UPTOWN — Photographer Jerry Goldner said he got his big break at the Uptown Theatre in 2005.
Goldner was a full-time real estate broker then, but also a shutterbug with a "monster 600mm lens" and a love for nature, he said.
Goldner stood behind the historic building taking pictures of rumored Peregrine Falcons when someone who turned out to be a nature magazine editor saw him — and his long lens — and asked him, "What newspaper do you work for?"
The editor explained that he needed certain shots for his magazine and asked Goldner if he was the man for the job. Goldner told him that he wasn't a photojournalist, but he accepted the offer.
Goldner, who lives in Evanston, left the real estate business in 2008 to become a full-time wildlife photographer.
He said that the decision has made him much poorer — but much happier. Besides, the real estate game hasn't exactly been booming since the recession hit, Goldner added.
Goldner is respected in the local birding community, featured as an expert in local media and has won photography contests sponsored by the Cook County Forest Preserve and Chicago Park District.
Despite those accolades, Goldner's love of wildlife remains one of his most admirable qualities, said Joe Lill, former president of the Chicago Audubon Society, a conservation group.
"What impresses me more than his photography is his commitment to nature, how much he cares," Lill said.
Longtime college pal Mitch Meyers said that he has always known Goldner to pour himself wholeheartedly into his interests.
That's why, when most people are just getting up and having their morning coffee, Goldner is "already dressed and out of the house, probably knee-deep in some kind of brush or down by the lake, freezing his tail off taking photographs," Meyers said.
Goldner's hard work will be on display Dec. 22 to March 17 at an exhibit hosted by the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. It will be his first solo exhibit.
"This is really a exciting time for me to finally have a solo exhibit on this level," Goldner said.
There's one rare bird in the exhibit that Goldner said he was only able to photograph thanks to "an act of karma."
In October, Goldner said he was at Montrose Beach in Uptown when he spotted a Burrowing Owl that he had previously wanted for the exhibit but could not photograph easily without flying out to Arizona or Florida.
"I came at sunrise and there it was, waiting for me. The owl that I needed for this exhibit came to me," he said.
Goldner, however, was hesitant to share his find.
"I didn't really want to tell anyone about it. But unfortunately another birder spotted it later in the day and posted a picture on a birding site. I wanted it to be safe," he said.