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HIDDEN

By Tom Wilson

If you’re looking for a great spot for your next photography trip, you may want to point your vehicle south toward the Okefenokee Swamp.

Why Go
South Georgia’s Okefenokee National Refuge is worthy of every superlative in the dictionary. It is one of the world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems and the biggest “blackwater swamp” in all of North America. At over 400,000 acres, this legendary location is unique in Georgia, and should be on the bucket list for any photographer in the state.

female Pileated PortraitIn the fall, when the Cypress trees are transforming into otherworldly colors, the display is like nothing else on earth. But there are special opportunities there every month of the year. Plus, in 2022, you have another reason to visit. This is the “Year of the Okefenokee,” sponsored by GNPA and the Georgia Sierra Club. You will have two opportunities to enter photo contests for images made in the Okefenokee, as well as workshop and tour opportunities associated with the 2022 Expo. See the “Year of the Okefenokee” article on the GNPA website (here) and stay tuned to the website for updates all year long.

 

 

 

 

Subjects
If you are a bird photographer, or if you prefer to focus on landscapes, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, dragonflies, flowers, plants or any other kind of nature photography, you will find more subjects in the Okefenokee than you could photograph in a lifetime.

Gator Pile Pano

Best time to go
My favorite time to visit the Okefenokee is in the shoulder seasons of March to May, and then in October to December. Fall is an especially good season, since the crowds that tend to increase visitation during school spring breaks are absent. Plus, autumn offers a good chance of seeing Sandhill Cranes.

Trails are well marked

Plan Your Trip
What’s the best starting point for planning a visit? Go to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge website, and click on “Plan Your Visit” Plan Your Visit – Okefenokee – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov). The information here covers all the access points to the swamp and gives a good overview of your options, regardless of where and how you will access the Okefenokee.

Campsites and cabins are available at Stephen C. Foster State Park, where you can also rent powerboats. Canoes and kayaks are also available at several locations. Many photographic opportunities can be enjoyed, however, without ever getting into a boat. There are plenty of boardwalks and trails, as well as an auto trail called Swamp Island Drive on the east side. All of this information is available at the site listed above. Also, make sure to check out the “Visitor Activities” tab on the same website.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Photo Gear
This really depends on your subject. I usually try to carry everything from wide-angle lenses to zoom lenses covering the super-telephoto range. I always have a polarizer for all my lenses. And while much of my photography is from a canoe or boat, I also carry a tripod for when I’m on land.

Drybags to keep your gear dryIf you do plan to use some sort of watercraft, I would highly recommend using gear that has image stabilization capabilities, since much of your photography is likely to be handheld. I carry all the gear I take with me in a boat or canoe in a “dry bag” made specifically to keep your gear dry even if it gets dunked in the water. But I’d also suggest that even if your gear is in a dry bag, don’t let it sit for a long time in water, like that which often collects in the bottom of a canoe from dropping paddles or rainfall. And of course you also need to take appropriate safety gear for your activities.

 

Female Needhams Skimmer Dragonfly

 

If you’ve never explored the Okefenokee, perhaps this is the year you should discover its amazing opportunities. And if you have visited it before, perhaps it’s time to make a return trip.

 

 

Tom Wilson head shotTom Wilson is a nature photographer working primarily in Georgia and the Southeast. He is Vice President of GNPA, is past chair of the Conservation Committee and is current chair of the Communications Committee.

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