Our Prairie People: Sean Fitzgerald
Capturing the Beauty of Texas Prairies: An Interview with Sean Fitzgerald
Meet Sean Fitzgerald: a Texan who has a deep love for nature and a talent for capturing its beauty. He’s a dedicated nature photographer and conservation enthusiast. He serves as an NPAT board member, actively working to protect Texas prairies. Sean’s stunning photography has won acclaim in regional and national contests and graced numerous publications. He generously shares them with us so we can share them with you.
Step into the captivating world of Sean’s nature photography!
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how your passion for prairie and nature photography developed?
I practiced law before photography and realized that I don’t sit still well and I love nature. Once I picked up a camera I fell in love with the notion I could tell stories and advocate with visual imagery. That was a revelation that changed my life. Eventually I realized that the stories that most need to be told are local and that many of the most endangered ecosystems are right here in my own backyard.
About 15 years ago I was introduced to Jim Eidson at Clymer Meadow and fell in love with the Blackland Prairie. Clymer Meadow was my prairie gateway drug and I have been hooked ever since. I originally thought I would focus on the Blackland Prairie but I have come to appreciate the astounding diversity of prairie ecosystems across Texas.
What led you to get involved with NPAT?
I remember going to a handful of prairies like Stella Rowan in Fort Worth and seeing signs for the Native Prairies Association of Texas. The more I explored different prairies, the more I came across NPAT. The work that NPAT does is just so meaningful and I am privileged to help in my own small way.
What draws you to prairie and nature photography as a specific niche?
I am drawn to photographing Texas prairies first because it is a story that needs to be told. What we had was magnificent. We lost most of it through the so-called march of economic progress and now we are playing catchup, struggling to hang onto the remnants that are left. If the story stopped there, it would just be depressing, kind of like photographing the last dodo bird. But our prairies are different — unlike some habitats, prairies can be reclaimed and restored. People across Texas are working like mad to do so. I love that part of the story.
Second, photographing prairies is a challenge — so much of a prairie’s beauty is in juxtaposition between the messy details and complexity at ground level and the big Texas skies. My challenge is to distill what I see into something the connects to the viewer at an emotional level without overwhelming them visually. If my images can do that, then I did my job.
Do you have a most memorable moment while photographing a prairie?
I do love prairie fires. They have such an epic quality, like a Greek god that rewards proper worship but lashes out when taken for granted. A sudden wind gust can turn the gentle crackle of a slow-moving fire into a vortex of wind and heat that demands respect. It is such a sensory experience. I love how the ash settles on my skin and the smell of burned grass and smoke hangs in the air between wind gusts. And last but not least, the light can be utterly sublime, especially when the sun backlights a smoke plume or when a long finger of flames extends out into the fading light of dusk. Last year I stumbled onto an accidental burn at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma and had a bison herd walk up between me and the fire at midnight. It still gives me goosebumps.
A favorite prairie?
It is really hard for me to choose a favorite prairie. That is a bit like choosing a favorite child — you might have one but you would not admit it publicly. I love them all. I should also add the story of Texas prairies today is intertwined with the people who protect them. Getting to meet legendary prairie stewards like Jim Eidson and B.F. Hicks (Daphne Prairie) has been a real privilege.
How do you establish a connection with the natural world when you’re out photographing it?
When I get to a location I try to explore what I see and suss out the subjects and stories I want to tell in the limited time I have. Sometimes I do get so focused on taking pictures that I forget to just stop and enjoy the moment. Thankfully the howl of coyotes will usually get me to pause for a moment and take it all in.
As we know, prairie landscapes and nature scenes can change dramatically with the seasons. Do you have a favorite season to capture through your lens, and why?
Prairies are change — moment by moment, day by day and season by season. The plants change,the birds and insects and other wildlife change. The more you look, the more you are rewarded with something new. Photographically it is hard to beat spring and early summer for those ever-changing photo opportunities. I am still working to capture better capture autumn on Texas prairies as those golden grasses are so dramatic. Winter is certainly muted, but the wildlife is often more visible and the winter storms are stunning. I have only scratched the surface!
How can our readers view more of your prairie and nature photography work or connect with you? Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or events featuring your nature photography?
My ultimate goal is to capture all of the Texas prairie ecosystems for an eventual Texas Prairies photo book and other mixed media projects. I strongly believe that Texan pride can help us save our prairies and hopefully my images can help.
To see more of Sean’s photos, visit seanfitzgerald.com.