WALNUT CREEK -- Laurie Shapley took the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica four years ago, and captured the magnificent sight of penguins in their natural habitat.

Her travel photos show her passion for recording nature in its most organic state.

"Nature photography gives me a chance to study the animals, lots of time to enjoy the experience," said Shapley, a Walnut Creek resident.

Last October, while on a trip to the Arctic, her camera lens captured a few precious moments of a female polar bear nursing and playing with her cubs.

"You feel so blessed just seeing these animals play in the water and interacting with each other," she said.

She was also lucky to photograph the aurora borealis on the same trip.

Shapley's photos from that trip will be on display, along with photographs by her peers in the Camera Cabal, a close-knit group of photographers from central Contra Costa County. The exhibit runs through Feb. 27, at the Lindsay Dirkx Brown Art Gallery in San Ramon.

"Through my photos, I hope to convey the beauty of the Arctic," Shapley said. "The colors of the Arctic sunrises and sunsets are just unbelievably beautiful."

Members of Camera Cabal, formed four years ago by Martinez resident John Ricca, a photography instructor for the Yosemite Conservancy, aim to share their travel photos they hope will make viewers feel as if they've been transported to another place.

Viewers will get to see various creative techniques photographers used to make images and portraits that look like paintings. Ricca, who became a professional fine art photographer in 2009, said critiques of his photos by photographers whom he respected were very valuable to his growth as an artist.

"I enjoyed photographing with others as a way of seeing the world through their eyes and expanding my creative vision," said Ricca.

Rather than consider photography as a competitive sport, in which artists tried to "beat" others in contests and shows, Ricca said he believes a cooperative approach would work best for him and for other like-minded art photographers. So he gathered photographers he met at workshops in Yosemite and the Civic Arts Education Photography Forum.

"One of the critical factors for me was the variety of the photographic expertise that members brought to the group," said Ricca. "They included accomplished portrait, landscape, commercial, urban street and abstract artists."

Besides exploring photography as an art form, the group has taken photography field trips together.

Susan Helms of Danville said the small group has become friends, often meeting in members' homes.

"Three of the male members prepare gourmet meals -- their other passion -- and we critique each other's work, encouraging and cajoling one another toward making better and better images," Helms said.

One of the photographers, David Lipton, said he enjoys cooking for the group. His specialty is thin-crust pizza.

The Clayton resident, a longtime friend of Ricca's, said he started taking photos with a Polaroid camera several years ago, and took up photography as a serious hobby after retirement.

While Lipton photographs mostly landscapes, a trip to India with some of the Camera Cabal members in November prompted him to take nearly 3,000 photos capturing the country's rich tapestry.

"It was just wonderful -- the colors, the people, the women in their colorful saris," he said. "We were there during the Diwali festival of lights and I was just taking photos of whatever was in front of my camera."

At the Pushkar Camel Fair, Lipton took photos of miles of camels, stretching as far as the eye could see.

He said that traveling with photographers has been beneficial as they provide support as well as helpful tips. With the group, he's taken trips to the North Coast redwoods and Death Valley, and plans to go on a photography "pilgrimage" to Monterey.

"Being with great people and photographers from different backgrounds has been wonderful," Lipton said. "I've developed friendships and my photography has improved through the critiques. And, when we get together, we eat extremely well."

Other members include Richard Valenti, whose "Witch Mountain" photo won second prize in the annual Ansel Adams Gallery photo contest; John Kalb, whose images were included in the 2013 Fall National Juried Photography Exhibit National at the Marin Museum For Contemporary Art; Hetta Malone, who has won numerous photography contests; Graham Bird, who teaches a range of courses from portrait photography to large-scale printing; Jeff Smith, who instructs portrait photography for Civic Arts Education; Jim Hafft, who has written and sold hundreds of copies of his photography book about the Jeremiah O'Brien Liberty Ship moored in San Francisco; and Kathleen Brennan, who was a painter of abstract art, prior to becoming a landscape photographer.

Camera Cabal exhibit
WHEN: Through Feb. 27
WHERE: Lindsay Dirkx Brown Art Gallery, San Ramon Community Center, 12501 Alcosta Blvd., San Ramon
ARTISTS RECEPTION: 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, Lindsay Dirkx Brown Art Gallery
HOURS: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Call 925-973-3200 for evening and weekend hours
INFORMATION: www.cameracabal.com