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‘I rejoice in the search for beauty’

Clarissa man has always loved wildlife photography

By Tim King

Bob Freeman Jr., of Clarissa, says that a good photograph should “communicate to the viewer a feeling that compels us to want to be there.”

Bob, now in his 60s, has spent much of his life framing the world’s diverse beauty with a camera and sharing what he’s seen with others.

Bob Freeman set the timer and took this photo of he and his wife, Clare, during a trip in southern Utah. Photo by Bob Freeman

“My parents owned Shady Lane Resort in Sauk Centre,” Bob said. “It was a great place to grow up, as I observed birds, animals and the diversity of wildlife along the shores of Sauk Lake. When I was about 10 years old, my parents gave me my first little camera. From that time on, even though I had no elemental skills in photography, I was happy to snap away and attempt to capture the beauty surrounding me.”

Recognizing the beauty around you requires an open eye and an open heart, practice, and good teachers. Bob was taught and inspired by his parents, high school chums, and family friend Ron Wienhold who created River Glenn Gardens on the Sauk River near Little Sauk.

Through his youth and early adulthood, Freeman kept snapping the shutter at the beauty that was all around him in Central Minnesota, first with that original camera and then, in his early 20s, a 35 millimeter Pentax II. The Pentax was a Single Lens Reflex camera that allows the photographer to look directly through the lens and compose the photo.

“What you see is what you get,” Bob said. “That camera was the real start of my love for the elusive images of my dreams. But, many years would pass before I learned the basic elements of good photography.”

Bob’s photographic interests were put on the back burner while he attended college at the University of North Dakota at Williston. Later he helped his family manage their business in Sauk Centre. Then he spent a quarter century conducting political research for NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses) and NWYC (National Write Your Congressman) and living in Illinois, Arizona, and northern Minnesota.

Although he devoted himself to raising his four children with his wife Clare, and to pursuing his career during those years, he continued to discover beauty and photograph it when time allowed.

Bob grabbed this photo of a Cedar Waxwing in his back yard in Clarissa. Photo by Bob Freeman

“Since Clare and I have traveled a lot, a variety of special places tend to produce special photos but only if we are in the right place at the right time and have vision,” he said.

One of those special places at the right time was a photograph taken while on a hike along the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park. The photo captures the intensity of the autumnal browns and oranges with, at their center, a group of wonderfully gnarled sage shrubs crowned by a cloud of silver-green leaves.

“That photo is an example of finding a surprise subject and creating a composition where I wasn’t expecting it,” Bob said.

Working to discover images, like the sage along the Lamar River, has caused Bob to see his surrounding differently, perhaps more clearly.

“When I began pursuing photography more intensely I became more aware of landscapes, water features, wildlife, sunsets, plants and trees,” he said. “The pursuit of a good image tends to sharpen one’s awareness of detail, lighting, color and compositions. Patterns are fascinating to me, hence the more I hone my skills in the search for the perfect image, which is something one seldom finds, the more I become aware of my surroundings, and the more carefully I search for and observe many things I would otherwise miss. Vision for the photographer is everything.”

Nearly two decades ago Bob contacted Robin, a California-based landscape and wildlife photographer via his website Wilderness Images. Robin has extensive photo publication credits to his name and he volunteered to mentor Bob. Bob gladly accepted. Bob worked with Robin for over 12 years of what he describes as intense critique.

Autumn browns and reds collide in this shot along the Lamar River. Photo by Bob Freeman

“He drilled me mercilessly over years of training,” Bob said. “In spite of his busy schedule of running his graphics business, Robin spent countless hours patiently teaching me the basics of good photography. I chuckle when I think of submitting a photo which I thought was great, only to hear from him over email messages something like: ‘If you ever submit a photo like that again I’ll beat you with my tripod!’”

Bob never did get beaned by Robin’s tripod. In fact they developed a friendship and deep respect for each other that, in part, resulted in Bob and Clare editing the text in Robin’s book Sierra Nevada - Majestic Wilderness.

Since receiving that first camera as a child, Bob has used a lot of different cameras and photo technologies to pursue his photographic work. He says transitioning to digital from film photography was an adventure that his children helped guide him on. Now he shoots only digital images with a Nikon d7100 camera that he bought in 2014. For wildlife photos he uses a 200-600 mm telephoto lens mounted on a micro four-thirds Lumix GH2, camera.

“For simple landscape shots while traveling, I also carry a Sony point and shoot with a Zeiss lens,” he said. “I use a tripod for most serious landscape photo compositions.”

There is a wide range of prices for camera equipment and good equipment is important for taking quality photos. More important than equipment, however, is learning the basic elements of a pleasing image, according to Bob. He says there are seven of them.

The first element is good light.

The tiny Bob in the big mountains was taken by Clare in the Beartooth Mountains of the Montana/Wyoming border. Photo by Clare Freeman

“That is most often achieved by avoiding bright sun which tends to produce blown out highlights or shadows that are too dark,” Bob said. “Photograph in shade, or look for evening light or early morning light, or light which is altered by storms or sunrise and sunset colors.”

For the second element Bob suggests a careful composition of positive and negative images and shapes.

“For example, balancing light and dark objects such as dark rocks, snow patches, or bright flower patches with dark green trees. Balance is the key here,” he said.

Balancing color is the third element.

“Our eyes are drawn to bright colors such as yellow,” he said. “So when strong colors are present, the bright colors should draw the eye of the viewer through the photo in a pleasing flow, usually from the foreground to the background.”

The fourth element is focus.

“A sharp image is usually desired unless a certain scene calls for fog, mist, smoke, etc. Even in that case, certain features need to be tack sharp. Use of a good tripod is a must,” Bob said.

For the fifth element, composition, Bob said the rule of thumb is to center the subject of the photo and seek a balance in the key elements in all parts of it to compliment the subject or subjects.

Number six is geometric complexity.

Bob took a picture of this loon on a lake near Effie, Minnesota. Photo by Bob Freeman

“Repeating patterns such as rows of petals, several similarly shaped leaves or rocks, patterns in clouds, grasses, or forests provide geometric complexity,” he said. “So do patterns in landscapes such as snow strips on a mountain slope, or repeating patches of flowers.”

“Last, but certainly not least, a winning photo must possess something that appears special to the scene,” Bob said. That could be sunsets, sunrises, dramatic clouds, storm clouds, autumn colors, flowers, frost, or fog. I think you get the picture!”

Those special scenes can be found anywhere - near or far. For example, Bob and Clare recently travelled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to take in the beauty of the fall colors there. But one of his favorite photos, one he has hanging in his home, was taken of the fall colors and an unnamed stream just a few miles from his house.

“For the serious nature photographer, our task is to capture God’s art in the right light, composition, clarity, color and special moment wherever we find it,” Bob said.

“I rejoice in the search for beauty, and it is that natural revelation of God’s beauty that causes one to worship, not that we worship the objects of beauty, but the Creator Himself!,” he continued. “That beauty is sometimes elusive and subtle, and sometimes bold and spectacular, but it is all around us - God’s signature on the Master canvas of His creation. Beautiful things and beautiful places are not accidents, and neither is the pursuit of fine art photography. It is designed. It is created. And it can be excellent.”

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