What do you get when you hand a force of nature a camera?
You get Nolan Nitschke.
The esteemed local photographer, whose work has appeared in the Smithsonian on three different occasions, will be hosting a “Grand Opening” for his Sierra Light Gallery in the Mammoth Promenade on March 26.
But it will be as much of a Grand Reintroduction as a Grand Opening. That’s what happens these days. There’s so much noise out there that even the local treasures have to break out a little razzle dazzle now and then.
The point is, you know this guy’s work, even if he’s not a household name. Yet.
His work was featured prominently for many years at the Mammoth Gallery.
And when the Mammoth Gallery closed its doors, he opened his own gallery in the Mammoth Promenade. He’s now in his sixth year and recently moved into his second location.
And when you see this new place (which formerly housed Coach), and you see how he’s set up the space, and how he displays his work, you’re gonna say to yourself, “This Nitschke is a proper heir to Galen Rowell.”
Which makes a bit of sense, given that Nolan, 35, grew up in Bishop and spent countless hours in Mountain Light Gallery as a youth.
His father was a big influence – not in the sense that he was a photographer, but that he was an avid outdoorsman, fishing, hunting, et. al.
“But he’s not as much of a backpacker as I am,” says Nitschke, who bought his first camera simply to chronicle his backcountry adventures.
Adding that during his first trip, he already knew that his new three megapixel camera wasn’t going to do.
“It spiraled out of control quickly,” laughs Nitschke of his affinity for photography, “and became a full-blown addiction.”
Lightning in a lens
Nitschke caught his first big break in 2013.
He’d decided he wanted to capture lightning in Yosemite.
“I was super naive. Learning my craft,” he admits. But he’s also tireless, and not lacking in confidence. And he’s the type of guy who won’t quit until he gets it right.
“I’ll go somewhere 50-100 times ‘til I get what I want from a location.”
When you walk inside the gallery, on the right you’ll see a large, ten-foot wide, four-paneled shot of Mount Whitney with the full moon rising behind it on a perfectly clear day.
“It took me five years to get that particular shot,” he says.
That’s five climbs and a lot of praying on the weather.
But back to 2013. Nitschke sees a forecast for severe thunderstorms in Yosemite, and chases the storm into the Park.
The National Park Service kicks people out of Glacier Point, so he moves on down to Washburn Point and finds a safe spot and sets up his tripod.
And then it’s just trial-and-error. Seeing a flickering in the clouds and anticipating it will be followed by a strike and shooting.
But you’re shooting blind. If you can see the lightning, you’re already too late for the shot.
He shot 700 photos that day.
One shot captured lightning. Centered perfectly. And went viral. It was picked up by news agencies all over the world. And led to a two-page feature in Outdoor Photographer magazine.
*Google Nolan Nitschke lightning and you’ll see dozens of entries and the photograph.
What makes Nitschke stand apart is his energy and his work ethic.
Adjectives that come to mind: Gregarious. Savvy. Energetic. Enthusiastic.
The nature photography is just half of what he does.
Nitschke also shoots a lot of the real estate photography in town for rentals and homes for sale.
Sheet: Which ones are yours?
Nitschke (with a twinkle): Any one where you go, ‘oh, that looks really nice.’ That’s me.
Among his clients are Tammy Hooper, MRG and Mammoth Village Properties.
As Tammy Hooper told The Sheet, “He’s the only one I use. It’s the quality of his work. His timeliness. There’s a sequential way to photograph a home You don’t even have to tell him. He just gets it done, captures the imagery … if you want the best, you go to the best.”
Sheet: How do you find time for all of this?
Nitschke: I work 80 hours a week.
Sheet: Your wife is very understanding.
Nitschke: She’s the f*&%ing best.
Nitschke said that he and his wife Lauren had just returned from a 10th anniversary trip to Hawaii.
Sheet: Okay. Be honest. Do you choose vacation destinations based upon their photographic possibilities?
Nitschke (sheepishly): Maybe.
He then added that what he loves so much about Hawaii is that it’s so entirely different from the eastern Sierra that it forces him to rethink everything he’s doing. “It’s a challenge as well as a training exercise,” he says.
As for why he’s excited about the grand opening on the 26th, Nitschke says it’s about evolution.
When he opened his first gallery, it was a grand experiment just to see if he could pull it off, and it was more about pulling it off, the survival part, than the presentation. “The artwork vastly outshone the space,” he says.
“My intention with this space was to design and build it so the space plays off and his complementary to the artwork.”
Swing by and judge for yourself. Gallery hours are 10-5 (10-6 Friday and Saturday). Closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays