A Monterey Nature Photographer’s Hobby Gets National Recognition, With a Nod From the Smithsonian

This article was originally published by the Monterey County Weekly.

MONTEREY, CA—Chase Dekker seems to be everywhere these days. If he’s not at home in Monterey, he might be in the Serengeti, searching for herds of buffalo. Or leading a photography workshop while swimming with whales in Tonga, or exploring the mountains of British Columbia and Alaska.

Yet if you were looking for Dekker on Nov. 15, you’d find him in a place filled with compelling imagery of a less rugged sort: The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Dekker was on hand to receive the grand prize for the Landscapes Category in the Nature’s Best Photography Awards, for his long-exposure capture of “Edith Creek Sunset” in Mount Rainier National Park. Looking up a river valley, the photo shows snow-capped Mount Ranier illuminated by a brilliant red sunset. Of more than 26,000 photos submitted, 60 were selected (including the winners), which will be on view at the Smithsonian through September 2019.

While the 26-year-old wildlife photographer has already experienced the thrill of seeing his work printed in Lonely Planet and National Geographic, this was by far the most prestigious recognition of his budding career.

“It’s always an honor when anyone buys my photos,” Dekker says. “It’s [especially] neat to see your photo in a landmark museum like the Smithsonian.”

Dekker, a Monterey native, recalls photographing whales and birds starting early in his childhood. During high school, his interest in photography took off, particularly his interest in wildlife on trips with his mother to photograph polar bears north of the Arctic Circle in Svalbard, Norway.

A stint in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, after his college years at Western Washington University offered Dekker the opportunity to shoot five or six times a week while supporting himself as a tour guide. It was during this time that he honed his approach: attempting to portray his subject, often a wild animal, with a sense of place. That’s especially important in this age of smartphones, when everyone seems to be a photographer, spontaneously capturing whatever they see around them.

Dekker works as a photographer and a marine naturalist on a local whale watching boat, sells stock photographs of wildlife and landscapes through Aptos-based Minden Pictures, and runs private photography workshops – affording him the chance to travel to exotic places that many people could only dream of. His fiance, Hanna Glafke, works as his project manager, freeing him up to spend his time doing what he does best: chasing the golden hour for the perfect shot.

On Aug. 30 this year, Dekker was doing just that, looking for humpbacks from a whale-watching boat as an orangey dusk settled in. Suddenly, the boat was surrounded by breaching whales. Camera at the ready, Dekker captured a humpback mid-breach, tightly framed and with a golden sunset glow.

Not only did it quickly become his best-selling print, but it sums up his approach to photography: know where the wildlife is going to be, and be ready to capture it.

Matthew Koller