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Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Bryan Putnam was chosen as the 2023 Cape Fear Living Photographer of the Year. The judges, Editor-in-Chief Colleen Thompson and Photographer Matt Ray, were captivated by the beauty, grace, and whimsical nature of the selection of bird photographs that Putnam had entered for this year's competition.

Photography came barreling into Bryan Putnam's world three years ago. In the way of a birthday gift to himself of his first real camera - a Canon Rebel T7 - during that first COVID-19 summer. Putnam has been a creative person his entire life, having spent time in the theatre as an Equity actor/singer, Composer, and Playwright in New York City and beyond. He has been a designer and creative director, musician (flute and piano), and visual artist. The camera was the perfect progression after years of using his iPhone to try and capture patterns and colors.

"A friend said, "You know they make lenses for the iPhone," and this entire venture was born," says Putnam. "I ordered a clip-on macro lens and began taking macro shots of insects. The results were fantastic, and the decision to upgrade to a "real" camera followed quickly. Within three months, another upgrade to a 5D MARK IV, and a year later, the R3 and a 100-500 lens I currently use for wildlife and theatrical shoots."

How did your passion for birds and photographing them start?

As a child, I had every Safari Card (those awesome animal cards from all over the world), bird books, dinosaurs, mammals, and any nature book I could find. I was obsessed with all living things and was sure I would become a vet, a marine biologist, etc. I even took courses like ornithology and vertebrate zoology in high school. But my music and theatre won out as life progressed, and for most of my adult life, I ventured far from the world I thought I'd live in. Birds were always an obsession, and I even spent time in my twenties helping a local rehabilitation expert treat and release injured birds. I took a photography class in 8th grade when photography was still developing in dark rooms. My passion has led me to SKYWATCH BIRD RESCUE as a photographer of their rescues and help document green heron nests, banded skimmers, and oystercatchers for Audubon.

What makes photographing birds so unique?

Even though I am drawn to birds over other wildlife and photography subjects, I consider myself a wildlife photographer who is an opportunist. I have shot nearly every living creature indigenous to this area, the Everglades, etc. Including but not limited to alligators, otters, a plethora of insects, amphibians, butterflies, larvae, and even theatrical show headshots and creative shoots. It is light overall that I look for no matter what the subject. I constantly search for the perfect combination of subject, light, background, and texture. But the real draw to the birds is their whimsy, grace, flight, and, most of all, their diversity in the plumage's shape, beauty, and color.

Is there anything you've learned in the quiet time observing birds?

Though I tend to stay on the move constantly when shooting nature, when an opportunity arises in the way of a bird or other critter 'giving me their time,' meaning that my presence is accepted, I will take advantage of that time, and spend an hour or more capturing their preening or feeding routines. I thrill at the connection and the acceptance. And generally, the resulting captures are notable because of our comfort level. But when the shoot ends, either with them going on their way or me moving on to the next opportunity, I always thank them and spend a moment in sheer peaceful, satisfied contemplation.

Is there a photograph that you've taken that stands out for you?

This is a tough one. I have literally amassed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of photographs in these last three years. In practically any subject you can imagine. If we are sticking to the birds, this one has a fantastic story, and the colors and light are remarkable. The story expresses why I find this capture and the experience so thrilling.

Are you working on any photographic projects?

Yes, and yes. I spent my birthday moving into a brand-new studio in the cargo district today. A space I have had my eye on for years. In tandem, I recently released my set of "WILD CARDS," photographic and informational cards about local wildlife. The first set. "GREENFIELD LAKE, THE USUAL SUSPECTS" sold out, and a second printing is in progress. It is a dream come true for me. When I was a child in the 1970s, I collected Safari Cards. Now, to have my own similar set telling the stories of my experiences with local wildlife and helping kids and adults alike learn about and appreciate our fellow earthlings makes my soul sing! New collections are in the works, featuring Airlie Gardens, The Cape Fear Region, The Florida Keys, Brookgreen Gardens, and Huntington Beach State Park. Another ongoing project is volunteering to photograph Skywatch Bird Resue's resident animals, and I am the official photographer for Opera House Theatre Company.

When you're not taking pictures, what do you like to do?

I run a full-time vocal studio here in town. I have taught voice in New York City and moved my studio back to Wilmington in 2016. I have also written the book music and lyrics to two successful off-broadway musicals. The ToyMaker and Trouble in Shameland, as well as supplying music and lyrics for the 25th anniversary musical version of Blue Velvet. I'm an all-around creative spirit, I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't making something.

3 Songs on your current playlist.


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