“I’ve always liked natural places. In 1964, when I was a kid, my mom and dad and grandparents went out west on a month-long trip. We stayed in a rustic cabin in Yellowstone National Park. Times were different then, bears would come in for food. I remember kids chasing a baby bear until it hid under the cabin. I remember when my mom opened a window, a bear put its paws in. Unbelievable.”

If you’ve been a member or following on Facebook over the past few years or so, you’ve seen amateur nature photographer Thomas Sprunger’s stunning preserve photos. You see his work on ACRES’ website, and in our media releases. Members receive preserve postcards, often donning his images as an announcement of each newly protected place.

Thomas visits the preserves often, on his own; he also volunteers “on call” for ACRES, collecting images on assignment. He shares how he found ACRES, and a bit of what’s going on behind his camera:

During a 2009 Komets Hockey game, taking photos with friends: “Someone suggested we all go to Rocky Mountain National Park. That trip rekindled my interest, sparked me to seek more places.”

“Coming back home, you think there are no photos to take around here. So I did an internet search for nature preserves and found Kokiwanee. I was surprised by how neat it actually was. It made me feel like I was not in the part of Indiana I thought I was.”

Since then, time spent photographing ACRES’ geologically unique preserves has given Thomas fresh eyes for our even more common flat open spaces and farmland: “I realize now that the farm community can yield some great shots. The familiar is beautiful when you can really see it.”

“This is the biggest part of photography. To see. The technical aspect comes. To see is the thing.”

Sprunger explains his craft: “Nature photography requires patience. You can’t be in a hurry. Part of this is the discovery aspect, keeping your eyes there, open, just standing, seeing what you see. If it’s a photo I want, I’ll take whatever time it takes to convey … you gotta work it.

I like the peace you get when you’re in places like this. It gives you respite from the stress of everyday life. Sometimes I stand still and almost inhale it. So—that’s a hunk of it for me. The peacefulness. Another aspect is the beauty. I’m drawn to that, always have been. I’m looking for the view that when I see it, I think, ‘that’s beautiful’.

“Of course, with photography, this is a way for me to be creative and convey a sense of what I’m feeling and seeing in a place like this. The peacefulness is what I aim to convey. Sometimes people will see my work and say, ‘I wish I could be there.’ Then I’ve accomplished what I’m doing.”

Thomas’ wife, Melinda, shares his interests: “She’s taking photos at Rocky Mountain National Park. We go every year, stay in the same cabin. She’s developed a kinship with that place. We both have an affinity for it, like coming home.”

Thomas has particular affection for a few ACRES preserves, often developed over time, visit after visit. He notes, “With photography, you need to keep going back. Spring, for example, is wonderful every week. Old places, new ones, too, are always better than expected. Often, when I’m done and it’s time to leave, I don’t want to go.”

Today, Thomas has more golden hours in his happy places. At the time of this interview, he was planning on it: “Once I retire, I plan to spend quite a few just-before-sunrises and just-before-sunsets in the preserves.”