Learning Through Seeing

Chris Starbuck blends his love of photography and nature

Chris Starbuck, emeritus associate professor in plant sciences, has found success blending his long term passions for photography and plants.

“I have been taking photos off and on for 40 years and have always considered photography an art form,” Starbuck said. “I find that I pay closer attention to the world around me when I have a camera in hand.”

Chris’s Advice for Aspiring Photographers
Get a basic photography book to learn about how a camera works and how to frame your shots to get a pleasing composition. Always be on the lookout (whether or not you have a camera with you) for interesting patterns, colors and lighting. Take lots of shots and don’t be afraid to delete most of them. Use whatever camera you have with you. Some of my favorite photos were taken with my phone. Although it is possible to take amazing photos with point and shoot cameras, they often make decisions for you that you wish they hadn’t. Practice with the point and shoot to develop your eye for composition, but save up for a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera. As your skills develop, you can justify spending the money to upgrade from a low end (DSLR) to a model with better resolution. When you get that far, you will always have a wish list for lenses and accessories that will allow you to capture good images of the things you like to shoot.
Develop a method for keeping track of your photos. Picasa is a free program that allows you to do simple editing and file your images in folders. Take the time to give your images file names and tags that mean something to you. Then you can search with Picasa by file name or tags. As you progress, you may want to use programs like Photoshop and Lightroom to process and manage your images. While there is a steep learning curve to use these tools, they allow you to get the most out of your images and keep track of where they are.
Photo of Chris Starbuck by Genevieve Howard.

Starbuck has never had any formal training in photography. Instead, he has taught himself by trial and error, and reading books and photo magazines.

“Over time, I have learned enough that it is no longer entirely accidental when I get a good shot,” Starbuck said.

Starbuck enjoys photographing plants in general, but especially trees. He has several hundred photos of the famous Burr Oak Tree in McBaine alone.

“I have been known to visit the tree at 2 a.m. to photograph it under a full moon,” he said.

Starbuck also enjoys taking “artsy” shots, including macros of everyday objects with interesting shapes and patterns. He plans to purchase a telephoto lens for shooting birds at Eagle Bluffs.

Four years ago, Starbuck began selling photographic greeting cards to Bluestem in downtown Columbia.

“Cards featuring the McBaine oak always sell the best,” Starbuck said. Tiger Gardens has also been selling cards featuring his photos for the past two years.

Teaching played a major role in developing his photography skills.

“A major impetus for developing my photographic skills was a class that I taught on woody plant identification (Plant Science 2210),” Starbuck said. “I developed a website for the class where I posted images of all of the plants that the students were learning about. I found it a challenge to capture images that were helpful for the students for identification purposes.”

Starbuck has worked for the University for 33 years. He is currently working with the Mizzou Botanic Garden to help with mapping and accession records for plants on the campus. Still, he cherishes the times he was able to share his love for plants with his students most.

“I will always remember how students reacted to being in a greenhouse during plant propagation labs in the winter,” Starbuck said. “I could watch them relax as they began working with plants. Just one of many indicators of how plants improve the quality of human life. Horticulture is always an important part of advanced cultures.”

For those interested in checking out more of Starbuck’s work, visit his Flickr photostream “Tree-razzo” (paparazzo of famous trees).