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The State of Texas Photography

Opportunities to capture landscapes and wildlife portraits abound here.

By Earl Nottingham

It’s no secret that Texans like to brag about being the best, and when it comes to photogenic scenery, it can be claimed that Texas is the state for photography.

Whether it’s a foggy sunrise on the Gulf Coast, bluebonnets in the Hill Country, a golden sunset in the West Texas desert or the infinite number of other photographic possibilities in between, the state is blessed with a multi-hued palette of color and textures guaranteed to grace the viewfinder of the most discriminating photophile.

What gives Texas this advantage is its massive footprint, which encompasses several distinct natural regions, each having its own unique topography and geology and plant and animal ecologies. The regions are broadly broken down into the Big Bend, Panhandle Plains, Hill Country, Prairies and Lakes, South Texas Plains, Pineywoods and Gulf Coast.

To the inherent beauty of these diverse regions, add the changing seasons and the unpredictable Texas weather, and you end up with the makings of a great photograph.

For the serious wildlife photographer, Texas is the go-to place for an abundance of subjects. In addition to having many southern U.S. mammals, Texas is a superhighway for migratory birds and has become an internationally recognized destination for serious birders and bird photographers, especially in South Texas, where the World Birding Centers attract thousands of international visitors (birds and people) each year. The state is also home to numerous species of photogenic marine life, amphibians, reptiles and insects.

While Texas has plenty of places and things to photograph, finding an accessible location can sometimes be difficult because 95 percent of the land is privately owned. Thankfully, finding a good place to shoot has never been easier. More than 100 state parks, state natural areas, wildlife management areas, historic sites, national parks and wildlife refuges are photographic bonanzas that feature rivers, mountains, canyons, forests, ruins or wildlife — and much more. Many of these areas have dedicated wildlife viewing areas, and some even have blinds that make it easy to get up close and personal with furred and feathered friends.

And, many private landowners are seeing that there is value in letting photographers, birders and other naturalists gain access to their properties.

As a result, several professional photo competitions have evolved in which well-known photographers are paired with ranches in an effort to promote ecotourism on private land and increase awareness of some of the beauty that exists behind traditionally fenced areas. Many of the competing photographers camp on the property for several months in order to maximize the potential for winning photographs.

One such winning photographer is Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine contributor Rolf Nussbaumer, a native of Switzerland who fell in love with the Texas landscape during his shoots and decided to settle with his family in New Braunfels. Although he has photographed worldwide, Nussbaumer appreciates the powerful landscape and wildlife imagery in places like Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and the Big Bend region, as well as serene areas like Palmetto State Park.

To say that Texas, or any other state, is the best for photography is somewhat subjective. However, insights from two other Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine contributing photographers help buttress the claim.

Jerod Foster of Lubbock says: “The variations of Texas skies and light are unique. Our seasons are definite and in stark contrast to each other, especially here in the Panhandle area. They go from hot to cold and wet to dry quickly — each bringing its own quality of light that makes for beautiful photographs.”

Childress-based photographer Russell A. Graves makes his case that “the friendliest people are from Texas, especially the rural areas” — and that being the case, he likes to include people’s seasoned faces as part of his rural landscapes.

Whether you agree or not that Texas is the best place for photography, one thing that Nussbaumer, Foster and Graves (and many other photographers) can agree on is that now is best time to be a photographer. The rapid evolution of digital camera technology has made it easier to create high-quality photos with relatively inexpensive equipment. Chances are that you have some type of digital camera close at hand this very moment capable of capturing both a quick snapshot as well as a great landscape photo, and photos these days can be viewed almost instantly via e-mail, social networking sites or photo-upload sites. The old saw that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is still relevant — even in the digital age where electronic media has become the de facto standard in the way we share those images, and our lives, with the world.

It’s somewhat of a paradox that this overwhelming world of digital technology, with its sterile and impersonal universe of 1’s and 0’s, can also transport us to a West Texas desert sunset, a field of Hill Country bluebonnets or a foggy Gulf Coast beach.

It’s a great state to be in.

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