Those of us who witnessed the Super Pink Moon this past Tuesday were unified by a marvelous sight. When the sun sank beneath the shadowy mountainscape, and the moon started gliding through the dimming night sky, my heart felt entwined with the company of birds – so many birds alive in the absence of traffic pollution. For a short while, the moon was stunningly pink as it rose, coming as close to Earth as it would this calendar year.
Of course, none other than local photographer Steve Kratka could capture this image so beautifully. Kratka is known by many as the “moon guy” on local Facebook Groups, where he regularly posts stunning images of the moon and the many earthly creatures he’s spent his life photographing.
In this question and answer interview, Kratka graciously shares his connection and curiosities toward the moon and these creatures – as well as what inspires him, how the pandemic has affected him, a few favorite photography moments, and more.
Question: Can you describe the connection between you and your camera? How does this connection extend to the moon and all the earthly creatures you photograph?
Answer: For the past 40 years, I have always had my cameras with me to record those things I found important or worthwhile to capture. When leaving the house – besides my car keys – I always grabbed my cameras. They were my constant companions, whether I was taking a quick trip to the market for milk or hiking some remote wilderness area.
I have always been an outdoors person, and from the first time I picked up my camera all those many years ago, I was drawn to wildlife photography. Most times, I just wander and see what wildlife photo opportunities present themselves (I love those magical encounters with unexpected wildlife) or I relish those major photographic expeditions, like flying into a remote Alaskan wilderness to photograph Grizzly Bears.
Q: Did you witness/photograph the Super Pink Moon this Tuesday? Would you like to share any thoughts, feelings, emotions that arose? What typically arises for you when you encounter or photograph the moon? What about the animals you photograph?
A: I did photograph the Super Moon this past Tuesday night. It was spectacular. My photographs from that night have gone somewhat viral on the Oregon Wildlife and Nature Photography Facebook page, of which I am the Administrator. Within 24 hours, my moon images have been shared over 40 thousand times and been liked over 14 thousand times. One was selected for the KGW-TV photo of the day.
I have always been drawn to the moon. As a young boy growing up in Florida, I really wanted to be an astronaut, especially after getting to witness the manned rockets lifting off from Cape Canaveral. Then, I got to watch the first steps of man on the moon with my family on the old black and white television.
My favorite gift I received on my 13th birthday was my first pair of binoculars. Not for viewing wildlife, but to see the craters on the moon. Now, I have the equipment to take stunning photos of the lunar landscape, and I don’t think there is ever a time during the month that I don’t grab my camera and snap a few pics of that marvelous neighbor in the sky. The moon calls to me.
I love to take photographs of wildlife. I find it so very rewarding to get that great image, worthy of hanging on the wall. It involves a tremendous amount of patience and study; I study the lives of the wildlife I capture with my camera, and I have a connection with wildlife. Many of the creatures I photograph have a connection with me as well. For some cosmic reason, they don’t have a fear of me. We can watch each other for hours without their need to flee. That is why – in a lot of my images – the wildlife are looking, calmly and peacefully, directly at me. I find it a testament to my connection with wildlife – that when I talk with other photographers that have visited the same area, on the same day, looking for wildlife, and they say they saw nothing yet – my camera is filled with photographs.
Q: What have been some of your favorite memories while out with your camera?
A: I have so many favorite memories around photography. I think I do have two favorites though. The first was a backpacking trip into the wilderness of Olympic National Park to photograph Mountain Goats. After a fruitless first day, I made camp. Waking up in my tent the next morning, I unzipped the front door and there, no more than 25 feet away, was a Mountain Goat sitting among the rocks, enjoying the morning sun. One of my photographs was used on the cover of the magazine for Oregon Public Broadcasting.
My other favorite memory was taking my daughter Kate to Alaska to photograph Grizzly Bears. After arriving in Anchorage, we boarded a small bush pilot plane with pontoons and flew 400 miles into the remote Katmai National Park, landing on an adjacent lake. We arrived at the peak time of year, and there were almost 50 Grizzlies feeding on salmon at Brook Falls. It was an awesome experience photographing the feeding bears from an elevated boardwalk, having some of them pass within 10 feet of us. What enormous and magnificent creatures they are.
Q: How has the quarantine or COVID-19 affected you personally? Has it interfered with your photography in any way?
A: Covid-19 has affected me both positively and negatively. On the positive side, there is nothing more social distancing than grabbing my camera and heading out by myself into some remote portion of our State. I just returned from a four day trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Southeastern Oregon. The refuge is 270 square miles in size, yet I only saw two cars in the four days.
On the negative side, the quarantine measures around the virus have severely impacted my photo exhibitions. I currently have my photographs hanging in Suite Nine in downtown Corvallis. My photographs were supposed to be part of the monthly Corvallis Art Walk, which was cancelled because of social distancing guidelines. I have now put all other photographic exhibitions on hold.
Q: What makes you feel hopeful and inspired?
I feel hopeful and inspired when I am out photographing wildlife. Many creatures – such as Bald Eagles – that were on the verge of extinction are now thriving and available to my camera lens. That gives me hope that we can repair some of the damage to nature and wildlife that has occurred over the years.
Q: Do you have any recent or upcoming projects or accomplishments you’d like to share?
A: After many years of accumulating thousands of wildlife photographs, I have just started to upload my photographs to my own website. While I have sold my photos for many years at art shows and festivals, this is my first foray into having an online presence. Hopefully within a few months, I will have most of my photos uploaded. I am also considering producing a calendar of my images as well.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
A: Yes. I want to encourage everyone to grab your cameras and explore the world around you. It’s a wonderful way to experience life. You will discover many things that were unseen to you. I love seeing photos from others and what they find photo worthy. I equally enjoy the professional photographer and the amateur photographer that takes cell phone images through a screen door of birds on the feeder. I find it all enjoyable and worthy of sharing.
View some of our prior coverage of Kratka and his photography here.