SKANEATELES | To this day, Tom Dwyer still isn't sure who gave him a subscription to Outdoor Photographer, where the magazine came from or how it started showing up at his Marietta home.
But, he is sure of one thing: Receiving that magazine 15 years ago and taking the time to look through it, Dwyer took up an interest in nature photography and has now become one of central New York's foremost nature photographers.
"I was interested in photographer like everybody is," Dwyer said of his mindset at the time he started getting the magazine. "I was in no way shape or form interested in becoming a quote-unquote photographer, and I didn't have any real interest in nature photography per se."
But, what started out as a mystery turned into a passion for Dwyer, and he now has a photography exhibit at the art gallery inside the interpretive center at Baltimore Woods Nature Center in Marcellus.
The exhibit runs through April 26, and an artist reception is scheduled to take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13 at the nature center. The public is welcome, and admission and parking are free. All of Dwyer's work is for sale, and 30 percent of the proceeds supports the nature center.
Dwyer recently spoke about his photography and the exhibit while working a shift at Gallery 54 in Skaneateles and chatting with customers about his work, which is on display and for sale in the shop.
He said all of his photos on display in the exhibit were taken at Baltimore Woods, which he said presents both different challenges and unique opportunities in terms of nature photography.
"When you're at Baltimore, there aren't any grand landscapes," he said. "For me, I photograph what I like. ... I only know what I like."
Neither his wife nor anybody who knows him would have ordered Outdoor Photographer for him, Dwyer said, because he had never expressed an interest in photography either to himself or out loud.
In fact, his only connect to nature at the time was an eagerness for backpacking, camping, canoeing, kayaking and other outdoor activities since he was a child.
One day, though, he read an article about "how wonderful the light was right after a thunderstorm," he said, just as a thunderstorm was leaving the area. He never noticed it before but realized it for the first time that night.
So, he dug out an old film camera he bought in Thailand while serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and headed out to Baltimore Woods. And, he said happened to snap a photo with that roll of film that he liked.
"I didn't have any idea what I was doing. I was just out taking pictures," Dwyer said. "But, it was just enough to whet my appetite."
Along with reading the magazine, he purchased a how-to book on nature photography and started learning more about his new hobby.
Dwyer said he is largely a landscape photographer — " that's a pretty broad brush," he said — although he does take some wildlife photos. He started out capturing sunrises and sunsets, which are "wonderful to photograph because they have such wonderful colors," he said.
But after reading books and attending workshops, Dwyer said he started teaching himself and learning from those more experienced. He now leads his own workshops to pass on the trade to others.
"It's like anything else in life that you do," Dwyer said. "If you get interested in it, then you go out and you figure out, 'What do I have to do to be better at it? What makes it better?'"
Dwyer said there is "no easy answer" about what it takes to create the crisp, vibrant, majestic natural scenes for which he is known. For one thing, he said, it is about learning the rules of composition and exposure, for example, and then learning how to break them effectively.
"A lot of the quote-unquote creativity in nature photography is about intuition," he said. "One of the things I found hardest to learn was to slow down and allow yourself to be, for lack of a better term, affected by wherever it is you are."
One of Dwyer's favorite tools in his photography is his collapsible stool. That allows him to "take the time to soak it up, let it sink in," he said, rather than just walking up and looking for a photo opportunity.
"Everything in nature is beautiful if you find it," he said. "Part of finding it is absorbing what's around you. ... You've got to take the time to feel the breeze on your skin. You've got to take the time to smell the aromas in the air."
He pointed to one photograph on the wall at Gallery 54 that shows a few autumn leaves on the ground in a marshy, mucky area near the pond on the Baltimore Woods property late last October.
That time of the year "isn't exactly colorful. You're not looking at the grand scene of things typically," Dwyer said. He wondered what he would photograph when he noticed the scene 3 feet away from him.
"What's going on that time of year was sort of the decay of the season," he said. "The leaves were down pretty much, so there was a passing of some kind. ... To me, it seemed to encapsulate the departure of autumn."