The following article is a reprint provided by Laurie from the Finger Lakes Times, by Chris Kenyon. The article is available to subscribers there.
Note: Rather that include photos within this post, I highly encourage you to click through this link to Laurie’s website and really explore her incredible photographs. Her photographic eye knocks me out. This article features her nature photography – she also does so much more!
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Our rendezvous was scheduled for 11 a.m. in Sodus Point. It was a gorgeous autumn day, cumulus clouds practically bouncing off the Lake Ontario waters. It was picture perfect … a bonus when you are about to meet a photographer.
I have enjoyed Laurie Dirkx’s work for several years. A photographer of several genres, Dirkx specializes in wildlife subjects. She is a self-defined modest person and would not preen over any compliments. However, after greeting her I had to remark that her work is very good and I look forward to seeing her photographs featured at Fingerlakes1.com. I imagine the bright sunlight hid her blushing face.
Nature provided the perfect day, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation hatchery truck pulling into the Sodus Point parking lot was icing on the cake for a couple of outdoors-type camera bugs. I assured her that the delivery of 26,000 cohos for the Lake Ontario fishery was not of my making. “We just lucked out,” I said.
We both took pictures of the fingerling fish as they gained freedom from the truck via a 12-inch pipe dropping in the Sodus Bay channel.
After the photo shoot we had lunch at Captain Jack’s Tavern and talked about the art of wildlife photography.
Dirkx resides on seven acres in Wayne County with her husband, son, daughter, Arabian horse and her favorite companion, Mina, a German Shepherd. Mina accompanies her on photo assignments.
Dirkx is adamant about conservation and the ethics of wildlife photography.
“My father was a field ornithologist and naturalist,” she said. “I learned the balance of conservation from him. I grew up in the environment of respecting wildlife. He had every issue of the New York State Conservationist magazine — all of them in mint condition.”
Dirkx, who used to hunt with a bow and gun, further explained her theory of outdoor photography by example.
“If you locate a fox’s den during the spring and you want to capture the young kits, you shouldn’t start clearing vegetation around that area just to get the perfect shot,” she explained. “You have to respect the wildlife and habitat. Don’t manipulate or stress any animals.”
Ethics also plays an important role while sharing the outdoor habitat with others. Dirkx insists on wearing blaze orange if she wanders the woods with her camera during hunting season.
“Public land use is for everyone, including hunters,” she noted. “I respect their sport and try not to intrude. And, if it’s not public land, make sure you have permission to be there.”
She’s also conscious of birders with binoculars rather than camera lenses. “I need to be closer to my subject,” she said. “However, I will never interrupt their viewing.”
While ethics in photography would be a great course for Dirkx to teach, she touched on some other hints for capturing wildlife images. “You need a connection with your subject,” she said. “Learn about the animal. Know its habitat and environment.” She dubbed her approach as “the nature of the beast.”
“Plan your photo shoots at dawn and dusk,” she continued. “Those are active times for wildlife.” Dirkx advised to match camera settings with the shooting environment. In addition, a successful wildlife photo should require at least one of the animal’s eyes to be in focus.
“Some of my photography looks like I shot on the continuous setting, but I didn’t,” she described. “I am one shutter press at a time. Continuous never seems as sharp as one shutter press at a time.
“Remember to present the final image as if you want someone to live the moment vicariously. Represent the environment to have the viewer feel they are right there with you.”
F-stops, aperture priority, shutter priority, image stabilizers and ISO speeds are some of the technical terms associated with photography. Knowing your equipment is essential, but to capture wildlife in its natural environment is an emotion. You have to become one with nature.
Dirkx becomes nothing more than a visitor while standing in the woods. She is a great artist because she reveres her subjects.
“My subjects are the authors, my lens the illustrator,” she told me. “With a camera in hand I cannot help but to thrive as I capture special moments with nature and its wildlife. I see our natural environment through wide-eyed wonderment and love sharing it. Especially to those who can’t get outside such as I can.”
The photographer extraordinaire discussed not only protecting equipment from inclement weather, but dressing properly. “I have rain covers for the cameras, but I also prepare myself for extended trips searching for wildlife,” she said, giving the example of bundling up for a snowy owl photo shoot during the winter.
Stalking for the perfect wildlife photo takes time and effort. Dirkx said letting someone know where you will be and when you intend to return is a must.
Dirkx’s photographs have appeared in The Conservationist, New York Wildlife Viewing Guide, Ducks Unlimited and other national publications.
Chris Kenyon’s “Outdoors” column appears every other Sunday in the Finger Lakes Times. To reach him, call 879-1341 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Dirkx shoots her photos.
For wildlife photography, Wayne County resident and outdoor photographer Laurie Dirkx uses a Canon 7D body, with the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens. She uses her Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L II USM lens for landscapes, and the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens for macro shots. She prefers her wildlife gear as simple, usually just the 100 to 400mm lens — no tele-converter or UV filters.