I shot was of a sunset in Great Sand Dunes National Park, with amazingly ferocious mosquitoes swamping around me.
“Also, I was able to get within 20 feet of moose at various times and live to tell the tales.”