Local focal point: Great nature photographers find abundant nature in Tri-State

Parks, landscape are canvas for pros and amateurs
Tri-State 'lens' itself to great nature shots
Tri-State 'lens' itself to great nature shots
Tri-State 'lens' itself to great nature shots
Tri-State 'lens' itself to great nature shots
Tri-State 'lens' itself to great nature shots
Posted at 12:00 PM, Feb 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-20 06:12:00-05

CINCINNATI -- Turn a professional photographer loose in Cincinnati, and it’s likely to result in some dazzling panoramic shots of the city’s iconic skyline and an array of images that explore our vast collection of historic architecture.

The Queen City is known for both -- just like we’re known for our professional sports teams, beer and unique take on chili. The list goes on from there, depending on whom you ask.

One thing we can all agree on: Cincinnati isn’t known as a top spot for nature photography. You won’t find our city on any top-10 (or even top-100) list featuring the nation’s best spots for landscape or wildlife photography. Because let’s face it: We don’t have the colorful, scenic vistas places like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks offer, and there’s nothing here that comes close to the ocean views, glistening glaciers or diverse wildlife photographers encounter in Alaska.

And yet professional and amateur photographers alike capture stunning images of the natural world here every day.

Greater Cincinnati may not be known for its green spaces, but it’s chock full of parks, nature preserves, hiking trails, woodlands and waterways that offer year-round photo ops for photographers looking to capture the beauty of the great outdoors.

Just ask Steve Zeinner. He’s a professional painter and photographer based in Goshen who is known for his unique urban and nature photography.

Some of his favorite subjects are the wildlife, flora and other natural elements you can find here in the Tri-State. And Zeinner says there’s no shortage of local spots to find them.

“One of the things I love about this area is that we have so many options,” he said. “Most people don’t realize you can drive 20 minutes or less from pretty much anywhere in the city and access an abundance of beautiful locations.”

Zeinner’s photographs of nature in Cincinnati and its surrounding communities garner lots of attention on social media and have earned him thousands of followers. The most recent photos on his Instagram feed were shot over the past few months at a variety of local spots, and include frosty scenes from Sharon Woods Park and Eden Park.

He said he enjoys showing people a side of Cincinnati they’ve never seen with his nature and wildlife photographs.

“I have people say to me, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life, and you present Cincinnati in a way I’ve never seen it before,” Zeinner noted. “That’s the great thing about photographing nature. We have the high-powered lenses and necessary equipment, and we can zoom in and get close-ups of things you might miss on a hike.”

Zeinner also takes aerial and underwater shots to show the city from a different perspective. And he’s always on the hunt to capture photos of elusive wildlife, like barred owls and bald eagles.

Like Zeinner and a host of other local photographers, Chris Smith sees nature in Greater Cincinnati as a worthy subject.

He’s an instructor at Northern Kentucky University and encouraged his advanced photography students to explore the Great Parks of Hamilton County system last fall through a culminating documentary project.

His 14 students captured some unique views of the parks that showcase the beauty of the natural world here in Cincinnati, he said.

“You get to see the parks through their eyes,” said Smith. “That’s the great thing about these types of projects.”

The NKU students’ work will be on display from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, at Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve in Colerain Township.

Great Parks touts the local nature preserve as a place that will “help you forget the hustle and bustle that surrounds you.”

That’s also a pretty good description of what a great photograph can do, according to Smith.

“As a photographer, you want to take the viewer to a new place,” he said. “You want to put them in the scene you’re in.”

Not surprisingly, it’s not just professional nature photographers who are taking advantage of all that Cincinnati has to offer. A growing number of local photography enthusiasts are capturing some breathtaking images, according to Marian Perkowski, Cincinnati Nature Center’s community relations manager.

The center hosts an amateur photo contest each year, and the number of submissions has increased dramatically, she said.

Cincinnati Nature Center is member-supported and has two sites: Rowe Woods in Milford and Long Branch Farm & Trails in Goshen, which collectively offer more than 1,600 acres of forests, farmland, fields and streams. It’s a hot spot for local photographers, including Zeinner.

“It’s an amazing backdrop for photographers as our diverse habitats and changing terrain make for ideal shooting locations,” Perkowski said. “The flora and fauna is forever changing with seasons and one never knows what lies ahead on the trail.”

That diversity and change of the seasons is part of what makes the natural world here in Greater Cincinnati a “photographer’s paradise,” according to Perkowski.

“It really is an amazingly beautiful place,” she said.