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Charleston photographer, 22, illustrating NASCAR

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CHARLESTON, WV -

Taking shutter speed to a different level, Walter Scriptunas II enjoys photography in the fast lane.

The 22-year-old recent graduate of the University of Charleston has been shooting photography of high velocity auto racing for several years. His work at speedways in Daytona, Bristol and Richmond has already appeared in national publications such as NASCAR Illustrated.

Like countless Mountain State enthusiasts of the sport, the Charleston resident admits that he gets a thrill from being trackside on race day - the closer the better.

"I really enjoy the atmosphere," Scriptunas said. "I'm always in awe as I pull into the track to begin a race weekend. There is nothing like walking down pit road before a race or photographing the cars as they zoom by only a couple of feet away as the tire rubber covers your body."

And like other race fans, it doesn't bother him when the cars swap some paint at 200 miles per hour.

"I'm not going to lie and say I don't enjoy photographing the wrecks as well," he added. "I'm always waiting for the next big one."

While he was thrilled to shoot the Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Chase cutoff race at Richmond International Raceway, the highlight of his young career has been covering the Daytona 500 on assignment for NASCAR Illustrated.

"Having the opportunity to photograph such a prestigious race is special," Scriptunas said.

Ironically, he began following racing in 2001 when legend Dale Earnhardt died in a tragic crash at Daytona.

"Dale Earnhardt Jr. is my favorite driver," he said. "I first started going to NASCAR races the year his father died and have just been a fan since."

Scriptunas credits his father with introducing him at a young age to the hobby-turned-career. He would have a camera, either his dad's or a disposable type, in hand when on vacations.

"I am mostly self-taught," he said. "In my early days, I learned a lot from various photography forums and by looking at other photographer's work. There has been plenty of trial and error along the way."

Like a winning stock car driver, he says that being a good photographer sometimes requires a "take it to the limit" mindset.

"A good photographer is someone who is not afraid to push the limits and take risks," said Scriptunas, who is looking forward to an opportunity to photograph the Indianapolis 500. "Most of my favorite photos have been taken under these circumstances. I do not like to risk damaging the equipment, but if that's what it takes to get the shot, I'll do it."

Preferring not to limit his subjects, he also is fascinated by "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," with apologies to the Steve Martin comedy classic. He admits that getting the shots was not always kind to his camera equipment, but his website (scriptunasimages.com) features ample examples of his stellar spaceflight launches and shots of steam locomotives of yesteryear, including Cass Scenic Railroad in the mountains of Pocahontas County.

"I'd like to think that I'm pretty diverse in what I photograph," he said. "I get bored easily when I'm photographing one thing over and over again. What I like … is that there is always something new and different each and every time you go out to take the photos, such as weather, location, environment …"

Regardless of the object that he's shooting, the basics of a quality photograph remain the same, according to Scriptunas.

"I would have to say that a great photo involves good composition, color, contrast and an interesting subject to draw the viewer in," he said. "I want to continue to push myself to get better and learn new things."

And he wouldn't mind taking his camera on a galactic adventure.

"I would love to go to space," Scriptunas said. "The possibilities are endless for a great photo."