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Patrick Springer, Published January 01 2012

A day out in nature with her camera is a perfect day for Daphne Kinzler

OAKES, N.D. - Daphne Kinzler’s way of seeing the world changed one day years ago when she paused to photograph an old granary.

As she was composing her shot, a white-tailed doe wandered into the frame. She snapped the camera’s shutter knowing something had happened.

“It was not a good picture, but it hooked me on wildlife,” she says. “I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

The experience inspired her to pursue wildlife photography seriously, beginning a passion that continues to thrill her and occupy much of her time at age 75.

She has a photography agent in England, and her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, calendars and other publications around the world.

Many of her favorites appear in a coffee table book published by Farcountry Press in 2005, “North Dakota Wildlife Portfolio,” which remains in print.

Some of her work once appeared on a Nature Conservancy poster, and some of her photographs were featured in posters to celebrate North Dakota’s centennial in 1989.

“I’ve had stuff sold all over the world,” she says. “A lot of it goes into periodicals – journals, newspapers, magazines.” Even wallpaper and Christmas cards, she adds. “You name it.”

Kinzler, a former music teacher and piano tutor, describes herself as a perfectionist who has strived to improve her technique.

“I’m really fussy,” she says.

She credits her years of music instruction and practice with instilling the discipline and patience that have helped hone her skills as a photographer.

Her very first photos were of domestic wildlife: family snapshots of her two sons when they were young. Those were taken with an old “box Brownie” film camera, followed by a Kodak Instamatic, and later a 35-milimeter rangefinder.

“You have no idea how many pictures I have of them,” she says of her sons.

Her increased sophistication started more than three decades ago after a photography hobbyist friend advised her to graduate to a single-lens-reflex camera, eventually adding a long, telephoto lens.

“If you know what you’re doing you can get beautiful work out of any camera,” she says.

In her earlier days, with only a moderate telephoto zoom lens, she had to work hard to get close to her animal subjects, creeping up behind a hand-made camouflage blind.

Starting before dawn, she spends up to six hours in the field, quietly watching and waiting for a shot. Similarly, she’ll devote several hours at a time in the hours before dusk.

“I used to be kind of short on patience,” she says.

Not anymore. Once, she spent months getting to know a family of foxes. She fed them small pieces of liver so the foxes got used to her presence.

She and her husband, Eugene, make annual treks to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where elk and buffalo roam, for wildlife photography safaris.

The buffalo usually are grazing, so she’s learned a trick to catch their attention in order to capture a more interesting picture.

“You’ve got to whistle at the cows,” she says. “But not the bulls. Those bulls are nasty.”

She keeps a safe distance. She once saw an angry bull push a rancher’s pickup off the road and into a Badlands ravine when he honked impatiently at the lordly buffalo.

Geese are a particular favorite of Kinzler’s to photograph.

“I love the geese,” she says. “I never get enough of them. I think they’re just so neat.”

She recently found herself in the midst of a huge flock of snow geese that took flight all around her, as if she were inside an avian snow globe.

“I just sat there in awe and said, ‘Oh, Lord, thanks for all of this,’ ” she says.

Then, once she snapped out of her reverie, her inner voice chided, “Take a picture.”

Kinzler’s absorption in photography helped her survive an ordeal last year, when she was battling breast cancer. Her husband drove her to Aberdeen, S.D., where one of her sons lives, for her treatments.

The camera, which she never failed to take with her, was a form of adjunct therapy.

“My photography was my savior,” she says. “I could go out with my camera and forget about it.”

Also, she adds, “I got some fantastic eagle pictures.”

Wildlife photography, alas, does not sell particularly well, and Kinzler has done little to promote her work beyond attending craft shows.

But she’s something of a celebrity in Oakes, where her book, prints and cards are on sale at Sweets ’N Stories, a café and gift shop on Main Avenue.

“We sell lots of that book,” says proprietor Heather Roney. “Beautiful book. Beautiful.”

Although better known for her wildlife, Kinzler’s landscape photographs also are included. The hardcover books, all autographed, sell for $12.95, discounted from the original price, Roney says.

“She goes to great lengths to get just the perfect shots,” she adds. “I’m kind of partial to some of the pheasants. She’s really passionate about it.”

After 35 years, that passion hasn’t faded. “I’m very busy with wildlife,” Kinzler says. “I’ll stop after I’m deceased. There’s no reason for me to stop.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522