Grand Forks landscape, nature photographer making a name for himself

As an avid hunter, Dave Bruner says he's always had a knack for spotting pheasants or deer others might not easily see. He brings that same knack to his passion for landscape and nature photography, a passion that is developing into more than a h...

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Dave Bruner of Grand Forks took this photo, which he titled "A View from the Past," through the window of what remained of a cabin in western North Dakota. Bruner, who's passion for photography is turning into more than a hobby, specializes in landscapes and nature scenes. As the Alaskan Dall sheep and North Dakota bighorn sheep in the background show, Bruner also is an avid hunter. (Brad Dokken photo)

As an avid hunter, Dave Bruner says he's always had a knack for spotting pheasants or deer others might not easily see.

He brings that same knack to his passion for landscape and nature photography, a passion that is developing into more than a hobby as the self-taught Grand Forks photographer racks up awards and publication in regional magazines and calendars.

Bruner's eye for landscapes and nature brings a world others might miss into stunning focus. Rich in the colors of sunrises and sunsets, Bruner's landscape photos have a painting-like quality about them.

His photo of Wind Canyon in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which graces the cover of the park's 2015 calendar, is just one example.

It's all about being in the right place at the right time, he says, and knowing how to light and compose the photos when those moments occur-however fleeting they might be.


Bruner says he camped four nights in Theodore Roosevelt National Park to get the Wind Canyon photo, hiking to the site every evening in search of the perfect sunset shot.

"I really strive to get clouds in my photos, and I'll go back a number of times until I get those clouds that add to the composition," Bruner, 62, said. "I'm big on clouds. I've got to have something in the sky that goes with (the composition)."

At Wind Canyon, the third time turned out to be the charm.

"Two nights in a row, there were no clouds, but I took photos and they were ... OK," he said. "But the last night I went, they had a rainstorm and clouds, and that's when I got the photo I wanted, and I erased all the rest of them because that was it.

"I knew that was the one. You've got to be willing to spend the time," he added. "I've got a passion for it, so to me, it's enjoyable to do that and be out there late and early."

Constant camera

A representative for Echo Global Logistics, a company that specializes in transportation logistics, Bruner says his job allows him the opportunity to travel and be outdoors across the region.

His camera, he says, goes with him. During the summer, Bruner and his wife, Sheila, also will make weekend excursions traveling the backroads to see what they can see-and photograph. The Red River, he says, also is a good source of landscape photos, such as the shot he got of Riverside Dam early one morning in March.


The key, he says, is to hit the "golden hour," that magic time at sunrise and sunset when light is at its best.

"I was just so lucky," Bruner said of the Riverside Dam photo. The clouds were perfect, and when the sun peeked through a sliver on the horizon, he was there to capture the moment.

"I'm always looking the river over," he said. "Sunrise and sunset only last a few minutes, so if you don't have a plan in mind, and you're struggling where to go, by then the golden light's gone. Sometimes, you only have a few minutes to catch that sunrise just right.

"People look at that who don't get up in the morning and go, 'Is that possible?' Absolutely. There's times when the camera doesn't even capture how beautiful it is in the morning and evening."

Photography fan

A native of Carson, N.D., Bruner says he's enjoyed photography since his youth when he'd use his mom's Brownie Hawkeye camera. He graduated to a Kodak Instamatic as a teen before buying a "really high-end" Minolta camera with three different lenses in his 20s.

Bruner says he "fell away" from photography with the advent of digital until about six years ago, when his younger brother, Paul-also an avid photographer-offered some prodding.

"He was buying the Canon cameras and called me up one day and said, 'You know, you really used to be into photography,'" Bruner recalls. "I said, yeah, I know, but I'm just not ready to make that jump and buy a higher-end (digital)" camera.


That's when his brother made an offer too good to refuse.

"He said, 'I have a Canon camera body, and I'm upgrading to a higher model. I'll give you this one if you promise to get back into photography,'" Bruner said.

He bought an 18-to-200mm zoom lens and hasn't looked back. Today, Bruner uses a Canon 7D with a 70-to-300mm lens for wildlife photos and a Canon 5D Mark III with a 16-to-35mm, wide-angle lens for landscape shots.

Bruner shoots in RAW format, a camera setting he says provides better resolution than jpeg images, which are compressed and capture less of the data recorded by the camera. For landscape photos, Bruner uses the camera's aperture setting to maximize depth of field; wildlife photos are just the opposite.

"With wildlife, you want a shallow depth of field" to focus on the subject, he said. "Then the rest of the background you want blurred, so it diffuses the background and puts the attention onto the animal or bird or subject itself."

Winning streak

Bruner's eye for lighting and composition has earned him several awards in recent years, including "Judge's Choice" in the East Grand Forks Campbell Library's Northern Exposures competition in 2014 and 2015. He also won two of six categories in the Governor's Photo contest in 2013 and has been featured in the North Dakota Travel Guide the past three years.

He has two photos, including the Wind Canyon cover image, in the 2015 Theodore Roosevelt National park calendar, and photos he took in the Pembina Gorge are featured in a two-page spread in the May-June edition of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's Bugle magazine.


Last May, Bruner won the People's Choice Award in a national Delta Waterfowl competition with his photo of a brood of ducks swimming in the English Coulee. He also will have seven of the 12 photos in next year's North Dakota Horizons magazine calendar.

"I am told that has never happened before," he said.

Bruner will be exhibiting and marketing his work in several Pride of Dakota art shows again this year across the state and also was selected to exhibit in the Eden Prairie (Minn.) Art Fair, a juried event set for June 5-6.

"It's becoming more than a hobby," he said. "It's kind of a little bit of a part-time business venture, but I still have a passion for photography as a hobby."

Bruner says YouTube and how-to books by nationally renowned photographers such as Scott Kelby, who has a three-volume series on digital photography, are good learning tools. Kelby's books, he says, take a simplified, hands-on approach to photography without getting too technical.

For beginning photographers, Bruner recommends staying away from the camera's auto setting and relying instead on the "aperture preferred" and "shutter preferred" settings. He also recommends buying good lenses.

"The camera body doesn't mean as much as the better lens," Bruner said, adding lower- to midrange Nikon and Canon cameras are good for the money. "Just get a nicer lens, and it will do a fine job for you."

The main thing is getting out there and experiencing what nature has to offer.


"Being a hunter, now I'm hunting with a camera," Bruner said. "I've seen those sunrises all through the years of my hunting, and so I know you have to be there early to get that kind of golden light and the shadows and the good saturation of colors.

"I still do a lot of hunting, but now when I go out in the field, I'm always looking for a composition that I can shoot."

For more information, contact Bruner at

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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