“Your best work always comes from the heart,” says photographer Daryl Hawk, and although he may rely on corporate, editorial, and portrait photography to pay the bills, nature photography is the true love of his life. “When I’m photographing in the wild, I’m getting the best of both worlds: I’m in an extremely solitary and peaceful environment in which there are endless creative opportunities and constant visual stimulation.”

For Hawk, nature photography really is equal parts nature and photography. “Of course it’s important for me to come back with the pictures,” he says, “but it’s just as important to immerse myself in the total experience, to take the time to smell the pine in the woods, to discover a stream and feel the rainfall. I love to return to places in different seasons to experience them under different circumstances.”

Hawk’s nature photography serves a purpose beyond his own satisfaction. “I consider myself a strong advocate of conservation, and my mission is to give as much exposure as possible to nature’s beauty, and to try to make people realize what they’re losing each and every day.

The Infrared Addition

Several years ago Hawk began introducing a third factor to his nature photography experience. He had previously experimented with black and white infrared film for urban images- in fact, regular readers may recall our March, 1998, story about his infrared photography in New York City. His purpose then was to try and create a timeless look for the city, and he felt that infrared film perfectly expressed his emotional, nostalgic vision of Manhattan. His experiments with infrared in nature produced dream-like images that also matched his moods and feelings.

We don’t use the word “experiment” lightly, for with infrared film, you can’t tell how the film will react to the scene, so you can’t predict what you’re going to see on the print.

“For me,” Hawk says, “infrared film seems to work best when there’s lots of contrast in a scene. Strong light coming through trees, for example, is perfect-that’s when you really notice the contrast and the look of the infrared film. When the lighting is even, you probably won’t notice the difference as much as you do when there’s, dramatic light coming into play in the picture.

“I always watch the light very carefully. I find myself stalking the light, looking for dramatic sidelighting, strong shadows, light breaking through clouds and branches.”

Anyone who’s shot infrared knows the basic rules: loading and unloading the camera in total darkness is necessary, so Hawk always carries a changing bag. He always has a #25 red filter over the lens in order to best achieve the infrared effect. (Infrared film sees color beyond the spectrum we can see, and it displays that color as tones.)

“Of course the red filter affects metering and exposure,” Hawk says, “but that’s not really a problem. You can’t make exact meter readings for infrared anyway, because meters aren’t calibrated for it. I use Kodak High Speed black and white infrared and rate it at its stated speed, ISO 200-but that’s just the starting point. I’ll always bracket my exposures one to two stops on either side, and sometimes, if I really like the scene but the light is very contrast, I’ll go even more than two stops.”

A final rule of infrared: keep it cool. “I carry a cooler whenever possible,” Hawk says.

The adventure of infrared is well, that it is an adventure. “You never really know what you’ll get,” Hawk says. “The films unpredictable and the light is often changing very quickly, and that’s what makes the whole thing fun.”

Typically Hawk will find that two or three images per roll of 36 exposures will be worth keeping. “But that’s not necessarily because of the unpredictable nature of infrared film. That number is true of any take, really-three or four from a roll is a pretty good percentage.”

While most people might think that the longer you photograph, the greater the likelihood of satisfying images, Hawk feels that the more you do it, the more critical you are of your own work. “Your standards get a little tougher for what you’ll accept for yourself,” he says.

Of course, winners and losers isn’t really what it’s all about. For Hawk it’s being out in the world, enjoying and photographing. It’s the total experience.

The Images

The photos you see here were all taken with a Nikon FE2 using center-weighted, match-needle exposure and wide bracketing. “It’s the camera I’ve been using for over 20 years,” Daryl Hawk says. “My familiarity with it allows me to direct all my energy into creating the photograph.” The lens most likely to be on the camera is his 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom-Nikkor. He also frequently uses his 24mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/1.4 wide angle Nikkors – “they’re good for low-light, walking-around-the-woods situations.” Although most of the images he takes are done handheld, he always carries a tripod, “because you never know what the light will be like in dense wilderness.”

The prints are made for him by a commercial lab. “I’ve had the same printer for 25 years,” Hawk says. “He knows how I want things printed and the look I want in my photographs.”

Hawk has exhibited the infrared images at galleries near his Connecticut home and featured them at The Hawk Gallery at his studio. The pictures have also been used in connection with his local cable television show, The Unconventional Traveler.