Retired high school teacher flourishes in photography

CORTLAND — Richard States’ outlook on his photography is from a practical and artistic viewpoint.

“I started teaching horticulture in 1972 at Western Reserve High School in Warren,” the Cortland resident said. “I thought it was very important that they (his students) ID plants and shrubs. I got a used camera and a lens and I started taking pictures of trees and shrubs that I thought they should learn.

“I took pictures of the overall shape of the tree, the flowers on it, the fruit, the fall color and the twig in the winter. I was developing a slide series,” States said.

This project was the beginning of his interest in photography. Through the creation of the slide series he concentrated on a certain style of taking pictures.

“I do mostly close-up / macro photography. It’s just amazing how complex things are,” he said.

While he was creating slides that would help his students identify 125 aspects of nature, The Ohio State University invited him to sit on a committee evaluating horticulture slides.

“I brought the slides that I was working on and showed it to the director, who said he would be interested in purchasing and publishing them when they were completed,” States said.

He worked for two years on the project, which included a script and a booklet. OSU purchased and published the slide series, which horticulture teachers around the country used.

States became involved with the Warren Camera Club and eventually held the office of president. Through this group, he met two other photography enthusiasts, Bill Lowrey and John Fillian. The trio took yearly photography trips.

“You can only get a variety of so much to photograph in Trumbull County, so we wanted to get out and photograph more stuff,” Lowrey said.

Their photographic excursions often centered on geographical locations.

“We tried to have at least one nature / landscape trip each year,” Fillian said. “We went to New England in the fall; Arizona to Sedona, Sunset Crater, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon; Wyoming to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park; Oregon and Washington Coast; Utah to Zion National Park, Bryce, Cedar Breaks, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands; West Virginia to shoot rafting on the New River; to shoot three rivers at night from Mount Washington in Pittsburgh; and fall colors in Colorado.”

Lowrey explained the preparation that went into their trips: “Each of these places we would lay out ahead of time and we would decide what we were going to photograph — rainforest in Washington state, down the coast in Oregon and photograph every lighthouse down the coast of the Pacific or the same on the East Coast — Portland, Maine, and up,” Lowrey said.

As an educator, it was an easy transition for States to instruct other photographers.

“Dick went to photo seminars in Michigan and Niagara Falls at colleges. I would go with him to help him set up,” Lowrey said.

States continues to teach seminars on such subjects as composition and critiquing pictures.

Although he is self-taught, States continues to study photography, techniques and computer programs to improve his pictures.

“If you are going to get better at photography, you have to have people critiquing your work, telling you what you’re doing right and what you can do to make yourself better,” he said.

The images that he photographs usually involves nature.

“Richard creates stunning nature images that are always tack sharp, perfectly exposed and without any distractions. Richard uses lighting techniques and his knowledge of plants to bring out the character of his subject,” Fillian said.

States said he is a perfectionist: “Photography is like fishing. When you go fishing, you may catch a lot of fish, but most of them you throw back. Once in a while, there’s a keeper.

“I feel that way about photography. You may shoot a lot, but most of them for me are not good enough. There is a plant called jewelweed. I took 700 to 800 pictures and I finally have one or two that are good enough.

“Once in a while, you get a keeper that’s a winner,” States said.

He has won numerous gold medals and awards for his photography through Photographic Society of America, Best of Show at Mill Creek MetroPark and also had a solo show there.

“He has a terrific eye for photography,” Lowrey said. “He can pick out pictures that tell a story that are extremely sharp and very well composed. They have the wow factor.”

States said he does not believe that equipment has much to do with a great photo. “If someone says to me, ‘Wow, you must have a really good camera,’ I say that’s like telling a chef, you must have really good cookware.”

What began as a project for a high school horticulture teacher has become a lifelong passion.

“I’d rather take photos than watch TV or watch a football game. I love being out in nature. I love being out in God’s creation,” he said.