Shooting the wilds of Nevada

 

By Teri Vance

Not quite fitting in at school where he grew up in the farming community of Sutter, Calif., Larry Burton often retreated to the nearby Sierra Buttes. “I ended up running around those buttes all my growing up years,” he said. “It became my little sanctuary.” That penchant for finding reprieve and beauty in the solitude of the outdoors pointed him to his first occupation with Fish and Wildlife, and provided the backdrop for his current career as a photographer documenting some of Nevada’s wildest places. “It’s such an incredible experience to me,” he said. “You have to wait for this quiet moment, and then you see it. That’s what keeps me coming back.”

After graduating high school a year early in 1974, Burton went to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Big Pine Fish Hatchery in the Owens Valley near Bishop, Calif. “That was a blessed existence,” he said. He’d started taking pictures in high school and bought his first serious camera, a 35 mm SLR Nikon, in 1980. He read a couple of books, but lived too far from any college to take classes. “The learning curve was tough, but I struggled through it a couple of years,” he explained.

 

Serendipity shined on him when he found a camera bag full of lenses and commercial camera bodies. Unable to find contact information, he took out an ad in the paper and tracked down the owner, Sharon Collins. In her gratitude, Collins hooked Burton up with some workshops at the University of San Francisco. Luck continued to turn in his favor when wildlife photographer Arthur Richards stopped by the hatchery looking for advice on where to find elk. “I told him, I get off at 4,” Burton recalled. “By 4:30, I had him in the middle of 30-40 elk. He was just jumping up and down. I realized then I had a special skill set because I knew the area so well.” The two formed a partnership where Burton showed him around the backcountry, and Richards tutored Burton in technique. “He became a good mentor,” Burton said. “We shot together for a year and a half, and that’s when I started getting the good stuff.”

In 1988, he transferred to the Gallagher Fish Hatchery in Ruby Valley, a ranching community about 60 miles from Elko. Nevada was already a second home to Burton who had spent a lot of time in the state as a child visiting his mom’s Yerington hometown. “Most people can picture living on a ranch,” he explained. “It’s exactly like living on a ranch, but instead of cattle, it’s fish. You have to feed them every day. You can’t put them out to pasture, it’s 24/7 stand-by duty.” He continued shooting on evenings and weekends, getting published on regional phone book covers and winning local awards. After 20 years in Ruby Valley, he retired in early 2009 with the goal of becoming a full-time photographer. Initially, he intended to base his business off of the same model as hunting guides where he would take photographers into the wilderness to shoot landscapes and wildlife.

 

However, the structure has evolved mostly into doing contract work — shooting stock images for Indian County and rural communities along Interstate 80 known as the Cowboy Corridor — and giving workshops and clinics, including a presentation at the recent tourism convention Rural Roundup in Elko. His tells participants they don’t need the best equipment, but they do need to be thoughtful about the images they’re making. “I learned how to do it when you had to pay 50 cents a print,” he said. “That’s a lot when you’re a working stiff. I still want to make the best image I can out of my camera. It’s not hard, but it takes a minute.”

Burton, who has one son, Lloyd, has lived in Carson City with his girlfriend Terry Sumner for the past five years. He finds plenty to photograph on his daily walks, but continues to travel the state. “Part of the reason I get these bids is because I know the state so well,” he said. “I put 20,000 miles on my truck every year, and 90 percent of that is in Nevada.” The best part, he said, is sharing his images with people who otherwise wouldn’t get to see the places he’s been. On second thought, he concludes, all of it is the best part. “I have been blessed right down the pipe,” Burton said. “I loved my work on the fish hatcheries. I’ve lived in some of the best places in the West. I’ve got no complaints. It’s all been a good ride. Even with the backaches and pains, I go to bed with a smile on my face most nights.”

Follow Larry Burton on Facebook to see his images. Contact him for clinics at fishtek@live.com or (775) 389-9573.