Photographer Nolan Nitschke recently received a congratulatory message – he is a Wilderness Forever National Photo Competition finalist and his submission soon will be exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Bishop-native Nitschke’s winning photo, “Full Moon Over Mount Whitney,” will appear in the Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places exhibition, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and will open Sept. 3. The photo will be exhibited in the Honorable Mention Scenic Landscape Amateur category. “Full Moon Over Mount Whitney” will also be posted in a web gallery at www.naturesbestphotography.com .
According to the competition notification, “the selection process was a difficult one.” Wilderness50 volunteer Ethan Schowalter-Hay said, “Nitschke’s is one of 63 photos selected for display among better than 5,000 entries submitted” last summer. Wilderness50 Coalition and its team at Nature’s Best Photography judged the photos based on criteria such as composition, clarity, uniqueness, quality of conditions and impact on people, Nitschke explained. Wilderness50 – the 50th Anniversary National Wilderness Planning Team – is a coalition of federal agencies and other groups, said Schowalter-Hay.
Wilderness Forever congratulated the winners on their passion for the outdoors and their “dedication to documenting these extraordinary treasures (which) will inspire millions of outdoor enthusiasts as these images rekindle our desire to preserve these natural areas for generations to come.”
In his case, Nitschke’s passion for landscape photography grew out of a childhood love of hiking and backpacking in the Sierra. He began taking photos in 2004, during his senior year at Bishop Union High School; got “serious” in 2006 at Boise State University in Idaho; and his photos began earning him money in 2008. By 2009, Nitschke won the People’s Choice Award in his first foray onto the competitive scene – Outdoor Photographer Magazine’s Your Favorite Places Contest. “I got about half a million views, more than any other photo has had on that website.” While he is not yet a full-time professional photographer, his work is “definitely professional quality,” Nitschke said.
“When you see the epic sunsets and the epic light, it’s the best feeling in the world. And when you get good photos of it, that’s just a bonus,” Nitschke said. For him, photography is a tenacious labor of love. “I’ve been to the Bristlecone (National Forest) 100 times to get the shot that’s in my head.
However, “Full Moon Over Mount Whitney” is the result of careful planning. “I timed that one very specifically so the moon would be clear, not behind clouds,” to show the diversity of the landscape and the stature of the mountain, said Nitschke, who waited 36 hours to get his winning shot.
The caption Nitschke submitted for the competition read, “After an agonizing ascent of Mt.Whitney – the tallest peak in the continental United States – I watched the full moon rise behind the Inyo Mountains. At 14,505 feet in elevation, the setting sun and the full moon created a unique combination of warm and cool tones. This photo was taken just below the summit. You can see the lightning cabin on the summit, the Whitney Portal, the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, the Inyo Mountains and Death Valley National Park.”
Nitschke, the IT administrator for Inyo-Mono Title Company, said he spends another 40 hours a week as a landscape photographer, which is not without its “agonizing” challenges: “massive time commitment with no guarantee of success; more often than not you get nothing; heavy investment in high-end equipment; travel and time cost and fluctuating income – sometimes not a dime for months.”
What’s the upside of spending countless hours taking thousands of photos to get just the right shot? Nitschke’s face lights up full-moon as he lists the benefits: getting to backpack and hike; ever-evolving technology and editing techniques and “the thrill of watching clouds explode, being at the right place at the right time.” In the Sierra, “there’s always something new to shoot, always taking shots of the same thing in new conditions … No matter how many hours I put into it, it never feels like a job.”
On the horizon for Nitschke are more exhibits, more contests, possibly a book and “guaranteed, more epic photos.” Recently, he entered Windland Smith Rice International Awards competition, where his work will be judged among “about 35,000 photos submitted.”
For more information or to buy a copy of the award-winning “Full Moon Over Mount Whitney,” visit Nitschke’s site, www.thesierralight.com , or www.facebook.com\nolanphoto or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org  or (760) 920-2212. For more about the Smithsonian Wilderness50 exhibit, visit http://www.wilderness50th.org/smithsonian .