Photographer gets personal with wildlife
"Angel Wings": That’s what Evanston wildlife photographer Jerry Goldner calls this portrait of a Snowy Owl he observed last year in Chicago. | Photos by Jerry Goldner
Updated: March 22, 2013 12:49PM
Jerry Goldner remembers the moment when he became a wildlife photographer.
The commercial real estate agent was eating lunch at the Skokie Lagoons one day not so long ago and he had the camera with him that he used to take photos of properties. While he was watching some nearby herons and egrets, he decided to take out the camera and snap a few shots. And that was that.
He bought a 600mm telephoto lens, started shooting pictures for the now-defunct Chicago Wilderness magazine and eventually began creating photo exhibits for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, including his most recent “Owls of Illinois” exhibit.
“There’s something magical about owls and the way they look at you,” said the 55-year-old longtime Evanston resident. “They’re stunningly beautiful and intelligent creatures. There’s wisdom in the way they carry themselves. There’s a reason people refer to them as ‘wise old owls.’ ”
Goldner collected striking photos of all nine owl species in northern Illinois during the past two years for the Notebaert exhibit, while on a professional hiatus during the real-estate slump. All of them, from the Snowy Owl to the Saw-Whet, can be seen along with other nature portraits at his website, www.profilesofnature.com.
Goldner explained that he has been able collect his remarkable daytime shots because of the relationship he has cultivated with area birdwatchers, who are typically not fond of photographers. They appreciate his work as an environmentalist and wildlife activists, however, and his commitment to observing birds from a distance without disrupting their roosts.
“Many photographers don’t care about the species; they only care about the photo,” he said, explaining that they will often startle birds into flying or bait them with food to get an action shot. “I’d rather have the beautiful energy shot. I love the intimacy with wild species you can achieve once they realize you’re not a danger.”
“It’s more important to me to get to know them as subjects,” he explained. “I’ll spend eight hours observing one bird. I have a lot of patience and I’ve had a lot of luck — good karma.”
A prime example of the latter occurred when Goldner had two weeks left to complete his owl exhibit and he still hadn’t spotted a Burrowing Owl, which is rare in the Chicago area. Then, early one morning while shooting some photos on the beach near Montrose Avenue, he “accidentally flushed something out of the sand and it landed on a rock and was staring at me.”
“I didn’t know what it was at first,” he said. “Then I realized it was a tiny Burrowing Owl, right there in front of me. And there had been only one of them seen earlier in Chicago.
“I can’t tell you what a mind blower that was.”