By B.C. Manion
You might say that Jason Hahn’s love of nature began when he was just a boy.
He grew up on a small farm in Thurmont, Md. near the Appalachian Mountains.
“Nature was always a backdrop,” Jason said. “My brother and I were out in the fields all day long, sunup to sundown.”
The 39-year-old Land O’ Lakes man said he’s always been interested in art, taking every class he could through his high school years, but he didn’t pair those interests until a little more than a decade ago.
That’s when he discovered a passion that changed his life path.
Jason, who has a degree in criminal justice, said he was working for a company as a trainer for security personnel when he and his wife, Nicole, moved to Florida. The couple was living in Palm Harbor while their house was being built.
During his downtime, he found himself taking his then 1-year-old son, Adam, on bike rides to John Chestnut Sr. Park in Palm Harbor, a place known for its wildlife.
“I’d bring a little point-and-shoot (camera) with me. … Everything was new,” Jason said, noting there were no storks or spoonbills where he grew up.
“About halfway into the ride he (Adam) would fall asleep and pretty soon the bike rides became an excuse to take pictures,” Jason continued. “I got hooked really fast.”
He soon purchased a better camera and became a serious photographer.
About six months later, he posted some of his images online. An editor saw a photo he wanted to use for his magazine’s cover.
“A lightbulb went off and it was, ‘Wait a minute, I can make money at this,’” Jason said. “I just jumped in with both feet.”
Over time, his photography business grew and now both he and his wife work full-time in their family businesses.
Hahn Nature Photography sells Jason’s images for various uses.
Jason also partners with a friend, Les Voorhis of Outdoor Photo Workshops, who offer group and individual training sessions for people of all ages and ability levels. The company strives to maximize the experience for its participants, Jason said.
“We want you to come away with full minds, full memory cards and dead tired,” Jason said.
The workshops cover both the technical and artistic aspects of photography, ranging from a few hours to several days.
Jason teaches at nearby places, such as Honeymoon Island and Fort De Soto, and farther locales including the Everglades, Alaska, Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“We try to go to places that nobody else is going — the undiscovered gems,” Jason said.
The nature photographer loves immersing himself in the work
“My second home, almost, is the Everglades,” Jason said. One of his favorite moments in his workshops there happens when he wades into the swamp water and waits for his class to follow.
“I’ll step in and walk about 10 feet and not hear a sound behind me. I turn around, they’re all still standing there looking at me. Finally, they’ll come in,” Jason said.
Within 10 minutes, they’re having the time of their lives.
“They never realized just how beautiful this place is, how diverse, and the initial trepidation is just gone,” Jason said.
While Jason brings his background as a trainer to the company, Nicole brings her experience as an event planner.
To help Jason meet the needs of his students, Nicole surveys them before the workshops to find out how experienced they are, what kind of gear they have and what they’d like to learn.
Together they are able to organize workshops, and this year, they’ve been tapped to serve as the behind-the-scenes manager for the Black Hills Photo Shootout, an event that’s expected to draw 200 photographers to South Dakota in September.
At some point, they plan to have similar photo shootouts.
The couple relishes the lifestyle their work allows them to enjoy.
“We get to do more as a family,” Nicole said, noting the family can be whitewater rafting in the morning, and she can be answering emails in the afternoon.
The couple said part of the attraction of their work is its changing nature and new challenges.
“Every picture is a story,” Jason said. “Some days, it’s just pure luck.”
Other times, it can take weeks to capture the image Jason wants.
Going into the wild to capture photographs can be dangerous, if you don’t use care, Jason said. It is essential to know the environment and be aware of what’s happening around you.
“The coolest opportunities are when a wild animal lets me see their world for awhile, lets me just travel along with them for awhile,” Jason said, recalling an instance when a family of sandhill cranes stopped in front of him for more than an hour while he captured images of their life in the wild.
“I don’t know what made them stay there. They were totally cool with me. I was trusted,” Jason said.
The couple is also delighted their son can enjoy a wide range of experiences.
Within a couple of months, Adam visited a wolf preserve where he bottle-fed puppies, he held baby foxes and he climbed to the highest point in North Carolina, Jason said.
Along with unusual experiences, Jason’s company sells images sometimes for unconventional purposes.
“We had a guy who wanted one of our eagle pictures tattooed on his arm,” Jason said. “We had a guy who was a Gator fan, so he wanted one of our alligator pictures reproduced on the wheel cover on the back of a truck.”
Another man loved ducks and poker. He had a custom poker table made with some pictures of ducks Jason took reproduced on it.
Jason has won a number of awards for his photos, but said even more gratifying is getting to see intimate details of nature.
“You’re not going to get that experience from a cubicle.”
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