Seeing the Light

Photography by Len Villano.

Photography Director for the Peninsula Pulse and Door County Living Len Villano has devoted his life to capturing the beauty of nature on film.

Villano is also judging The Hal Prize photography contest with fellow photographer Kelly Avenson. With the deadline just two days away, Villano put his camera aside to answer a few questions about his path to becoming a photographer and offer advice to aspiring photographers.

Sally Slattery (SS): When did you know you were a photographer?

Len Villano (LV): In 7th grade I talked my teacher into converting a janitor closet into a darkroom and we taught my fellow classmates how to develop film. But it wasn’t until after college that I saw photography as a career.

SS: Did anyone in particular influence your passion for photography?

LV: My dad. He was a hobbyist and him and my mom bought me a darkroom kit when I was about seven. I converted our bathroom into a darkroom. I had three sisters (one bathroom) so I wasn’t popular, but my dad always supported me.

SS: What are your favorite subjects?

LV: Nature and wildlife are my favorite subjects. I want to share what I see with others that might not have the opportunity or just miss it.

SS: How has your work changed over the years?

LV: When I started professionally we didn’t have auto exposure or auto focus. My camera didn’t even need a battery. And I shot nothing but Kodachrome 25 film. That’s an ASA of 25 the latest Nikon goes up to over 400,000 ASA, that’s huge. So digital is the biggest change. I rarely use Photoshop but do shoot mostly digital now. Still love the look of film.

SS: What, in your opinion, makes a good photo?

Three things have to come together to make a great photo. None of them involve equipment, Photoshop or Instagram: an interesting subject, a strong appropriate composition, and great light. SCL for short.

You can slide a bit on one and two and still have a great photo. Think Irving Penn’s half smoked cigarettes or Robert Mapplethorpe. But you have to have great light.

SS: What is your advice to photographers submitting to The Hal Prize?

LV: Submit only your best work. Try to make it yours and say something about who you are and how you see.

When photographing take some time to think about what you want to say and then try to use SCL to say it. And don’t forget to see the light. Really look. As a Tibetan monk once said, “Many people come, looking, looking. No good. Some people come, see. Good.”

To view more of Villano’s work, visit

To submit to The Hal Prize, visit