Local photographer showcases work, shares tips
by Amy Doeun
The St. Croix Camera Club hosted local nature photographer Chuck Kartak Feb. 27 at the Chisago County Government Center.
Kartak is a well-known nature photographer. He moved to the North Branch area in 1986.
“Our kids went to school in North Branch,” he said.
His love of photography goes back to 1970, when he purchased his first 35-400 millimeter camera and a 90-230 telephoto lens.
“I had a buddy that was the service overseas; he introduced me to photography,” Kartak said. Since then, his passion has grown, and in addition to nature photography he is now the “designated family photographer.”
His love of photography fit in well with a 35-year career with the Department of Natural Resources.
“I had an outdoor-oriented job, and I was able to couple my hobbies and professional life. … I have a love and passion for the outdoors,” Kartak said.
For those who have similar interests, Kartak recommends getting outdoors as much as possible. He has been on 70 wilderness canoe trips. Even if canoe trips are not your thing, he recommends to “get out in natural and wild lands.”
For years, he used his 35-400 millimeter camera, but seven years ago his family bought him his first digital camera.
“For economics, I did slide photography,” he said. “Slides were cheaper than prints. I put away about 12 carousels’ worth of slides and purged hundreds and hundreds.”
Now with digital cameras, he admits that about 20 percent of his time is spent taking photos and 80 percent is dedicated to uploading and working with them.
Among Kartak’s favorite photography memories is when he got a call from a woman in rural Pine County.
“She said she had a snowy owl near the house,” he said. “So I went up there and spent a couple hours, taking time for the owl, waiting for it to come closer.”
He eventually got a few shots.
“They were chosen as photo of the day on the Capture Minnesota website,” Kartak said. “That was a huge compliment. But even more, the lady’s granddaughter saw the picture and said she wanted to be a wildlife photographer. That was an even bigger compliment.”
He also recalled being out fishing with his daughter.
“We scared a loon off her nest,” he recalled. “A couple weeks later, I went back and saw the loon; she had a single chick, but then I heard a splash and turned around and saw two loons fighting.”
Kartak said 30 percent of these types of fights end with the death of one of the loons.
“After being born here they migrate to the coast the first winter where they spend two to three years,” he explained. “Then in the fourth year they return and want to take a territory and begin mating. This was a case of just being in the right place at the right time.”
Birds are one of Kartak’s favorite subjects.
“I do one trip each year specifically to do photography,” he said.
A favorite destination is South Padre Island, a well-known spot for birding. He has also gone to Grand Junction on the Platte River in Nebraska, where sandhill cranes congregate.
Locally, he recommends Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area.
“We are fortunate (in Minnesota); we have 1,500 WMAs,” he said. “There are a lot of natural places.”
He also recommends Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin, and Swan Park on the Mississippi River near Monticello.
“They have the largest congregation of swan east of the Rockies,” he said.
Kartak also recommends joining a camera club. He recently joined the St. Croix Camera Club.
“I have learned so much in the last year,” he said. “It is really for all skill levels. It is very worthwhile.”
If you are interested in taking wildlife pictures, the first step is to get outdoors.
“Carry your camera every chance you get,” he said. “The opportunities may come fast. It is not unusual you might have 30 seconds and then they (the animals) are gone. So advanced research is a must. When you are actually ready to take a picture, keep the sun at your back and remember that wildlife need their space.”
Kartak noted that having a telephoto lens with a range of 300 to 400 millimeters is also a must for wildlife photography. Kartak was recently given a 100-650 mm lens.
Finally, he recommends, if there are other photographers in area, don’t spook the wildlife.