San Jose man a finalist in wildlife photo contest

Stephen W. Oachs of San Jose won first place in the “Mammals, Amateur” category of National Wildlife Magazine’s 2007 photo contest.

Oachs photographed play-fighting grizzlies near Yellowstone National Park at a nonprofit preserve for bears and wolves. The rest of the contest winners here.

The pix put my shutterbuggery to shame. Stephen’s Web site is here, photoblog here. Here’s his photographic philosophy:

I have never taken any formal training. What I’ve learned has been from a lot of trial and error, photography websites and books. I have been asked “how do you get images like this?”. The answer is simple, 1) Using the right equipment and 2) know where you’re going to shoot. It is very difficult to go on a weekend trip to a location and come away with a dozen great photos. But the post cards in the gift shop always look so great, Why? Because they are usually shot by local photographers — those who live in that area and have 365 days a year to capture a scene in just the right time of day and light. Good photographers don’t walk around taking great shots. They learn the subject or location and choose when is best.

Light is everything. If you think about a camera and how it works, you are painting your picture with the light that enters the lens. Learning how your camera works and how to control it goes a long way. The magical hours for light are early morning (sunrise) and dusk (sunset). The light is indirect and makes for ideal photography conditions. I like to take advantage of that pristene, early morning light and then use the day to scout for other locations, when the light is often too harsh.

Translation: you have to stop walking long enough for something interesting to arrive in your viewfinder. This one always foils me.