Dennis Frates, Focusing on Nature
01 Nov, 2008
Dennis Frates has one of those jobs the rest of us can only dream about. From his home surrounded by breathtaking scenery in Wilsonville, Oregon, he strikes out on photographic excursions throughout the West, including his latest favorite: the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
While he does have a concern for the environment, Dennis prefers to approach things from a positive rather than a negative stance. “I don’t really consider myself a diehard ‘environmental photographer,’ although I know what I do affects the environment,” he says. “I do donate my work to different organizations that support environmental causes, like the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, but I’ve come across several scenes of severe erosion or animals being abused, and I just can’t bring myself to photograph them. It’s not what I want to do; I stick to the beauty in nature.”
The beauty, after all, is what has always attracted him. As a child he pored over photographs in magazines such as National Geographic and Audubon, and at age 14 he purchased his first camera for $100—money he had saved from a paper route. Disappointed with the photographs he could take with his limited equipment, however, he packed it in early and went on to other pursuits. But his passion for nature never wavered, and while at college he received a master’s degree in ecology and landscapes.
A little over 20 years ago, Dennis had one of those Hollywood movie- type epiphanies. “I was fly-fishing in Montana, and in between catching 20-inch brown trout on the Madison River the thought came to me, almost as if by divine communication, ‘When I get home from this fishing trip, I’m going to start shooting pictures professionally.’ I know this sounds like the old ‘It came to me in a vision at streamside’ story, but I’m not making this up.” Upon his return, he did exactly that.
And the scenery has kept him at it. “I love the outdoors and just wanted an excuse to be there. I started off as a fisherman who wanted to support his hobby. I’ve since stopped fishing pretty much, but just being outside and being in nature is the thrill. I’ve always had a love for the environment and especially landscapes and plants. I’m really into gardens and photographing wildflowers and different things like that. That’s what gets my juices going.”
All professional photographers bring something exclusive to the table, and Dennis is no exception. “Everybody and their brother has taken pictures of what I’m taking pictures of. How can I make it different? How can I add something to it that’s unique? With landscapes, I try to use lighting to add that quality. I’m up at first light and out until dark, and I wait and I wait. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it allows me to create images that are different. I try to look at it in a way that says something which really stands above the ordinary photograph. I’ve always done that.
“The images that I like best are the ones that show really dramatic lighting. Those are the ones that get me really excited. That’s why I like Hawaii so much, because the light there is simply magical. I tell you, you almost don’t need to be a professional photographer to get a good picture there. Obviously I’ve done some things in my photos to make them different, but you could almost do it with ‘point and shoot.’ When I go out to a location and the lighting does something really fantastic, I’m just on cloud nine.”
To see more of Dennis’s work, check out his website at www.fratesphoto.com.