This spring we’re releasing the second edition of Sylvan T. Runkel and Dean M. Roosa’s Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands. Botanist Tom Rosburg provided all new photographs for the second edition, as well as some additional text. Here, he talks with Bur Oak Books series editor Holly Carver about how he became a plant photographer.
Holly: What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of photographing these areas? What’s better, what’s worse?
Tom: One thing is that there are more public areas to go to and look for nature subjects. And at least some of them are still pretty good examples of Iowa’s native landscape. In part this is due to the increased emphasis on restoration work. So access to areas is surely better. On the down side—I see increasing problems with non-native, troublesome plant species that threaten the integrity of natural areas. Unfortunately, in some cases this problem is exacerbated by poorly designed and/or executed restoration work.
Holly: What advice would you give to younger nature photographers? What are the particular challenges of being a botanical photographer?
Tom: I teach nature photography at Drake University and Lakeside Lab, so there is a lot I could say. In short, I stress three components that make an image aesthetic: 1) understand your equipment and how it works, what to use when, correct exposure is critical; 2) understand the role of content in an image, especially elements of design and light quality; and 3) understand the key features of composition, for example, depth of field, perspective, and viewpoint.
Plants are very accessible, but photographing them can be challenging due to bad light and wind. There are several ways of dealing with these problems with the use of accessory equipment. Or quite often, getting out in the field early in the day can make the difference. There is a lot of truth to the saying “the early photographer gets the image.”
Holly: 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?
Tom: The state preserves are generally my favorite areas because they offer the best examples of our native ecosystems. These are the places that provide the best opportunities for plants and landscapes. On a larger scale, both the Loess Hills and Paleozoic Plateau landforms offer exceptional opportunities for nature photography.
Areas close to home are the places I return to repeatedly—Ledges State Park and Doolittle Prairie State Preserve are good examples. A newly visited area that has a lot of promise is Whiterock Conservancy in Guthrie County.