Responses And Photos By: Suni Lynn Lee, Volunteer Photographer
Suni Lynn Lee is one of Venture Outdoors’ newest volunteer photographers and has been actively and enthusiastically participating in Venture Outdoors programs and outings. She has already taken dozens of beautiful photographs of the people, places and experiences of Venture Outdoors.
Learn about her journey in photography in the following interview.
Danielle Levsky, Communications and Media Coordinator: Briefly tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school, and what brought you to Venture Outdoors?
Suni Lynn Lee: I was born and raised near Sedona, Arizona, which means that I grew up in one of the most stunningly beautiful wilderness areas in the country. When I was a kid, luckily, we didn’t have cable TV or computers or cell phones, so my brothers and I entertained ourselves by camping, hiking, and swimming in Oak Creek. Spending so much time outdoors was a wonderful way to grow up, but it also taught me to respect the environment and the importance of protecting our natural resources.
I moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2002 to attend graduate school at Chatham College. I don’t recall how or when I found Venture Outdoors, but I was excited to find local experts who could teach me about outdoor activities available in the area.
D: That’s so fascinating that you had such an early exposure to outdoor recreation. How did you get involved in photography?
S: I got my first 35 mm camera when I was 19 or 20 years old. I used it primarily to take travel photos and family pictures. Over time, however, my interests shifted away from simply snapping photos as a way of documenting where I had been and what I had seen. Instead, I became intensely interested in trying to take photos that capture what I am feeling and experiencing during my travels. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that shift was the difference between using my camera as a tool and using my camera to create art. It was also when I really fell in love with photography.
D: What camera do you use now?
S: In 2004 I bought my first digital SLR camera, the Nikon D70. It was love at first sight! I have literally taken thousands of photos with that camera and have been extremely happy with it. But, digital technology has improved so much in the past 10 years that I finally decided to upgrade. After doing a lot of research, in 2013 I bought my Canon 5D. It’s a lot heavier to carry than my Nikon, but the quality of the images it captures is far superior.
D: So what has been your favorite Venture Outdoors photography experience so far?
S: In October, I got to shoot the Brightwood Pumpkin Fest. Although it was a very cold day, I loved being able to take pictures of all the kids, many of whom were dressed in their Halloween costumes. Trying to capture what I was seeing was challenging because the kids were so excited that they couldn’t hold still for long, but I really had a lot of fun.
D: What’s been the most surprising thing about being a volunteer photographer for us?
S: I am surprised that the reality of being a volunteer photographer has been more meaningful to me than I had at first expected. I think it’s the difference between taking photos for my own personal enjoyment and taking them in order to help someone else. Being able to do that has been really rewarding.
D: That’s so special to hear. What does “getting outside” mean to you?
S: One of the things that growing up outdoors did for me was to help me feel connected to the Earth. Whenever life gets too stressful, chaotic, or overwhelming to me, getting outside helps me feel grounded, especially if I can get away from people and just be in nature. It’s almost like a meditation.
D: Beautifully stated, Suni. Because you enjoy so many different kinds of outdoor activities, this might be a hard question. If you had to pick only one recreational activity to practice for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
S: Even though my first instinct is to name something exotic like scuba diving or adventurous like backpacking, I think I’d choose hiking simply because it requires so little equipment and preparation, and I can do it just about anywhere. In and around Pittsburgh there are so many great parks and places to hike. Regardless of the weather or how much time I have, I’m never at a loss for new places to go and explore.
D: Overall, what have been your favorite subjects (be it people, places, things, etc.) to photograph?
S: I have always loved nature photography, but I think what most excites me is doing street photography, especially during what I call “the witching hour” – those 45 minutes or so of rare and magical light that occur right before sunrise or sunset. When I’m out on the street with my camera in my hands, I never know what I will find, but I never fail to find something interesting and photogenic.
D: Sounds perfect for Venture Outdoors outings and programs! What’s the best photography advice you’ve received?
S: A friend once explained to me how changing my camera’s aperture setting can be used to control the background of my photos by increasing or decreasing the depth of field. To that point in my photography, depth of field was not something I had thought a lot about. I think using depth of field to isolate subjects would greatly improve my photos of Venture Outdoors events. However, with the fast-moving pace of most Venture Outdoors activities, planning the depth of field in my photographs has been especially challenging and is something I really need and want to practice.
D: Last question: name three people in history (dead or alive) with whom you would want to take on a Venture Outdoors program and photograph.
S: First, I’d go hiking with Vincent Van Gogh. Vincent loved to walk and often walked great distances even in bad weather. Wouldn’t it be awesome to hike a few miles with him and listen to what he has to say about his passion for nature and color? Of course, I would hope to be able to ask him to solve the mystery of his death. Did he really kill himself, or was he, as recent research suggests, murdered? And what would I capture if I were able to focus my camera lens on him? I never thought about it before, but seeing the world’s most famous artist through my camera lens would be an incredible experience.
Then, I’d go snowshoeing with Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton was a turn-of-the-century explorer who sailed the ship Endurance on a venture to become the first man to traverse the Antarctic continent. After his ship got frozen in ice, Shackleton had to lead his men safely through an arctic winter under unimaginably difficult conditions. After reading his book South, The Endurance Expedition in which he documented his own experiences, I couldn’t help but admire his leadership. Imagine how interesting it would be to snowshoe with him and hear firsthand how he and his men survived in the Arctic with only pre-World War I equipment and clothing.
Finally, I’d go kayaking with Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver is a best-selling author, my favorite author, but she also has a Master’s Degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Based on information she has written into both her nonfiction essays and fiction novels, I think it would be an amazing experience to hop into a kayak with Ms. Kingsolver and allow her to teach me what she knows about a river ecosystem and the aquatic life we would find there.
D: Describe your dream Venture Outdoors program/outing.
S: I think it would be really fun to take a group of Venture Outdoors bicyclists to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is just south of Cleveland. In summer and fall, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers the “Bike Aboard,” which allows cyclists to ride the Ohio and Erie Canal towpaths in one direction and then board the train for the return trip.
D: Any other hidden talents?
S:As you might have already guessed, I am a writer. I am retired now, but most recently I worked as a technical writer for the U.S. Army just outside of Nuremberg, Germany. As a hobby, I enjoy writing memoir and personal essays, which I hope one day to have published.
D: Favorite artist/photographer?
S: Vincent Van Gogh is by far my favorite artist, mostly because his paintings don’t make me think, they make me feel. I don’t know if that was his intension, but I think it is an incredibly difficult thing for an artist to accomplish. I admire him for that.