Meet the Crane Trust Photo Workshop Instructors
In 2017 the Crane Trust developed a new and creative way to support it’s conservation efforts: All-inclusive Photo Workshops. These workshops are an exciting new way to allow guests onto private Crane Trust lands to photograph one of nature’s oldest and largest migrations of over half-a-million Sandhill Cranes as they arrive along the Platte River during the spring.
Elite nature, wildlife and conservation photographers, Cheryl Opperman and Rick Rasmussen, will be instructing the first workshops this spring. They sat down with the Crane Trust to give a little background about themselves and let potential students know what they can expect from attending this one-of-a-kind workshop that will not only improve their photography but will also make a significant different to the Crane Trust’s conservation efforts.
What or who got you started in photography?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: I always enjoyed taking snapshots during family vacations, but it wasn’t until I was standing on the balcony of a hotel trying to photograph the moonrise over the ocean, that I became more serious about developing photographic skills. I was probably about 15 years old at the time, and I remember my father asking me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to record what I saw…the amber glow of the moon reflecting on the gentle waves of the ocean surrounded by silhouetted palm trees. Much to my disappointment, he informed me that my point and shoot just wasn’t capable of achieving the results I wanted. He said I would need a much better camera to capture that (not to mention technical knowledge, skill, and most likely Photoshop which didn’t exist then!). Little did he know that his single remark would spark a life long interest in photography and the basis for my career. I subsequently asked for a “better” camera for my Christmas gift. Dad was always very responsive to and supportive of our interests, so at
Christmas that year I awoke to packages containing a professional quality camera and enough lenses to get me started. I signed up for the photography class at my High School that spring and within two weeks of starting, returned home to announce I had discovered my career path.
RICK RASMUSSEN: My grandfather gave me my first camera when I was in 8th grade. It was a Kodak Pony 35mm camera, which I still have. I love the outdoors and wanted to capture what I’ve seen on film.
How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time, for a living?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: First, I attended Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA and received my B.A. in Industrial/Scientific Photography in 1992. There are many photographers who are self taught, but I felt as though a formal education would give me a much stronger foundation for such a competitive career path. I selected the most technical major and focused a great deal on the science of photography. Creativity was an important part of the curriculum as well, but I’ve always believed that if you don’t fully understand the technical aspects of the photographic arts, your creativity will be limited.
I studied many different types of photography and developed a wide range of skills, but it wasn’t until I had an opportunity to work on a book project about Africa shortly after graduation from college, that I thought of wildlife and nature photography as a viable specialty. I was privileged to spend three weeks photographing in East Africa for the book along with other professional and amateur photographers. I then worked with the publishing company to market and promote the project’s important mission of encouraging the conservation of Africa’s wildlife through responsible ecotourism. It was an opportunity that changed my life and expanded my view of what could be achieved through the powerful medium of photography. Realistically it takes years to capture enough images and attain a reputation that enables one to pursue nature photography exclusively, but this early opportunity laid the foundation on which I could build. As I was building my nature photography portfolio and business, I worked as an assistant for another photographer and took commercial photography jobs. Eventually, I was able to specialize in nature and travel photography.
RICK RASMUSSEN: I have been photographing for 45 years, I have been doing it as a business for about 10 years I also had another business at the same time and sold it 2 years ago so I could spend more time with my photography business.
Where have you traveled in your career as a photographer?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: I’ve had the great fortune of traveling to over 20 countries on all seven continents. Some of the trips were on assignment for a client, but many of my trips were taken to contribute to my portfolio and stock library. In order to grow as an artist, it is so important for photographers to challenge themselves and learn new ways of seeing. You can do so much to expand your own creativity and view of the world through self assignments. I approach every trip with a very specific goal in mind and often return with more than I ever imagined. Travel in itself is an adventure, but for me, photography gives it a significant purpose.
RICK RASMUSSEN: My travels as a photographer have taken me to may states in the US, from Florida, where I did an artist in residence to many western states. I have also been to Alaska 11 times, Norway, Iceland, Argentina and Antarctica.
How would you describe your style?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: In the past, I’ve worked with all formats of film, but now I capture all imagery digitally. I start by pre-visualizing the images I hope to capture. In nature photography, you can’t predict exactly what you’re going to see, but you can have a general idea in your mind of the types of photographs that might be possible. That’s the difference between taking documentary photos and creating artwork. Additionally, envisioning how to interpret an image from capture to print is such an important part of the creative process. It is important to remember that the purpose of the photograph does set some creative limits. For example, if an image is to be published in a newspaper, then using software to make dramatic changes is not appropriate; however, photographs presented as art can be changed with any method you choose. My creative choices are therefore often dictated by the anticipated use of the image. My predominate goal regardless of style, technique, or use is to capture and interpret the beauty of nature in a way that inspires people to help protect it.
RICK RASMUSSEN: My style as a wildlife photographer is to capture wildlife in there natural habitat with long lenses so not to disturb my subjects. In doing so is to really understand them and to see how they interact with each other in a way that you couldn’t do with wide angle lenses.
What technology/software/camera gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: I use a wide variety of equipment to produce my images. Those specific choices really boil down to the subject matter I will be capturing, but regardless of the subject, I am most concerned with the sensor. The sensor determines the quality and attributes of the image. The sensor size, megapixel count, and the amount of noise at various ISO settings are all important factors to consider. Then I determine what camera body will perform the best in the field by looking at other factors such as manual controls, frame rate, customizable settings etc. Some cameras are better for landscapes and some are better for wildlife, so it is not necessarily a simple decision to make and I often carry two different camera bodies with a subject in mind for each. Lens quality is also critically important, so I buy only the highest quality lenses. Fixed focal length lenses in theory should be the sharpest, but I find that the high quality zoom lenses on the market today perform extremely well and they make up the majority of my gear. A sturdy tripod is essential and there are a number of accessories I carry in my bag. There are also a lot of software choices and each offers certain benefits. I use the most sophisticated software programs that give me a lot of control in the interpretation, and in more artistic applications, alteration of the sensor data. I also use plug-ins and specialized software for advanced techniques and creativity.
The most important concept to understand when buying camera gear or choosing software is that it has to work well for your particular purpose. For some people, that might mean a camera phone and for others that means an expensive, state-of-the-art set up.
RICK RASMUSSEN: I try to keep up with the latest digital SLR cameras. I’m using Canon 5DM3 and Nikon D810 cameras at this time. I of coarse shoot in RAW so the software I use to process my images is Photoshop and some in Lightroom.
What motivates you to continue taking pictures?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: I believe that the very act of capturing and sharing images of nature helps to promote its conservation. It is difficult for people to care about something they have never seen or experienced. While all humans live among some sort of nature, (even if it is just the gardens and trees planted around skyscrapers or the brilliant blue of the sky overhead), many will never see a landscape virtually unchanged by man except through a photograph. Photography makes us aware of what exists in far away places and in our own backyard with a poignancy seldom achieved through any other form of communication. As I exhibit my work, I provide written captions or stories next to the images and I try to speak about my experiences whenever the opportunity arises. I always try to remember that the most effective way to promote change is to awaken each individual’s desire to learn and contribute, while reassuring them that their contribution really does matter. I believe that even a single photograph has the power to inspire a change in awareness and attitude. By showing my work, in any form, I hope I can inspire positive change and individual action.
RICK RASMUSSEN: I don’t need a lot of motivation to continue to capture images of nature because I love the outdoors and wildlife so much. It’s what I live for.
What has been your most rewarding experience in your career as a photographer?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: There have been so many rewarding experiences throughout my career. Just having the opportunity to see so many amazing places and animals makes all of the effort worthwhile. I am grateful everyday that I have been able to live this kind of a life and then share those experiences through my photographs. I can’t even explain in words how much it means when someone who comes to see my work is emotionally moved by it. I’ve met and talked to people from vastly different cultures and walks of life and it is amazing how a simple photograph can open the doors of understanding. Much like music, photographs are a universal language that almost anyone can speak.
RICK RASMUSSEN: My most rewarding experience as a photographer happens every time I’m in nature and capture incredible scenes and wildlife in perfect light. Also earning 2 international awards in Nature’s Best Magazine was a highlight in my career.
Why is this Crane Trust Photo Workshop a unique opportunity?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: The Photography Workshop at the Crane Trust is unique in several important ways. First, it helps to support the important conservation mission of the Crane Trust. Without not-for-profit organizations such as the Crane Trust, many vital habitats would be developed rather than preserved. Funds generated from programs like this help to ensure that these lands, and the wildlife that relies on them, will be protected for generations to come. It is also a unique photographic opportunity. The Crane Trust has built blinds specifically for photography and is host to the largest sandhill crane roost in the world. While there are many other places to photograph sandhill cranes, you would be hard pressed to find one that will offer such a wide variety of opportunities. By using blinds, we do not disturb the natural behavior of the birds and we are able to watch them interact from much closer distances that you ever could standing out in the open. There are endless image possibilities including large flocks, single birds in flight, pairs dancing in the open water, or small groups landing against the setting sun. We are also able to photograph their genetically pure bison herd and any other wildlife we might come across on this protected prairie.
RICK RASMUSSEN: The Crane Trust workshop is going to be an experience like nothing the participants could imagine. Being on site staying in super nice cabins and having the instructors on site the whole time to answer any questions they might have any time of the day or night. But once they are in the blinds being able to experience one of the most incredible migrations in North America will be an experience they will never forget.
What do you hope students walk away with from your workshop?
CHERYL OPPERMAN: First, I hope they come away inspired. The sandhill crane migration itself provides such a unique experience, that I hope it creates a memory they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Photographically, I hope they will have captured some great images, learned some new techniques, and set some goals for the future. Photography is a life long journey of exploration and learning. Workshops like this provide access to wonderful subjects with hands on instruction that make it easier to reach the goals each student has set for themselves. No one becomes a master overnight, but regardless of where people are in their photographic journey, I want to help them improve and grow.
RICK RASMUSSEN: I’m hoping the participants leave the workshop with a better knowledge of photography, amazing images and with a better understanding of our fragile planet and the Crane Trust’s mission.
For someone who has never photographed or seen the sandhill crane migration before, whats one thing they can expect? Explain your favorite part about photographing cranes.
CHERYL OPPERMAN: The sights and sounds of the migration are truly spectacular. Most people are only use to seeing single, or small groups of animals or birds at one time. In Nebraska, thousands of cranes can fill the sky. Even when out of sight, their unique “songs” fill the air. The difficult, but wonderful part about photographing here is trying to choose between wide angle vistas or closeups. There is usually ample opportunity for both. With a little bit of luck, my favorite photographic opportunity occurs when scattered, puffy, pink clouds fill the horizon at sunset and small groups of cranes dance across the brilliant sky as they prepare to land on the river. The one thing that is so nice about the opportunity here, is that you don’t ever have to worry about finding your subject. You just have to concentrate on how best to record it.
RICK RASMUSSEN: For someone that has never experienced the sandhill crane migration they can expect so see these prehistoric birds in huge numbers interacting with each other with a lot of dancing under some of the most amazing sunrises and sunsets. My favorite part of photographing the cranes is watching there behavior, whether it’s there dancing, throwing moss or sticks in the air to the deafening sounds they make when you have thousands of birds in front of you.
Find out more information and register for your All-inclusive Photo Workshop today! Call Ben Dumas, Excursion Manager, at 308-382-1820.