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Creation Story

Mundy Hackett, Nature Photographer

How he got started: Hackett, who grew up camping, fishing, hunting and hiking, has always had a love for the outdoors. After he graduated from U.Va., his father gave him a camera and he began taking pictures in parks in Texas, where he lived at the time. He had never taken a photography class, but began reading books on the topic and learned how to take pictures through trial and error.

"The camera gave me a connection to the outdoors," he says, "and a reason to get outdoors. During my last two years at U.Va. I was only getting outside to play golf."

Hackett's renewed enthusiasm for the outdoors eventually led him back to school to earn his B.S. in wildlife biology. He has performed research on timber wolves, bald eagles, owls, songbirds, mountain lions, endangered butterflies and bighorn sheep. These field jobs provided him with opportunities to photograph myriad natural subjects. Currently, he is doing fieldwork in Southwest Virginia, studying northern flying squirrels as he finishes his master's degree.

What he photographs: Just about anything in nature is fair game for Hackett's lens. Though he started his career photographing large animals, he has since refined his focus to include more minute aspects of nature.

"In the last three or four years I have gotten into trying to capture abstract patterns in nature," he says, "Like leaf veins or the curved petals of a flower. It is much more artistic stuff rather than straightforward textbook images of nature."

How he chooses his subjects: "I usually go out with two goals in mind," he says. "One is simply finding something new to photograph — say I need a picture of a particular type of salamander — and then trying to get a good technical photograph. After I get those, I try and figure out some way I can make a marketable image, but something that is not the typical shot you see from someone else."

How he markets his work: Two stock agencies, Photosource International Stock Incorporated and Visuals Unlimited Stock, represent Hackett. He also does assignment work for conservation groups and has had good luck with his Web site.

Last fall he received an e-mail from DVD producer Ralph LaBarge who saw the site and wanted to pair his work with music on a mood DVD. In May, "Natural Splendors Vol. 2" was released internationally and is available through major book chains.

Equipment he uses: Hackett works with Canon camera bodies and lenses, and shoots with Fuji slide film, preferring its brighter colors to that of Kodak film. He always uses a tripod, and for the close shots he favors, he works with a 70-200 mm macro lens fitted with extension tubes to reduce the distance from which he can shoot. "I have been pleased with the results of the zoom," he says. "It gives me more flexibility in framing the image."

The challenges of nature photography: Not only is it difficult to create unique photographs of natural subjects, but the act of taking those photographs can be laborious. Miles of hiking, standing out in the rain, waiting for hours for a subject to appear from the brush. Hackett once spent 10 days and shot 40 rolls of film at Brooks Falls, Alaska, in an attempt to catch a bear in the act of catching a salmon. Though he got plenty of bear photos, he never got his shot. He's determined to go return to Alaska someday to try again. — Jessica Ronky Haddad

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