What advice would you give to younger nature photographers?
Consider your relationship to natural places as you would long-term friendships. Be ready to invest your time and patience in getting to know one or two nearby places. Go to them regularly, in all seasons. Observe in all weathers. Always study the nature, quality, and fall of the light. Learn to use other tools than camera, lenses, filters, and tripod--practice with loppers, rakes, flame-flappers--and make an effort to nurture them: volunteer for burn crews, brush and weed removal, and so on. Study and learn the names of the plants and animals you meet; learn something of their ecology. Extend your philosophical reach: read Aldo Leopold, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, Scott Sanders, Rachel Carson, and other fine writers who have thought carefully and lovingly about our relationship as humans with the Nature that we live within. At some point, you may sense that you're beginning to fall in love with the Natural Object of Your Affections: this could be an excellent time to let go! and read the account that John Muir left of his first passionate encounter with the Yosemite Valley and its mountains that would become the love of his life: My First Summer in the Sierra. A young and mystical wanderer found his heart's desire, and in his enraptured embracing of it he discovered who he was and what the course of his life must be.
Finally, as you grow in your knowledge and affection for your special place, you may find yourself at certain moments nearly overwhelmed by sudden gratitude. Don't shy from the feeling. Go ahead. Give thanks.
What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest? What areas do you return to constantly, and what's your favorite newly visited area?
The Cedar Hills Sand Prairie State Preserve is the place I return to most often. It's remarkably diverse, and it's just a ten-minute drive from my home. I've been going there for 27 years. It has guided me in learning almost everything I know about the practice of prairie photography. Other prairies that are important for me are Rochester Cemetery Prairie, Hayden Prairie State Preserve, Sylvan Runkel State Preserve and Stone State Park in the Loess Hills, and the hill prairies of the Upper Iowa River.
I'm also deeply drawn to the forests and streams of the "driftless area" of northeast Iowa, where I grew up, particularly the algific talus slopes with their rare, boreal, and post-Pleistocene relict plants and invertebrates. In the Upper Midwest, I love the Hardin County/Iowa River greenbelt, the blufflands of the Mississippi Valley, and the Lake Superior region--the North Shore and the Apostle Islands. New, compelling places: Blackmun Prairie, which came into public ownership fairly recently, thanks to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and the oak-hickory savannas of southern Iowa.
Bill Witt is the photographer of Enchanted by Prairie