This was the first article ever written in Blast Magazine and was part of the 1/1/07 launch.

In his youth, James Crotty may have qualified for the title of Youngest Professional Photographer in Dayton, Ohio.

A shy personality in a family of extroverts, he discovered his passion once he started messing around with a 35mm camera his father brought home one day when he was 10 or 11.

“That was my escape,” he explained. “I was more quiet, introverted, and more aware of my natural surroundings. It was a way for me to go out and explore nature.”

At 13, Crotty had already set up a makeshift darkroom in the basement of his parents’ house, where he developed the photographs he regularly took around the neighborhood and in the wooded area around his home. When he entered high school, he got a job working in a local frame shop. He talked the owner into displaying some of his photographs, and people started buying them.

“I started seeing that people were responding to what I was creating,” he said.

And they’re still responding.

In September, the 42-year-old was awarded a first place prize in National Wildlife magazine’s annual Photography Awards, in the category of New Life. The winning picture, which was published in the December/January 2007 issue of National Wildlife, was an image he snapped in May of two young house finches nesting.

The photo was also chosen by Nature’s Best Photography magazine to be displayed as part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. through April.

Every spring, Crotty said, the birds build a nest beneath hanging ferns on his front porch. This year, after two days of anxious waiting, the eggs hatched. The hatchlings were less than an inch long in their early days, Crotty said.

“I started seeing if I could get a really good shot of them,” he explained. “I kind of know when the babies are the most photogenic, the most interesting. They’ve got this otherworldly look to them; they almost look like Muppets. It only lasts a few days because they grow so quickly.”

Crotty said he was able to get off a series of shots with his 35mm macro lens camera and hand-held flash before the birds ducked back into their nest, realizing they would not be fed.

“It’s just a very brief moment to get them up when they’re looking at the camera,” he said. “The whole look of new life–it’s just something I wanted to capture and I happened to hit it at just the right time.” The birds were only days old at the time the picture was taken, and the fact that their eyes had not yet opened would normally be detrimental to a wildlife photograph. But not in this case.

“Most wildlife photographs are so engaging when the photographer is able to capture the animal’s personality through their eyes,” Crotty explained. “What’s interesting about this one is their eyes are closed, but you can still tell so much about what these birds are going through and the challenge of being so new in the world and so dependent on their parents. [Their wide-open mouths] kind of take the place of the eyes.”

According to Crotty, the photo started generating buzz as soon as he posted it in an online album on Flickr. Complete strangers began marking it as one of their Favorites.

“That one just took off,” he said. “It got a huge amount of hits. I kind of had a hint that it was a good image when I saw that… It was an image that really caught people’s attention.”

After he came across the National Wildlife photography contest online in August, Crotty decided to enter the photograph on a whim.

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About The Author

Elizabeth Raftery is senior editor of Blast. Follow her on Twitter.

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