THROUGH THE LENS: The fast track from novice to winning photographer — Bill Wages |

THROUGH THE LENS: The fast track from novice to winning photographer — Bill Wages

There’s a buzz that permeates the Nevada County Camera Club’s monthly meetings as the 60 or more photographers chat during Monday evening social breaks. They excitedly talk about trips, the latest cameras, computer processing techniques, printing, and who’s won what and where.

Bill Wages
Submitted photo

About four years ago, Bill Wages was then a quiet witness to this hubbub — but not for long. A fast learner, he quickly emerged a winner at the club and other competitions.

Bill has a secret to be disclosed below, but first the story behind his winning photo, “A Night of Mine.”

Photo by Bill Wages

This splendid photo was taken at Empire Mine State Park as part of a photographic challenge for amateurs, which specified shooting locations for each entrant. Bill was tasked with shooting in the Empire Mine area but realized that it would be difficult to achieve originality with such a popular target. At the Mine there was a wedding party in the main area, so he decided to take a late afternoon stroll through the trails in the park looking for inspiration. Absorbed in his work, he lost track of time and before he knew it the sun was setting. As he was leaving the park he had to walk through the parking lot, which was still full of cars from the wedding party. There was a car idling with its lights on, and the scene it illuminated caught his eye. Top notch photographers are exceptionally aware of lighting and natural events such as the relative position of the Milky Way. There was the Milky Way, positioned as a backdrop to the intriguing mining artifacts, eerie in the twilight, and he took one last shot. Sometimes it is that last, unplanned shot that becomes the prize winner.

Bill’s photo took the Camera Club’s amateur photo challenge by storm with ribbons for First Place, Best of Show and People’s Choice (voted by gallery visitors) among 30 competitors. Overall, the show at Nevada City Picture Framing — 571 Searls Ave., Nevada City — was quite successful and the club is planning more shows in 2020.

The Path Less Taken

Magical Beara Bowl in Ireland
Photo by Bill Wages

Travel provides photo “ops” that often become a competitive edge for accomplished photographers, but Bill sharpened his edge by wandering away from tour groups. A bit removed from the tour nearby, Bill took the stunning “Magical Beara Bowl in Allihies, Ireland,” winning best travel photo at the Club in June and a first place at the Nevada County Fair in the Natural Landscape Division. Using a wide-angle lens, small aperture and long exposure, Bill softened the moving water and clouds and captured marvelous “leading lines” in focus all the way to the horizon.

Photo by Bill Wages

Wandering to another dramatic perspective, he shot “Converging Bridges,” in Benicia, again with ideal composition and depth-of-field (sharp focus close up and all the way to the horizon) winning a coveted First Place in the prestigious Nevada County Fair and a best of category in Black and White at a Camera Club monthly meeting.

Photo by Bill Wages

Once again, a path away from a tour group led him to the inviting “Lilies on the Beach at Garrapata State Park,” near Carmel, where he composed scene elements into a dynamic tension between the close-up lilies and the ocean sunset.

Photo by Bill Wages

Photography rewards spontaneity and creativity as with Bill’s “Nevada City Sunflower,” winning a Third Place at the Nevada County Fair. Evening light provided stunning color, and his out of focus background illustrates the photographic maxim, “rules are made to be broken.”

Photo by Bill Wages

But wait, another example of unorthodox composition, “Tribute Trail Suspension Bridge,” over Deer Creek, positioned purple leading lines (cables) with strong close elements (steel pillars) against an inviting bridge leading toward the horizon, and it won a Second Place at the Fair!

The Secret Source

Bill’s mastery of photographic technology is highly regarded at the club along with his surprising achievements in just four years. Bill’s artistic aptitude is apparent, but underneath the artistry is his vocational mastery of mechanical engineering, a little-known source of his photographic acumen. Working in the area of agricultural sorters, Bill designed the first automated blueberry sorter for his employer which became the number one such machine in the world. Unique experiences prepared him for that achievement, including years working at the Mare Island Navy Shipyard, and also helping to decommission the first nuclear submarine, Nautilus (known for the first transit under the North Pole in 1958). Of course, being the best means owning the best — Bill uses two Sony a7R III mirrorless digital cameras, like those used by club leaders such as David Wong. Being deferential, Bill adds, “I …credit the Camera Club for a lot of what I learned. There are so many inspiring photographers …and the meetings are great learning experiences.”

We’re Getting the Picture

Photo by Bill Wages

The last photo for this story, “Nighttime in Downtown Grass Valley,” has a holiday season feel, won another Second Place at the Nevada County Fair, and reminds us how picturesque our historic towns are. If you run into Bill in town or on the trail, you’ll probably be struck by his modesty, but we’ve got the real picture: his photographic knowledge is awesome. We will see more of his excellent photography at the SYRCL (South Yuba River Citizen’s League) international Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City and Grass Valley, Jan. 16- 20. His work is also viewable online at his website, and our Camera Club

Jim Bair is a member and former Vice President of the Nevada County Camera Club and has some of his award-winning photos at

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