Boats & birds: A mostly nautical path to photography success |

Boats & birds: A mostly nautical path to photography success

Jim Bair
Special to The Union

This month, we aim our lens at a photographic specialty by a talented photographer.

Janet Peters started out as a “SoCal girl” with three sisters and a mother who liked the arts. What could be ordinary quickly became extraordinary as she traveled with her aunt and uncle to places like Singapore and Southeast Asia.

She was sibling number four with grandparents who helped support her growing up — and they had cameras providing early inspiration.

Hunting for Pictures

Back then, pictures at school (University of California, Santa Barbara) and museums meant paintings not photographs. Cameras were mostly for snapshots and she took a lot. Then Janet moved on to New Mexico Highlands University, with a campus tucked away in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Studying art six hours a day left prime time (early morning and evening) for photo hunting in the outdoors. She loved the wild life, but not the college kind.

After college she kept busy with jobs and added her four kids to her photo opportunities. Getting married to a Chevron geophysicist working in seismic imaging was perfect for an “image hunter.” Janet has a love of water and her recent photo of the South Yuba River at Bridgeport illustrates her up-close and visual relationship with water.

Getting Nautical

Hunting involves adventure, and this young couple combined water and lifestyle by selling their house and buying a serious sail boat, a 50-foot ketch with bunk beds for all. They birthed at Newport Beach and Long Beach, with frequent sailings to Catalina Island. Janet got to “hunt” wales, dolphins and sunsets with her camera. While a superb opportunity for photography, the medium then was film, and small prints were the way most of us could see what we created. Most of our photos ended up in albums, not the quality needed for publication.

Living on a boat for years has some drawbacks, including damp, cool winters promoting pneumonia. It got Janet but after a recovery period in a “cute cottage” in Long Beach, her family ventured forth again and landed on an island in Puget Sound. They purchased a small ketch but the ride into town (Port Townsend, Washington) required ferries. The scenery was phenomenal with wildlife adding action to the glorious waterscapes. Birds were the most prevalent wildlife in that cool, wet world. White Pelicans #2 is the kind of photo that began to fuel her serious interest in bird photography.

The family stayed near the “land-water interface” for years, including a move back to the mainland not far from the Canadian border. When asked about the notorious weather, the adventuresome Janet embraced the numerous storms as great photo-ops. Life there was special with beach days spent clamming, crabbing, and digging oysters, and, of course, enjoying sunsets like this recent example, Heron in the Sunset.

For the Birds

As the years moved on, so did photographic technology. Janet’s many years of shooting were the perfect prelude to DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras and high-quality optics. Shooting pelicans in Washington was one thing, since they tended to “pose” more often. But while mastering the new technology, she and her husband moved to Penn Valley in 2012, to be closer to their adult kids. While their children took advantage of a booming California job scene, the move provided Janet and her husband the outdoors opportunities that make the Sierra foothills so special.

Our region is superb for photographing birds, especially at the Grey Lodge Wildlife Preserve (near Gridley). So, Janet put her technology to work shooting at high speed (e.g., 1/1500 of a second), using a big telephoto lens (e.g., 400 to 500mm), a quality sensor camera (ASA 1000 to 2000), and lots of patience. These camera numbers are critical to catching birds in flight which reveals beauty difficult to see with the naked eye. This shot of a Great White Egret in Flight, with a 6- to 8-foot wing span, shows why she focuses on the incredible gracefulness of birds, especially when they are flying.

Shooting out on the flatlands, especially the rice paddies, provides opportunities to capture unusual birds such as American Avocets, “posed” here for a delightful composition in their habitat. One of the compositional guidelines for “birders” is that the bird should be looking toward the camera with an eye clearly visible. The Great Blue Heron here is giving us the eye in a stately pose showing its feathered artistry. These creatures lend themselves to artistic composition, not only to realistic portrayal. While wildlife photography is often a distinct category in photo clubs, it’s not often displayed as “wall art.” In the case of the Red-Tailed Hawk, we’d be glad to hang such an artful photo on our walls.

Although birds in our region are often camouflaged with subtle colors, Meadow Lark not only captures color, but also presents a serene setting. The bird “poses,” looking over its shoulder (wing), adding a compelling element to the scene.

Nature photographers often specialize in subject matter as does Janet, but she has many other terrific photos such as Fire Falls Yosemite, a popular shot for photographers traveling to Yosemite. It illustrates one of the paramount characteristics of nature photography: planning to be at the right place at the right time. Here, the setting sun momentarily hits Yosemite Falls creating a fire-like image. In Janet’s photo there’s a wonderful mist floating into the evening blue sky and a fresh snowfall to give the photo added “pop” (photographers’ favorite adjective). You can see Janet’s photography for fun and art on Facebook, Janet S Peters Photos.

Jim Bair owns; see some of his photos published at

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