A photo fit for a calendar

  • By Kristi O'Harran Herald Columnist
  • Monday, October 17, 2011 12:01am
  • Local NewsSultan

Jim Stiles took aim at Rakata, a male Sumatran tiger. He reacted in a flash when the shot looked perfect.

Rakata never knew what happened.

The tiger was shot alright, with a Canon camera.

Stiles, who lives in Sultan, is an award-winning photographer with a new feather in his cap

. His photograph of Rakata was chosen for the cover of Woodland Park Zoo‘s 2012 calendar.

Zoo spokesman Ric Brewer said the judging panel, which included staff members and volunteers at the zoo, whittled 200 entries down to 10.

“We focused on photos th

at had a number of qualities: composition, showcasing the beauty and or unique aspects of the animals, capturing behavior, unique pose or angle and, of course, overall technical quality of the photo,” Brewer said. “We invited zoo fans to vote on our site for their favorite.”

Jim and his wife, Wendy Stiles, who both work at Premera Blue Cross in Mountlake Terrace, became zoo members this year.

“It’s a great place to try new equipment and techniques,” he said. “I want to know what to expect with my equipment when I’m in the wild.”

The photograph of Rakata was snapped about 70 or 80 feet from the tiger.

For camera buffs, this is what Stiles said he used for the shot: A Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm lens with a 1.4x tele-extender, mounted on a Gitzo tripod and Wimberley II gimbal tripod head; external flash with a BetterBeamer extender was set up on a Wimberley flash bracket.

“I spend a lot on equipment,” Stiles said. “It’s an expensive hobby.”

Wendy Stiles noticed information about the zoo competition in a magazine. Stiles was attracted to the contest because the zoo allowed Stiles and other photographers to keep the rights to their own images.

“They only allowed one entry per person,” he said. “I narrowed it down to 15 shots, a lemur, an orangutan, kept boiling it down until that’s the one.”

The tiger picture is one of the sharpest he’s ever taken.

“I see every eye detail in the tiger,” he said. “Count the hairs on the chin.”

Photography wasn’t part of his life growing up in Seattle. He was a music major at Western Washington University, but put down the saxophone to major in Spanish and education.

Before Premera, where he is an information technology analyst, Stiles, 52, worked as a substitute teacher and in a color lab.

After getting married in college to his high school sweetheart, she asked him for a 33mm camera.

“I bought her a Canon and I read the book on how to use it,” he said. “She never held the camera again.”

Every weekend and one afternoon each week, he goes picture hunting. For instance, he spends time in a park gazebo in Bothell. He posts photos on Facebook and on a company bulletin board. He follows a forum on Facebook called “Photography tips and tricks.”

The photograph shown with this column was taken in September when the couple were at Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Stiles wanted a different photograph, not the same old one from the edge of the lake looking toward Victoria Glacier in the background.

“I quickly identified this collection of canoes,” he said. “I immediately saw how well all the elements worked together; the sky, the angle of the boats, and the lake all around.”

He spent about a half-hour shooting at Lake Louise and was quite pleased with the images he got.

Stiles wife enjoys traveling with him. She carries a book to read. Wendy Stiles did get annoyed, he said, when they were at Mount Rainier. She was in the car when he told her he would be right back. He headed up a ridge at sunrise, then went a little farther, and a little farther. Right back was three hours later.

They’ve driven back and forth to the Arctic three times on vacations.

Taking pictures at sporting events is a passion, Stiles said. When he retires, he hopes they can do extensive traveling in a pickup with a camper. He has taken photographs around the world.

The photographer has taught workshops for groups, and some on the spot. He said when his equipment is set up, it always draws a crowd. He’ll stop and answer questions and describe his techniques.

“I have a teaching background and a teaching heart,” he said.

And a talented eye.

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.

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