Kip Ladage: I started shooting photos about 30 years ago just before my son was born and the intent was to shoot photos of his growth and then my daughter's but I guess my interest became more wildlife and then people and it has just progressed from there.
Kip Ladage can't tell you how many photographs he has taken of Iowa's wildlife, but he can tell you how many he has kept. He says in the 30 years he has been taking pictures that he is just shy of 190,000 images on file. With that many photographs, it shouldn't be a surprise that he spends a lot of time outdoors.
Kip Ladage: I used to hunt and fish a lot but it was when I was up in the tree stand seeing other things that I wasn't hunting that I realized, boy, there's so much out here to share with others that I started to carry a camera. And I quickly learned that I can't carry a camera in one hand and a bow in the other hand and do either one of them very well. I had to decide which one am I going to do, which one am I going to concentrate on. I still hunt a little bit but mostly I hunt year round with the camera now, with my Nikon.
Ladage works in Bremer County as an emergency management coordinator where he assists agencies as they plan, train and respond to disaster situations, emergencies that range from fires and tornadoes to missing persons and Hazmat spills.
Kip Ladage: I've got a job that tends to be stressful at times and when I go out in the woods I can put the job behind me and just sit and watch. I spend a lot of time watching, more time watching than I do shooting.
Ladage enjoys photographing anything wild and he'll point his camera at whatever catches his eye, even if he's busy shooting a different subject. On one occasion, he was shooting a troop of fox pups when he noticed an unusual butterfly.
Kip Ladage: I was actually working at a fox den and noticed an unusual butterfly and I didn't even know that the American snout butterfly existed but I stopped everything I was doing with the fox and got fascinated with the butterfly because I didn't know butterflies had snouts like this one does. So I learned something that day and just keep an open mind and there's something to see.
There's a wide variety of wildlife in the nearly 190,000 photos Ladage has saved. His collection has just about everything including backyard songbirds. He does, however, have one subject that he is particularly fond of.
Kip Ladage: If the weather is cooperative, give me my kayak, put my camo blind on top of it, let me go shoot Great Blue Herons. I've got a fascination with Great Blue Herons. I've got probably thousands and thousands of images of Great Blue Herons but there's always room for another one.
When he's out shooting, Kip covers his camera and wears camouflage. He says it's not always needed but there are situations where it makes a difference.
Kip Ladage: When I'm doing Great Blue Herons, the water species out there, especially early in the season when they first moved into the, you know, migrated up, they're not used to me being out there so then I'm in full camo and it could be a ghillie suit or it could be what I'm wearing now. I sometimes even wear a mask just to break the pattern up. But you don't need the camouflage but I tend to believe it helps, especially if you want to get close for photos.
Ladage says every night he works for at least an hour on his photographs and website. He keeps a database of all his pictures that he says helps him better understand the wildlife he's shooting and makes him a better photographer. And his website is a way he can share his work with others.
Kip Ladage: My website is a large collection of images that is broken down either you can search by categories, mammals, birds and then further broke down. I have posted pictures every day for the last I believe four years now. Generally I try to make that wildlife but with life sometimes it is something different than that. And then I also almost daily post just a general blog type entry I guess of thoughts that hit my mind. It might be wildlife, it might be my granddaughter, it might be work-related. Who knows. But I kind of put myself out there in the open and let people get a snapshot of my life.
Kip's work has been published in numerous magazines. But he is also self-published. The photos and thoughts that he posts on his website has turned into a series of books which are titled Moments with Iowa's Wildlife. Ladage has also written a book that identifies the birds found at backyard feeders in Iowa and another that teaches the alphabet using things found in nature.
Kip Ladage: I've seen so many things and I've been blessed to witness the maturing of fox at the den and a couple of years ago got to watch as the trumpeter swans were hatching and when the little swans climbed over the nest and went into the water for the first time. There's something about those interactions that it's hard -- words don't describe it but it's fascinating, it's addicting. It draws you back day after day.