With his signature mustache and disarming personality, Wayne Cahilly is known widely around NYBG as a beloved horticulturist, site historian, and instructor of tree management. But Wayne is also a talented photographer. In fact, as a 12-year-old, he spent his first paycheck from his first job on an instamatic camera. Many years and several cameras later, he passed his passion for photography on to his daughter, Meghan. Together, they’re teaming up to teach Fundamentals of Digital Photography at the Garden this month, for students with a fascination for nature.
These talented outdoor photographers have two unique perspectives that will serve as a double whammy for photography students.
As he graduated from camera to camera, Wayne taught himself how to capture landscapes and other natural elements in compelling photographs. He eventually turned his expertise in arboriculture and his passion for photography into a consulting business in forensic arboriculture.
In his current business, Wayne has to determine how and why a tree fell and caused damage and whether it was foreseeable. The documentation he brings to court is predominantly visual—photographs of fracture patterns and callous development on trees. He has to capture images of the trees precisely how they appear in reality without room for error—no Photoshopping allowed.
“I became a more technical photographer,” he said.
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Enter his daughter Meghan.
She’s a young woman with long brown hair, who takes in the world around her with wide eyes.
Wayne taught her to use a camera when she was young, and let her run around, photographing bugs, animals, and nature. Meghan’s older brother picked up her point-and-shoot camera one day and looked through all her photos.
“He looked up and said, ‘There’s no junk on here. Her stuff is good,’” Wayne said.
Next thing Wayne knew, his 35mm SLR disappeared—right into Meghan’s eager hands.
She used it to hone her craft, taking spectacularly memorable photos of decrepit bridges with city skylines looming in the distance, jumping spiders with shiny eyes, flowers, water droplets, and tiny insects.
As a result of Meghan’s pursuits, Wayne polished up his artistic photography skills “to keep up with her,” he said. “Being a parent is a funny thing. You find yourself chasing your children in more ways than one.”
While Wayne is chasing Meghan’s increasingly artistic photography, together they want to share their hobby with others. Wayne conceived of the Fundamentals of Digital Photography class as a way to teach people how to use the camera as a tool to capture beautiful photos every time, instead of using the “poke and pray” method. Wayne and Meghan are on a mission to give their students the confidence to move beyond just pointing and shooting to actually observing the world around them, and identifying what would make a good picture—or not.
“If you look at a picture and say, ‘Why?,’ it’s not a good picture,” Wayne said. “’Why did I take this? Why am I looking at this?’ It should say something. It should stimulate something. It should evoke some emotion.”
Photography is about being liberated to play with the camera and the environment and to feel satisfied with simply deleting a photo that doesn’t turn out the way you may have wanted.
But Meghan warns it isn’t necessarily easy to take beautiful outdoor photos.
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“You have to be willing to lean out across the water, or lay down on the ground with a root in your back until you’ve captured the photo,” she explained. “You have to get down and dirty, and you can’t control the weather or the environment.”
Together, the duo covers how to take beautiful photographs of expansive landscapes—Wayne’s favorite photos of the Garden capture misty, foggy mornings, or the sun rising over the tops of the buildings—and the tiny, but dramatic details that people usually never notice.
“My favorite place to take pictures is my front sidewalk,” Meghan said. “It’s the same sidewalk, with the same rocks around it, but you go out there, and there’s an ant with a crumb, or a jumping spider, or a centipede. There’s always something there.”
“It shows that it doesn’t matter where you are,” Wayne said. “There’s a lot going on if you just look closely.”
Take a close look at the Garden’s photography classes for beginners and more advanced-photographers at nybg.org/adulted.
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