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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Meet Leonard Beck, Local Nature Photgrapher

"I've spent most of my life studying and teaching about the natural world. My goal as a photographer is to share those moments with others."
As a photography enthusiast, I am always so impressed when I come across a photographer who captures images so beautifully. It amazes me the patience and skill it takes to do it. Like some of you, I have seen photos posted on the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy Facebook page by local photographer Leonard Beck. They are simply beautiful.

While a lot of us are out chasing Pokemon (and that's okay),  Beck is out trying to find different species of birds and various wildlife and waiting for the exact moment to capture the perfect shot.

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Beck, 35, is a Science teacher at Boone County High School who was recognized as the Outstanding Biology Teacher of the Year from the National Association of Biology Teachers in 2014.

With a Bachelor's degree in Biology and Master's degrees in Education and Zoology, most of the classes Beck teach focus on environmental science and zoology.

"I am very passionate about teaching. Those subjects are my passion, and I try to share that with my students, which isn't easy today, said Beck.

A large portion of my students have very little experience with the natural world around them.  Some are curious; some have very little interest; and some are just terrified of it. However, it's really cool to see how their attitudes, perceptions and interest levels change as they learn and experience more. Seeing them change, learn, and grow through experience is one of my favorite parts about the job.
With that said, I love photography for a lot of the same reasons I love teaching. I get to help people experience the beauty of the world around them. I will likely always in some form or fashion teach, but being a full time nature photographer is my dream job

In 2014, Beck took a group of eight students to Mexico for a field course and has also traveled the world to places like Thailand, India, Austria and Malaysia to only name a few. Camera in hand, Beck captured some beautiful images to chronicle those experiences.

"My interest in photography sprang from my interest in the natural world. Growing up, I spent most of my time playing in creeks, fishing and running around the woods. Those childhood experiences led to a life of fascination with nature, said Beck.

As I went deeper in my studies and teaching career, I grew an appreciation and beauty of the world."

Self-taught, Beck picked up a point-and-shoot camera and took photos of Bengal tigers, Bornean pygmy elephants and orangutans before moving on to a Canon 60D DSLR camera that he uses today.

A cedar waxwing caught on camera at Otto Armleder Park
While becoming an avid bird watcher, Beck learned all about the local and global species while learning all the ins and outs of digital photography.

"I think birds are really interesting for a lot of different reason,"explained Beck. One, they fly which is pretty amazing if you think about it for a second. Second, they are extremely diverse. In the tristate area, I have seen around 230 species. You can't say that about most other animal groups. Third, they can be absolutely beautiful. For example, look at one of our most common birds, Northern Cardinal. The males are absolutely magnificent. Fourth, if you know what you are looking for (sound, habitat), they are easy to find. Finally, ecologically speaking, they are really important to how our environment works.

My interest in birds really started when I visited places like Malaysia and Mexico. I met people who knew a lot and shared their excitement and knowledge with me. So I asked a friend to go hiking with me and tell me about some of our local species. After that I was hooked and extremely curious. I started to read about them, observe them while hiking, and learned the calls by listening and reinforcing the calls through the ibird app. Over time I got better and just kept learning.  Now I lead bird walks from time to time, and I am rarely stumped by what I see or hear."  

An American Goldfinch Beck spotted at the Fernald Preserve in Cincinnati
Beck says one of the reasons he and his wife moved to Fort Thomas is because you can have what is great about the city and also what is great about not living in a city. Upon his arrival in 2015, Beck set up a game camera on their property and has seen a lot.

"I think may people would be surprised how much wildlife we have here, Beck added.
I have seen 76 bird species on my property.  My favorite sightings are the bald eagle and great horned owl,"  Beck said.

A barred owl. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Katie Ulbricht Beck, a 2002 Highlands graduate and Beck's wife said, "I wake up early in the mornings to go hike with him and am always impressed by the beauty or show that nature has to offer so early. I go along for the ride and mostly ask questions.  I am so impressed with how quickly his eye in photography has grown, and I am even slowly learning some of the local wild flowers and birds. One time Leonard waited an hour to get a picture of a bird on a flowering tree... while I sunbathed."

So, next time you are out taking a walk or hunting Pokemon, take a look around. Nature has a lot to offer. I can say Leonard has inspired me to want to do more with my camera too!

"First and foremost, my goal in photography is to bring joy to people who see my photos. It brings a lot of satisfaction knowing the moment in time you captured with a click of the camera is appreciated and enjoyed," Beck concluded.

To see more of Leonard Beck's amazing photos, check out his website at or visit his Facebook page: Leonard Beck.

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