Renee Fitts

"Sonoma Harvest"
Second place Manipulated Images

Renee Fitts usually favors shots of sweeping landscapes, such as the wide expanses found in the Half Moon Bay area. Recently, however, she has been focusing her lens on smaller images and using brushes and paints to bring them to life.

Her current affinity for small details and bright spots of color may be inspired by Fitts' 6-year-old son, Sam, an aspiring photographer experimenting with point-and-shoot techniques.

"Photography is an integral part of my life. I have a little boy who is a great model, and I love to take pictures of him," Fitts says. "I have a camera with me all the time."

On a recent trip to Sonoma, Fitts shot a black-and-white of overlapping grape leaves hiding heavy clusters of fruit. She printed the photo in her darkroom at home, then hand-colored it with oil paints and pencils.

In the finished photo, "Sonoma Harvest," the center of each olive green leaf glows reddish-purple at the center, and the clusters of grapes hidden at the top and bottom corners of the image shine a soft lavender. The print won second place in the Manipulated Images category.

Hand-coloring her close-up prints of single flowers and plants is Fitts' latest exploration into photography, but after a few months of this technique, she is already jumping to something new.

Her newest interest is using special film that detects infrared light-- wavelengths that human eyes can't see. The resulting images are "ethereal and interesting," Fitts says. She is thinking of combining both hand-coloring and infrared photography to create otherworldly photos. "I'd like to try everything" Fitts says. "I read books and articles on photography and try to spend as much time on it as I can squeeze out of the week. Photography provides a good balance."

She credits her 30-year interest in photography to early experience in the darkroom as a molecular biologist. After a career change, Fitts, 47, is now a patent lawyer and in-house counsel for Surromed, a Palo Alto biotechnology firm. But she still logs time one day a week either taking photos or developing prints in her home darkroom.

Although Fitts has been entering her work in photography contests for only thepast year, she already has had considerable success. Her black-and-white photo of a hippopotamus won Grand Prize in the San Francisco Zoo's second annual photo contest. She received an Award of Merit from the New York Institute of Photography earlier this year.

"Part of the fun is seeing what other people think of your work. It's encouraging," Fitts says. "I entered each category (in the Weekly's contest.) Why not?"

--Marcella Bernhard