THROUGH THE LENS: How Betty Sederquist became one of the best photographers in our region | TheUnion.com
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THROUGH THE LENS: How Betty Sederquist became one of the best photographers in our region

Jim Bair
Special to The Union
Betty Sederquist
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About four years ago, we were looking for top-notch photographers to present at the Nevada County Camera Club meetings and were fortunate to find Betty Sederquist relatively close by, near Coloma, Calif.

Betty is internationally renowned, has an awesome body of work and is an excellent teacher. (And thankfully, in our current national state of immobility, she’s been amendable to a tele-interview.) Betty is widely published, including appearing in National Geographic books, the gold standard for nature photography, Sunset Magazine, and many others.

Alas, it took her a lot of work to get there.

If I Can’t Paint, Well…

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Betty had a stroke of luck which at first felt like a slap. While getting her degree in art from UC Davis, she took a class in painting. Although she had several family members ​who were excellent artists, she got a bad grade. The acerbic professor said, “you can’t paint” and so she never did. But an innate artistic talent went with her on her post-graduation travels to Japan, Thailand and the Himalayas, and so did a little automatic Olympus half-frame camera. The trips evoked feelings of wonder and inspiration, and the special connection that comes from seeing a culture and its people “through the lens.”

Back in the day, it wasn’t unusual to wander after college. Betty ended up in Anchorage, Alaska, with a new Nikon SLR camera and, of course, vast photographic opportunities. Getting a job there as a commercial darkroom assistant fit the picture and taught her the “craft.” Working hard and being inquisitive appealed to the National Geographic photographers who stopped by the photography publisher.

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Opportunities expanded and much later she captured this striking vista, Cathedral Spires at Sunset, on a flight west of Denali National Park. It was published in a National Geographic book, Mountain Worlds, won an international contest and went on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

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Betty’s opportunistic nature led to the adventuresome purchase of a 30-foot sailboat and sailing the Alaska wilderness coast. Another extraordinary photo is Breaching Baby Humpback Whale, rare because whales do not usually get this far out of the water (called “breaching.”)

Soon Betty was hired by Alaska Magazine as an associate editor/staff photographer.

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Betty was expanding her horizons and became a trip leader with Dolphin Charters sailing out of Juneau, Alaska. On one tour to Iceland, she took the photo, Glacier and Rainbow, which was shot at the setting for many scenes in the film series, Game of Thrones.

As opportunities continued to manifest, Betty gained more clarity about photography. With childhood roots in art, she evolved from just capturing what she saw to creating an artistic experience that evoked emotion beyond the literal scene.

Photographers need both technological savvy and creativity. Betty loves to tell the story of her classroom students and their relationship to technology, which of course must be mastered. But the student in the front row with a backpack full of brand-name equipment often did no better than the humble student in the back row without fancy gear. Students also had to learn photography “rules” about fundamentals such as composition. One of her favorite quotes is, “learn the rules so you can break them.” We can add to that classic photography adage another one: “travel and you will see the opportunities.”

Traveling Far and Wide

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While Betty’s life in Alaska led to publishing books such as The Alaska Catalog and contributing to others such as ​ Exploring Alaska’s Mount McKinley National Park (now Denali), the world beckoned. One of the most intriguing places was Morocco, in the northern African desert, where she carefully planned the photo, Camel Sunrise Silhouettes, Morocco.

While this image bends the rules a bit (e.g., small figures silhouetted), it packs power that’s obvious. It also leverages technology to the hilt, the kind of mastery of light and editing that Betty teaches in her workshops which have included travel to Africa.

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It’s hard to imagine going to Africa and not coming home with photos of lions eating and herds retreating. In Betty’s case, Cuddling Baby Baboon, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, Africa, touches heartwarming feelings from deep within us instead of the excitement of hunt and kill.

This “family” photo reminds us of Betty’s portrait photography viewable on her website, which is illustrative of how a sensitive photographer is able to portray people’s deeper selves in a supportive setting.

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On the technical side, Betty opened some experts’ eyes to improved photography of wild animals, especially from a distance. It’s common for photographers on African safaris to ride in Land Rovers and photograph using telephoto lenses the size of bazookas (500 mm or more). So not only are the photographers moving, so are the animals. Telephoto lenses are notorious for sensitivity to movement – even the wiggle of another photographer in the vehicle can blur a prize photo like Silly Giraffe, Serengeti (in Tanzania, Africa).

To counter unwanted movement, very high shutter speeds must be used (over 1/2000th of a second), but that means the needed exposure has to come from somewhere else. Betty argued that pushing the camera’s limits using very high light sensitivity (e.g., ISO 6400) was not going to ruin the photo because of excessive noise (a noisy photo looks dirty and soft). She won! The “trick” she used in this amusing photo is anti-noise software (Neat Image from Softonic) – “it saved this high-ISO image.”

Adding Art to Nature

Of course art is in the eyes of the beholder, but being artful in photography usually requires more than taking a photo. It requires adjustments to what was originally captured by using post-processing tools such as Adobe Photoshop.

“I strongly believe in both technique and tools to produce art,” Betty said.

Although tools alone are insufficient, they have enabled almost unlimited changes to an image, and Betty has some fascinating workshops on the artistic possibilities. In our limited space, we can just illustrate her artful or “painterly” photography.

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Poppy Reflection is a stunning creation using what she calls “special post processing effects to create an illusion of a reflection” (using Flood, by Flaming Pear Software).

Visit http://www.sederquist.com/2019/post-production-of-photos/ for a before-and-after processing example with explanation, and with homage to one of the greatest post-processors of all, Ansel Adams.

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Action photos often appeal to viewers on the basis of the action itself, but Betty has taken it far beyond the action. The photo Fighting Bears has painterly effects added to a photo of play-fighting bears at Fortress of the Bears, a bear rescue center in Sitka, Alaska.

The photo took Judge’s Choice in the highly competitive North American Nature Photographers’ Association competition.

So Much More

We’ve been able to highlight only a few of Betty’s incredible accomplishments.

She has more than 250,000 photos in her collection from northern California, Alaska, Tanzania, Ecuador, Bhutan, Iceland, Europe and many other places, many available through her online store.

She no longer teaches at local colleges, but conducts workshops overseas (currently Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Morocco are planned) and in nearby locations such as Bodie State Park and Mono Lake (planned), Point Reyes National Seashore, and near home in Coloma State Park, Calif.

Whether you are interested in a workshop or just want the pleasure of great photography, see http://www.sederquist.com.

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To sum up, Betty says, “Although correct exposure, great light and composition are still essential, for many of us that’s only the beginning.” There’s joy to be had in creative, artistic photography as exemplified in Yellow Tulip Fantasy taken at Filoli Gardens, San Mateo County, California.

Jim Bair owns JimBairPhotography.com; see also some of his award winning photos in this Newspaper at https://www.theunion.com/news/through-the-lens-a-qa-with-photographer-featured-artist-jim-bair/.


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