BLOOMINGTON -- Dr. Meng Horng of the Twin Cities was a little boy when his father first hooked him on photography. He took a camera to school everyday. Early photos focused on people in his life.
Retired now, the habit of taking a camera along has been with him a lifetime, but now his subjects are natural settings, landscapes and animals from around the globe. Horng has photographed all seven continents. He's been to Africa nine times. He cruised to Antarctica and landed on shore in a dinghy to photograph penguins. For the past three decades, he's made it a point to go on a "long trip" every year.
But the United States and its national parks remain among his favorites. He and his wife took their two children to national parks every year when they were growing up.
During a recent interview, he smiled while he fished through his wallet to retrieve his $10 lifetime senior pass to national parks that saves him $15 every time he visits.
"I love them," he said.
Ask Horng what national parks he likes best and he quickly mentions the rugged American Southwest, especially parks in Colorado, Arizona and Utah. He fell in love on his first visit to the Grand Canyon in the early 1980s. Never mind the snow on the rim when he began his descent. The temperature rose the farther down he went and he hiked in shirtsleeves at the bottom to dip his hand in the icy Colorado River.
He's been back to visit the canyon several times. His latest trip was to lead a class reunion of 40 of his classmates from medical school in Taiwan to the Grand Canyon and several other national parks and national monuments in the area last fall. The itinerary included Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Monument Valley National Park, Rainbow Bride National Monument and Lake Powell.
"The Southwest probably has the best parks in all of the United States," Horng said.
When Horng defines "best," he means the most photogenic. The region's rough terrain transforms into beautiful landscapes at sunrise and sunset. Because the point was to record the best digital images possible, Horng hired guides from www.tourthesouthwest.com who were photographers. They short-circuited the trial and error normally needed in nature photography. They knew the location of the best scenery and the best times to view them. For example, despite its name Sunset Point, the guides knew the light was best to photograph the spot at sunrise. Because they were familiar with each place, the guides also could make suggestions based on experience on what aperture settings and exposures to use.
Horng learned a lot about photography on his own over the years. He started with standard film and then added slides to enter photo competitions that required them. He was one of the first to embrace digital photography when the technology became available in the early 1990s. He also listened to many talented nature photographers who live in and around the Twin Cities, including Marie Williams and Ted Funk. He joined the KodaRoamers photography club, eventually serving as president in the late 1990s.
"I've learned a lot from them. It's interesting to learn technique from the members," Horng said.
His advice to would-be photographers is to buy a good quality camera that allows manual settings to experiment with light and focus. Though Horng still takes slides at times, nearly all of his work is done with digital cameras.
Next, join a club to help cut the learning curve everyone encounters.
Then, take lots of pictures. Test different light and focus settings and try different lenses. While others often use a long lens in settings like national parks, Horng uses a wide-angle lens to capture the entire scene. He likes a blue lens filter to bring out the color of the sky. A filter also lets him reduce glare from water.
Be sure to visit a place several times at different times of day and in different seasons.
Lastly, hope for a little luck. Horng's group of medical school classmates was headed to Canyonlands National Park after spending the night in Moab, Utah, when their bus broke down. A replacement bus arrived by next morning, but it was raining. Disappointed, they continued to Canyonlands to wait out the weather. As the clouds parted, the sun appeared and with it a double rainbow.
"Everybody was happy. The bus broke down, but it helped. God had something he wanted us to see," Horng said.