Behind the Lens with Photographer Len Villano

Most mornings, photographer Len Villano wakes before sunrise. He has to, he said, to have a chance to capture the best photos.

“You can’t wait for sunrise to leave the house,” he said. “You’ll be there too late.”

The best photos are taken in the light right before sunrise, and right after sunset, he said. That’s when the light creates the shadows and hues that separate good photos from great, and turn otherwise mundane subjects into stories in a photo.

“The bark of a tree might look like nothing in the middle of the day, but in the right light, with the shadows, can take a really cool shape,” he said.

Villano, the longtime photographer for the Peninsula Pulse and Door County Living magazine, will share his secrets in two classes as part of the Door County Festival of Nature May 25 and 26. In “Inside the Photographer’s Mind,” Villano will guide students at The Ridges Sanctuary and Logan Creek in search of great nature photography, giving students a glimpse of what is in his mind as he searches for stunning images.

“When I first started in photography, just getting a well-exposed, focused photo was really hard,” Villano said. “Today, technology does a lot of that for you. The idea now is to be more about the art, what you can say artistically with your photo.”

Villano has been a photographer for more than 30 years, starting when his parents bought him a darkroom kit. In seventh grade he talked a teacher at his school into turning a janitor’s closet into a darkroom, and even as he studied architecture at University of Illinois, photography was in his blood.

Though he photographs all manner of subjects for the newspaper and magazine, his love is nature photography, inspired by photographer Art Wolfe.

“Before 1980, most nature photography was really biology photography,” Villano said. “Then he started treating animals like people in his pictures.”

When Villano takes nature photographs, he doesn’t approach it as taking a photo of just a bear, or a tree.

“It’s a picture of that bear, or that tree,” he said.

And to capture them best, it’s all about light. “I don’t use Photoshop,” he said.

So he goes out early and late, twice a day, every day, in search of subjects in the perfect light.


The Door County Festival of Nature, held May 24-27, offers four days of classes, hike, paddles, rides, birding, and tours of some of Door County’s most beautiful natural spaces. Learn from local experts. Register at or call 920.839.2802 for more information.



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