Every October, when leaves turn gold and crisp autumn breezes begin to blow, Steve Brown becomes a voyeur.
He sneaks around, camera in hand, seeking to photograph the most intimate moments between unsuspecting couples. When the light is right and hormones start raging, he snaps on a telephoto lens and starts tripping his camera's shutter.
Fortunately for human society, the only "victims" of Brown's boudoir intrusions are fish.
"I've been fascinated by brook trout for about 10 years now," said Brown, an Elkins-area resident who owns a master's degree in fisheries biology. "I used to fly fish a lot for brown and rainbow trout, but gradually switched over to fishing for brookies. They were so gosh-darn beautiful, I felt I needed to do something more with them than just to catch them and put them back into the water."
Armed with a simple point-and-shoot digital camera, Brown began photographing the trout he caught. One of those images, a photo of a brook trout in its vivid spawning colors, triggered Brown's headlong plunge into nature photography.
"I entered one of my photos into the 2004 Mountain State Forest Festival photography contest, and it won," he said. "A lot of folks saw the image and liked it. Winning the competition encouraged me to get more serious about photography."
Brown had dabbled in photography since his days as a graduate student at Colorado State University, but grew frustrated by what he calls "film photography's tough learning curve."
"When you shoot film, there's a long 'feedback loop' between when you trip the shutter and when you see the results. I found it difficult to learn and get better. But then digital photography came along and the feedback loop became instantaneous. With a digital camera, I was able to immediately see what I'd done right and what I'd done wrong. My learning curve really accelerated."
The point-and-shoot camera's relatively wide-angle lens restricted Brown to shots of trout nestled in landing nets, lying on streamside rocks or gently cradled in fishing partners' hands. But when Brown acquired a digital camera that would accept telephoto lenses, he acquired the ability to peer into the brook trout's watery world.
"On one of my favorite streams, a well-worn walking path parallels the creek and provides a great vantage point for peering down into the pools. I found that if I laid on the path and used a long telephoto lens, I could get frame-filling shots of trout going about their daily activities," Brown said.
"In the fall, when the water is generally very low and very clear, brookies are relatively easy to see. Their white-edged fins make them stand out from the background, and the orange on their bellies makes them very photogenic."
Fall also happens to be when brook trout spawn. In the weeks before spawning activity peaks, the richly hued little fish grow spectacularly beautiful. The blue and red spots on their flanks deepen in hue, and their bellies turn bright orange.