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Behind the lens with Nick Wagner

The story behind the photo—State of the Lands

A morning aerial view of Fitton Green Natural Area—outside Corvallis—graced the cover of this year’s State of the Lands report. Take a look at Nick Wagner’s shot:

State of the Lands 2020 cover

In the image (above), there is fog and sunrise pinks and peach. A lone trail heading into the woods. And COLT took a few minutes with the photographer to learn a little bit more about the story behind the photo. Nick runs a drone photography business, but he’s usually taking photos for science work, field surveys and mapping support. This day was different.

Enjoy the following conversation and more of Nick’s images from that day in the field.

COLT: So, tell me about taking this photo—I heard you were up pretty early.
NICK: I’m not good at getting up early. I think it’s an artifact of teenage rebellion resisting an ambitious step-father who rousted me out of bed at 6:30 on Saturday mornings to build fences, paint sheds, rebuild engines, or whatever the project du jour happened to be. Now, there’s a harkening in me that loves getting up early when there’s a project to be done. Capturing images for the benefit of COLT was a worthy mission, and so I was excited to rise in the dark and head out to Fitton Green for sunrise.

COLT: Have you been up to the area before? Was this time any different?
NICK: No, I had never been to Fitton Green, before. Although, being a map-maker, I’m pretty good at reading topographic maps and studying satellite imagery to get a sense of a place. I did my homework before heading out to Fitton Green, so I thought I knew what to expect. I was totally unprepared for the marvelousness of the view and the magical sunrise that greeted me that morning. It was truly incredible.

by Nick Wagner

COLT: Was there anything difficult about getting this particular shot? Or surprising?
NICK: The difficult part about getting this shot was having to work through the inadequacy of my medium and methods.  There before me was a stunning spectacle of earth, air, water, light, and matter, all arranged in a one of a kind, never to be seen again, spectacular ephemeral spectacle, and it was my mission to try to capture it. I was so discouraged. But I tried to capture it anyhow. I tried to remake it and take it with me. The result fails to capture the true magic of that moment, but it’s a workable approximation.

COLT: Why do you like drone photography?
NICK: My first love of drone photography is for the mapping and modeling capabilities. The power to create a current map and 3D model of a place is so powerful and valuable for countless applications—for monitoring, and surveys, and so much more. From there, I’ve found value and pleasure in expanding to aerial photography. As we’ve all seen in images and videos, it’s great for story-telling and communicating the orientation and situation of a place. The new perspective on a place can be intriguing and illuminating and I love sharing that with others.

by Nick Wagner

COLT: How different is drone photography vs. standard camera work?
NICK: I used to spend a lot of time carrying a camera around in the forest and mountains photographing as a hobby. I would roll around on the ground to get new perspectives on ferns, and flowers, and bugs. Being human, I was constrained, and so that was my creative twist—rolling around on the ground.

Now, with a drone, the creative dimensions are compounded. There’s no stump in the back of my neck, or nettles between my legs. I can fly and zoom and pivot to just about any position – the composition space is endless.  It’s liberating and overwhelming.

COLT: Anything else you’d like to share?
NICK: It’s really an honor to have my work featured on the State of the Lands report. COLT is really a stellar organization doing great work for conservation in Oregon, and it’s a privilege to help further COLTs efforts. Thank you.
by Nick Wagner

Nick is a drone photographer and, for his day job, uses drones for conservation and science applications, based in Portland, OR. Foresight Drones specializes in surveying and monitoring for conservation applications, with a mission to bring aerial imagery and analysis to every conservation organization.

For the last decade, Jen's worked in storytelling and creative strategy for conservation causes—and she's our communications director at COLT.

Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” - Albus Dumbledore in JK's Rowling's 6th book in the Harry Potter series.

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