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Princeton photographer loves nature

Published: Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
(AP Photo/NewsTribune, Genna Ord)
In this Sept. 9 photo, Dick Todd, of Prince-ton, photographs plants at Amboy Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Amboy. Todd, a photographer whose work finds buyers among textbooks and children’s nature magazines, spends much of his time on the ground photographing insects. He said he has a pair of modified kneepads that he uses as elbow pads for long days spent horizontally.
(AP Photo/NewsTribune, Genna Ord)
Todd sorts through prints he’s made, with subjects as wide-ranging as butterfly eggs, spider webs covered in frost, and aquatic matter difficult to spot with the naked eye. Though he now shoots digitally, he said he only very rarely does anything to the photo in post-production, relying instead on in-camera settings to make the photograph perfect.

PRINCETON (AP) – Laying face down in a prairie is how Dick Todd makes a living.

Todd puts the bug into shutterbug. The nature photographer from Princeton will photograph most any subject but prefers small creatures he can enlarge into sharp focus with his lens work.

Todd, 70, began studying nature and shooting photos as a child.

“I spent all my time in the swamp,” he said. “People in high school, grade school used to call me ‘nature boy.’ They used to tease me a lot. I didn’t date. Extremely shy with women. I didn’t get married until I was 40. You’re not going to find anybody in the swamps.”

At about age 12, Todd received a twin reflex camera. He also possessed “unbelievable curiosity.”

“I still have that,” he said. “Willing to try anything. I remember trying to take a picture of the moon with electronic flash. I didn’t understand. But I tried everything.”

He placed a magnifying glass in front of his camera to shoot a fossil. Curiosity led to mistakes and breakthroughs.

“I was always into experimentation,” he said.

Growing up in the Chicago area, he learned about nature photographers John Shaw and Larry West and attended their seminars in Michigan.

“I went and took the first nature photography seminar they ever offered. I went back to their second class. I went back to their advanced class on high magnification stuff.”

After one seminar Todd found buyers for his photos.

“Basically my photography after taking that one class improved from OK to potentially really good stuff,” Todd said. “Something clicked.”

His first sales included a photo showing Christine Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington state and a close-up of a tiger beetle. Tiger beetles are popular with biologists and photographers because of their coolness factor. There are 100 different kinds in the United States.

“They are indicators of high biodiversity,” Todd said.

Todd’s photographic niche requires an ecological education, specialized equipment and high-quality lands to ramble. He finds the best tiger beetle hunting at preserves. At Amboy Marsh he found five species of tiger beetles, and seven species along one trail at Green River State Wildlife Area. The beetles appeared to be in the same habitat, but that didn’t make ecological or evolutionary sense, he said.

“Seven different species with all interlocking habitats? That’s the unusual thing. When I got down on my hands and knees, they were different habitats. They just don’t look like it to us. We’re not a tiger beetle. What do we know?”

Nature hiking with Todd is maddeningly slow.

“I walk so slow I drive everybody nuts that I’m with,” he said. “They’re back, they’re ready to go to lunch, and Dick has gone only 10 or 15 feet.”

Todd was born in Washington, D.C. He and his wife of 31 years, Nancy, live in rural Princeton. Todd worked 21 years as a maintenance mechanic at Illinois Institute of Technology, retiring 3 years ago. He mastered the art of tinkering.

“I found out yesterday that if I pop up my little flash and I take the lens hood off I can do close-ups and get the flash to hit my subject.”

He learned from another photographer that a Pringles can will cannonball a flash to a small subject. At home, Todd shoots close-ups in a studio, capturing tiny live creatures in the right light and position, even underwater. He once made a flash bracket for his own needs but had to make more to meet demand from others.

“I’m really a gadgeteer,” Todd said.

His mechanical inclinations spill into an interest in restoring old cars. He also volunteered to repair a fence at Amboy Marsh, acquired earlier this year by Illinois Audubon Society.

Deb Carey, project manager of the site, said she first met Todd this spring when Audubon acquired the Amboy tract.

“I’m amazed by his photographs,” Carey said. “He’s just such a neat guy.”


Source: (LaSalle) News-Tribune, http://bit.ly/17DTjaf


Information from: News-Tribune, http://www.newstrib.com

This is an Illinois Exchange story shared by the (LaSalle) News-Tribune.

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