Nature Hunter

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
by Cynthia Martens

Marion wildlife-photographer Gerald Wiens has discovered that people buy wildlife photos because they have an association with a particular animal.

“I don’t sell many Rocky Mountain big horn sheep pictures in Kansas-unless it’s to a hunter,” Wiens said.

Although he’s photographed animals in places like Colorado, Florida, Texas and New Mexico, most of the photos sold in recent years are indeed taken closer to home.

“I suspect 90 percent of them are from Kansas or the Midwest,” he said.

Wiens, 51, earned a master’s degree in 1976 at Emporia State University, where his major was environmental ecology and his minor was wildlife and fisheries management.

From 1980 to 1997, he was director of Chaplin Nature Center in Arkansas City.

Today, the Marion native builds log homes, does home repair and remodeling work, and sells his photographs.

“I’m self employed-it’s a combination of things,” Wiens said.

His business card reads “Fur & Feathers Photography,” and his Web site is wwwebservice.net/wiens.

The site contains some of his images. Photos can be purchased by downloading an order blank and mailing it in to Wiens.

But compared to the photos he’s taken over the years, that Web site is just the tip of the ice berg.

“I probably have 30,000 to 40,000 slides in my file cabinet,” Wiens said.

His first camera as a child was used for a 4-H photography project.

“I just had a little point-and-shoot camera with a built-in flash,” Wiens said.

His photography career was on hold throughout his years at Marion High School, where he graduated in 1969. Interest in photography didn’t surface again until his senior year at ESU.

“I took a class in black and white photography-basic photography,” Wiens said. “By that time, I was getting close to getting a degree in wildlife biology and spending a lot of time outdoors. The two just started going together.”

As naturalist-director of the Chaplin Nature Center beginning in 1980, he was producing educational slide programs.

“I really started shooting a lot of different slides of all kinds of things in nature to use in the programs,” Wiens said.

One fateful February afternoon at the nature center, Wiens spotted a lone opossum walking across the yard in foot-deep snow outside his office.

“I grabbed my camera and took after him,” Wiens said. “He went to the nearest tree-a little elm tree about 8 feet tall.”

The branches were so small the opossum had trouble holding on as he stared back at Wiens’ camera.

The critter was facing west, and his paws were bright pink from the icy bath they got in the deep snow, Wiens said.

“People say, ‘I’ve always thought of opossums as very ugly creatures, but that one’s cute.’ That’s probably the attractiveness of it.”

Wiens submitted the image to a National Wildlife Federation photo contest in 1983, and it was one of the winners in a pool of 15,000 entries.

“I had several people call and want prints of it,” he said. “That’s the first thing I ever sold.

“A few years after that, I matted up a few (photos), took them to a show, and things just have kind of grown from that point.”

In June, Wiens went to three photography shows-the Sunfest at Bartlesville, Okla., The Towne Art Show in Overland Park and the Omaha Summer Arts Festival in Omaha, Neb.

“It’s the only time in my life I’ve done three shows in a month,” Wiens said. “So that’s keeping me busy getting photos ready in between shows.”

Wiens takes framed and matted images to the shows. He said he prefers the more-serious art fairs to the more-casual craft fairs.

The majority of his wildlife photos are double matted with acid-free mats, signed on the image and covered with a clear plastic sleeve. Unframed images keep the price down, and his clients can choose their own frames later.

Sizes range from 5-inch-by-7-inch photos to 16-inch-by-24-inch images, and prices range from $25 to $300.

Wiens has sold more than 300 different images at art shows in the past 15 years, and he has three to four popular images that sell regularly at each show.

The opossum and a raccoon family have been his best sellers over the years, Wiens said. The opossum photo has appeared in National Wildlife Magazine, a book titled “Kansas Wildlife” and in wildlife magazines published in Europe, Wiens said.

“Recently, I also have a white-wolf picture, an elk-herd picture, a bobcat kitten and the cardinal is the favorite song bird. And a lot of people are interested in owls-so that group right there (are the big sellers).”

His current cameras of choice for his photo shoots are both Nikons.

“Nikon is the only camera manufacturer where you can take a new auto-focus body and use an old manual focus lens or visa versa,” Wiens said.

And the secret to good photography, according to the experienced Wiens?

“Right time, at the right place, and you get lucky,” he said.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been caught without a camera, and all I could do is just sit there and enjoy the moment.”

He said to depend on going out on a shoot to see what develops in front of the camera is not a very productive way to approach wildlife photography.

“If you go out and rely on that method, your file of high-quality wildlife photographs is going to be very small,” Wiens said.

Just as a hunter depends on his blinds, camouflage and feeding stations to find wildlife, Wiens uses the same ideas when he plans a photo shoot.

“All of my song-bird pictures I have set up,” he said. “I’ll set up a feeding station-maybe take an old tree stump-and put some sunflower seeds on it.

“Maybe I’ll bring in an extra perch so that when the birds come in, they land on that perch before dropping down to pick up the seed.”

Wiens will often station himself in a blind, waiting long hours for the right photo opportunity to come along.

If not in a blind, Wiens said he’ll drape camouflage over himself or use his vehicle for cover.

“Animals are very tolerant of a vehicle, but the minute you step out and separate yourself from that, it’s not good.”

Another trick of the trade involves using a friend as a decoy.

“I’ll set up a blind, and I’ll have somebody come with me,” Wiens said.

Both walk to the blind, the other person walks back out, and the animal thinks that the blind is empty, Wiens said. “That doesn’t work all the time, but it’s not a bad technique.”

Sometimes weeks go by and he doesn’t shoot any photographs.

“Then the right light, the right morning, the right evening comes by and I’ll shoot,” he said.

Or he might get a call from friends or family who know of an available photo opportunity.

“Several months ago my wife’s aunt and uncle called from Larned-they had a den of red foxes that had 11 pups in it.”

Wiens grabbed his photography equipment, and he and wife Jan headed to Larned for a couple of days.

One of his most difficult subjects to capture on film has been the meadowlark, Wiens said.

“It’s a bird that’s very wary-they’re nervous and won’t come in.”

But one day the magic happened with a fellow photographer from Wichita who brought some of his props along.

The meadowlark came in three times that morning and sat on an old fence-post prop placed about 12 feet from their blind.

“He sat on the fence post and sang, so I got my meadowlark picture.”

Wiens’ favorite animal to photograph is the elk, he said. And a bright-red male cardinal against the white winter snow would come in second.

Wiens said sometimes he has to go where the animals are used to people, like capturing an image of elk in Yellowstone Park-a place where animals are more tolerant of visitors.

Although he has photographed a couple of animals in zoos, that setting isn’t preferred because Wiens said he strives to show the animal in as much of a wild situation as possible.

“The fun part is being outdoors, taking the picture and enjoying the time out with the natural surroundings,” Wiens said.

“And then that special moment happens when I can actually capture it on film and share that with somebody else.”

To see more of Wien’s work, visit is web site at www.ebservice.net/wiens

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