Thursday, February 10, 2011
A new lens on life
COLONY — After retiring in 2002 from a career as an elementary educator, Phyllis Luedke is embarking full steam into her new hobby: nature photography.
Luedke has always harbored an interest in photography, she said, but never had the time to devote to it until recently.
Now, she’ll take off on a day trip, like a recent one to John Redmond Reservoir near Burlington, that netted a series of pictures of slabs of ice, broken and crashed upon the shore. “They sparkled so much, but I couldn’t get that,” Luedke said of ice farther from shore.
“I like to go out in spring and summertime and take pictures of wildflowers and sunrises,” she said.
In winter, Luedke trains her lens upon a backyard bird feeder, where she has shot cardinals, flickers and songbirds as they feed.
Luedke came upon her interest in photography via her love for the natural world.
“I grew up in Lone Elm and went to high school at Kincaid, when they still had a high school there,” Luedke said. “I grew up on a farm, so I’m kind of a naturalist,” she added.
On the farm, she loved the wildflowers, she said. “We’d pick dried flowers in the fall and make bouquets,” she noted.
Luedke attended Junior College in Iola, then pursued a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Kansas State Teachers College, now Emporia State University.
Luedke began her teaching career at Madison, south of Emporia, “then I went to Moran, Colony and Le Roy,” she said. Along the way she taught kindergarten, second, third and fourth grades, along with Title 1 reading and math.
While still teaching at Madison, Luedke said, some of the other teachers encouraged her to sign up with them for “some National Science Federation classes” offered through ESU. The classes “were free because at that time, in the early 1960s, they were trying to build up science education.”
One class, she said, took place in summer. The teachers rode covered wagons, drawn by huge Belgian horses, across the Flint Hills, studying the natural world as they went.
“That was one of the most interesting,” classes, Luedke said. “We camped out,” and learned about prairie plants and ecology, she said.
Even then, she said, “I took pictures, but it was just a point and shoot thing” — using film, she noted.
FAST FORWARD to 2009.
At the Allen County Fair, Luedke noticed the photographs on display.
“I thought, ‘I’d like to do that.’” Noticing most of the photos came form 4-H members, Luedke said, “I called the County Extension and inquired about a photography instructor.”
She was referred to Anna Catterson at Allen County Community College. “So in (fall of) 2009, I enrolled in a photography class,” Luedke said.
Luedke pulls out a large binder, carefully categorized with photography assignments from that class. An illustrated alphabet, with letters made of rolled iron fencing, crossing branches or barbed wire strung just so comprised Luedke’s examples.
“We took all kinds of photos,” Luedke noted, “Sports, landscape, flowers.” Sports, she said, were her least favorite. “It’s hard to get the lighting right,” and capture rapid movement, she said.
Her favorite — and her forte — are close-up pictures of flowers. One, of a bee on a milkweed blossom, was accepted into the book “Best of College Photography, 2010,” put out by Photographer’s Forum magazine.
Luedke also has taken photography workshops, she said, including one on photographing butterflies at Powell Gardens, east of Kansas City.
“And then I saw in the Register where the Kansas Native Plant Society was having a two-day excursion in Pittsburg,” she said. The weekend included field trips and lessons about native flowers. And, there was a photography contest.
“I didn’t place,” she said. “I was disappointed. I thought mine were pretty good — but theirs were better. That made me feel I wanted to try again the next year.” Which she did.
In 2010, Luedke received four second place and one first place wins in the KNPS contest.
“This year I practiced my skills and did better,” she said.
To facilitate taking even better photographs, Luedke bought herself a longer lens for Christmas. The macro lens pulls images in closer, for more detail.
“Another thing I got myself was an extension tube. You put it between your lens and your camera body and it extends out farther,” enhancing the macro effect of the lens, she said.
Luedke said despite all the automatic settings on modern, digital cameras, she prefers to use the manual focus setting.
“On auto focus, you don’t have any control,” she said.
And, although she is teaching herself Photoshop, she doesn’t like to manipulate her pictures much beyond cropping.
She won’t change a photograph’s color, for example, “because it doesn’t look natural,” she said.
Mostly, she said, “I like to look on the computer and see what other folks have done,” by visiting photo share sites such as Flickr.
“People look at photographs and think it’s easy,” she mused. “I take a lot of bad pictures” to get a few good ones, she said.
Luedke has just begun marketing her photography, predominantly through craft fairs. She sells framed collages and large prints, small refrigerator magnets and mugs. “I put all my snow pictures together and made a DVD,” as well, she said. “There’s close to 150 pictures there, coupled with easy-listening music.” The DVD is available at Duane’s Flowers in Iola and Country Diner in Colony, or by calling her at 620-852-3572.Still, “I don’t consider myself a professional at all,” Luedke said. “I just do it as a hobby. I don’t think I’m going to get rich.”