Kathy Aspy, Roswell Chapter
In our newsletters, we feature short profiles of GNPA members from across the state. In this issue, it’s Kathy Aspy, of the Roswell Chapter.
When did you join GNPA? I attended the very first meeting of GNPA and joined that night.
Which chapter do you belong to? My husband, Dale, and I are co-chairs of the Roswell Chapter.
What is your occupation? I’m a database manager for the Georgia Department of Education.
How did you get started in photography? I love arts and crafts, and photography gives me an opportunity to be creative. I also enjoy nature and hope my images encourage people to preserve and conserve our environment.
What are your favorite photography subjects? I love color. I don’t see creatively in black and white, so I am much more attracted to bright and colorful objects than interesting lines in a landscape. I like taking photos of dragonflies and damselflies. My second-most favorite subjects are water birds, followed by flowers.
What are some of your favorite places to shoot? Gibbs Gardens, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Alligator Farm, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Smokey Mountains on the annual GNPA trip, and the boardwalk on the Chattahoochee River.
What would be your photographic “dream trip”? Without a doubt it would be the Galapagos Islands.
Which camera body and lenses do you use most often? My current camera is a Canon 90D. For dragonflies and flowers, I typically use a Sigma 180 macro to achieve a good working distance. For birds, I use a Tamron 150-600 Gen 2 zoom lens.
Do you have a favorite website(s) for photography information? I like looking at National Geographic and studying the techniques those awesome photographers use in their photography. I’m interested in the angles, the use of light, etc., that give a photo a voice.
Have any photographers inspired you? I learn best by hearing someone talk or by seeing them demonstrate a technique, so my biggest inspirations are people in GNPA and speakers we have featured. I can honestly say the many outstanding photographers in GNPA have inspired me by demonstrating what great photographs people I know can create. I enjoy impressionistic art like Monet. I love the photographic style of Charles Needle, who has spoken a couple times at GNPA meetings. Nancy Rotenberg was at the first Expo and was a big inspiration to me. Bill Lea is a great speaker and photographer, and I learned how to watch for bear behavior from him on our Smokey Mountains field trip. David Akoubian is a very thoughtful naturalist and we have tried to incorporate some of his teachings in our own backyard.
What have you gained by being a GNPA member? I have learned so much from other GNPA members on topics ranging from improving my in-camera captures to post processing. I learned how to use Live View at the first Expo and I utilize it all the time now. At a GNPA meeting, Robert Hice taught me how to set up a perfect hummingbird shot, and I use those lessons every year. The exchange of knowledge and helpful information has been fantastic. The Expos and field trips are great opportunities to learn and put those lessons to use.
Something interesting about you that most people don’t know: At age 16, I was a member of the original volunteer group that helped to build the Chattahoochee Nature Center, after my high school biology teacher asked for volunteers. Also, I am very fortunate that nature photography is a family activity, with my husband and daughter joining me on photography shoots.
Where are you from? I was raised in Dunwoody and remember I-285 and Georgia 400 being built. Perimeter Mall was a farm with cows then. I can remember when the bridge over the Chattahoochee was one-way and you had to keep your tires on the wooden tracks.
Tell us a little about the photos you have provided:
This was taken in our yard. Photographers are taught that the eye follows a leading line. I like the way the viewer is drawn along the stem of the canna to the vibrant colors in the wing of the dragonfly. The angle of the wings reminds me of a colorful whirligig.
“Frog Princess Parasol”
I captured this at Gibb’s Gardens on a hot summer day. The frog found a perfect pink parasol to enjoy some shade.
This image comes from the Chattahoochee Nature Center during their annual butterfly festival. I was drawn to the bright, contrasting colors.
By Nye Simmons
Spring starts early on the Southern Coast, and the blooms don’t culminate until they reach the high ridges of Tennessee and North Carolina in mid-June. The early color from maple and serviceberry will be mostly gone by the time you read this, but there is still much to enjoy in the high country. Even though I live in the shadows of the Great Smokies, I would choose the Blue Ridge Parkway and nearby Roan Mountain for the best opportunities after mid-May.
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina can yield delightful images at any turn, and if the cloud deck is low (aka fog) the opportunities for intimate nature scenes are almost endless. A day in the clouds with something blooming is a gift that happens only a few times each season. So I watch the skies and adjust accordingly.
There are a few iconic locations that new visitors should investigate, and you can branch out from there. Here are great places to begin:
Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418.8): In early May the blooming maple and serviceberry make this a visual treat that gives way later in the month (and into June) to Catawba rhododendron and mountain laurel. Prime time for the latter is usually the end of May into first week of June. Lower Yellowstone Falls is a short hike and is a local icon. Nearby Tennent Mountain is an excellent place for sunrise, as is Pounding Mill Overlook (MP 413.2). If the cloud deck is low and you are in fog, then the entire area is a target for photographers. Good opportunities can be found by hiking down to the falls and then following some of the short connecting trails.
Rhododendrons at Yellowstone Falls
If the weather indicates there will be light at sunrise, two spots can provide some memorable shots. The Tennent Mountain summit, accessed from FR 816 near Graveyard, with its 20–30-minute hike from the road is one of them, along with the more convenient Pounding Mill Overlook. Though late light can be attractive, a ridge to the west blocks such light at this spot. But last light at Cowee Mountains Overlook (MP 430.7) can be spectacular, and a low sun will back-illuminate any foreground blooms and fresh leaves. This overlook is about a 20-minute drive and is a Blue Ridge Parkway icon.
Lodging is most convenient in Waynesville, N.C. This is a bit of a resort town, so there are multiple choices of hotels and restaurants. The Pisgah Inn is nearby, but usually fills up months in advance. Its restaurant is a dining option, regardless. Keep an eye on the clock so as not to miss last seating.
Those prepared to camp can find dispersed camping near the trailhead to the Shining Rock Wilderness at the end of the spur road (FS 816). You can access this from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Graveyard Fields, or find a spot in the Mount Pisgah Campground, which is open seasonally, across from the inn.
Craggy Gardens (MP 364): Regionally known for its Catawba rhododendrons, peak bloom has traditionally occurred around mid-month. Short hikes will take you to the best scenes. A low cloud deck (fog) is ideal here. Often the mountain laurel along the higher elevations nearby will be good as well, though there are few to be found at Craggy itself. For last light, the parkway just north of Craggy and Graybeard Overlook (MP 363.4) offers strong options. The beech grove at Graybeard, meanwhile, can be enchanting.
Mount Mitchell State Park (MP 355): The spur from the Blue Ridge Parkway leads to the highest point in North Carolina, and its bloom often lags lower areas by a few days. It is only a few minutes’ detour to investigate the opportunities there. False hellebore (corn lily) grows here, too.
Lodging for both locations is most convenient in nearby Asheville with many options. Limited camping (tent only) is available at Mount Mitchell State Park.
Roan Mountain: If you are on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is most easily accessed from the MP 331 exit to Spruce Pine, NC, and map it from there. A recent fire at Carvers Gap near the road burned several acres but Round and Jane Bald were spared, according to reports. Look for these balds to peak around mid-June, sometimes as early as the 10th of the month. It’s the middle of nowhere.
The closest lodging is Roan Mountain State Park, with some vacation rentals closer to the Gap. Dining options are limited in the little hamlet of Roan Mountain, TN, at least a 30-minute drive from the Gap. A vacation rental is likely the best choice for those seeking a measure of comfort and a place to nap during mid-day, and of course you can cook there. For those who are prepared, camping in the vehicle or tent at the trailhead saves a bit of sleep, as sunrise comes early in June.
How To Work It
The best way to approach these opportunities really depends on the weather and your personal vision. If this is your first trip, visiting the icons is not a bad start. After that, drive pilgrim. Most of my favorite photos from the Parkway are found images that were given up by light at the time. It’s about 70 miles from Mitchell to the Smokies, and each mile can offer up a great image in the right conditions.
I like fog, so a low cloud deck is my jam, and the thicker the better. If the skies will cooperate for first or last light, then consider the options above. Blue sky of death? Look for back-illuminated leaves and intimate settings in the shade. This is also a great time to look for images than work well in black and white. The white blooms of Rosebay rhododendron may be going at lower elevations, providing yet another option to investigate.
Editor’s Note: If you want more detailed information, Nye wrote Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway with photographers in mind. It’s available at Parkway visitor centers and from the Smokies Association. The e-book can be found on his website at www.nyesimmopns.com.
A retired emergency medicine physician, Nye Simmons is a photography educator who has been freelancing and self-publishing for many years. He’s the sole author of Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Blue Ridge Parkway Celebration, Tennessee Wonder and Light, and The Greater Smoky Mountains Photographer’s Guide, while co-authoring four other books. His upcoming photo workshops include the Smokies, Blue Ridge Parkway, Colorado fall color and Death Valley.
Photo by Bill White
In-Person EXPO Returns to Jekyll
The annual GNPA Expo, held this year at Jekyll Island, was a great success! We had terrific speakers, including keynote presenter Arthur Morris. In addition, attending members enjoyed guided field trips to the Okefenokee Swamp, sunrise and sunset photography, bird photo trips on Jekyll and at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and Milky Way photography on the island at Clam Creek and Driftwood Beach. While a big storm caused us to miss the sunrise on the Prairie in the Okefenokee, we still had a great encounter with some barred owls in the swamp.
Membership has increased by more than 110 members since last year. We also ended 2021 with a $12,206 increase in our surplus over the previous year, primarily due to covid-based cost savings in 2021. Those savings were the result of not paying rent for our chapter meetings, minimal fees for speakers, and minimal costs for canceling the 2021 in-person Expo.
Our Communications Committee is continuing to manage the Facebook page, the Instagram feed, the website and the digital newsletter. A complete redo of the website was unveiled earlier this year and looks great. Six newsletters were published and distributed to members in 2021, with another six set for 2022. The most popular item overall in the newsletters are the “Where To Shoot Now” columns (you can find those, and all the newsletter articles, on our website).
The Conservation Committee, meanwhile, has also been busy. We have 62 volunteer photographers involved with the committee, and they have donated photographs to four metro Atlanta and three state-wide organizations.
Last year, the Board formed a Programs Committee and began hosting monthly outside speakers on Zoom. We will continue to bring even more speaker programs to our members for the remainder of this year. Be sure to check the GNPA Meetup page for the programs and webinars being offered in 2022. Please remember that you have to sign up for those programs in the members’ section of the website – you won’t receive Zoom links from signing up on Meetup.
We hope to have all chapters meeting in person again by this summer. Watch Meetup for news on each chapter.
Also, don’t miss our annual Fall Smokies Trip on November 3–6, 2022. It is an excellent opportunity to photograph wildlife, macro and landscapes in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and one of our most popular events.
Looking ahead, the 2023 Expo will be held in the Atlanta area. GNPA will offer field trips at many locations, including but not limited to Zoo Atlanta, Stone Mountain, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, the Georgia Aquarium and Gibbs Gardens. We’ll have more details later.
See you in the field.
By Emil Powella
Have you ever told yourself that if you could travel to exotic destinations, you’d be able to shoot the kind of amazing photographs that you see on social media? Well, for most of us, the opportunity to visit exotic places is seldom possible. But we can all photograph somewhere close to home, and we can all find great photographs.
Like many of you, I live in a conventional subdivision. I do enjoy the luxury of having trees behind my house, but most everything else is pretty normal. As a photographer, my challenge was to utilize what I had in order to set up a fun bird studio.
My backyard photography is mostly songbirds with the occasional hawk or owl venturing in. My wife, Nancy, has been a lifelong birder, and she has feeders filled with good seed strategically placed to attract different kinds of birds. We also maintain several birdhouses that attract a lot of bluebird activity, as well as hummingbird feeders during the hummer season.
Some of the ideas I used for this studio came from a YouTube video posted by David Akoubian.
My deck is at second-story level, which puts me looking into the trees at about 25 feet up. That’s where I’ve created my bird studio. I’ve salvaged several tree limbs I found in the woods and attached them to my deck, creating staging areas for the birds as they wait their turn at the feeders.
There are trees about 25 feet behind the deck, which is far enough away to add a soft-focus background to my images. I don’t have as sophisticated a setup as David, but I still am able to create quality photographs that I enjoy sharing with others. In fact, my photos have been used by conservation organizations such as the Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation, a group for which I serve as the point of contact as part of my responsibilities as a GNPA Conservation Committee member.
These photos will show how I’ve fixed some of the limbs in place and provided multiple natural-looking places for the birds to land.
Deck, looking into the woods.
Closeup of limbs attached to the deck.
Closeup of limbs attached to the deck.
You can also create resting places for birds at ground level, just by mounting a few vertical logs or limbs to metal posts that can’t be seen by the camera.. Strategic placement of the limbs will help deliver excellent photo opportunities.
Regardless of your setting, these concepts can be adapted pretty easily. Give the birds comfortable places to land and stage as they wait to get to the feeders. Observing and learning their habits will make you much more prepared to get the shots you want.
I’m able to photograph birds in the trees behind the deck, as well as those that pose on the limbs I’ve positioned. I can also photograph birds on the deck from inside the house in my kitchen as well. Sometimes that feels a little like cheating, but in rough weather it can sure be nice.
So don’t give up planning and hoping to go to exotic bird photo locations. But while you’re waiting, have fun with the challenge of adapting your deck or yard into a working studio and hone your bird skills right there at home.
As you do, please consider donating photos to our GNPA conservation partners such as Keep Georgia Beautiful and the Wildlife Resources Division of the DNR. These organizations need good photos of local wildlife, and GNPA members can be a valuable resource for them. Plus, members receive credit whenever those photos are used.
Emil Powella is a GNPA member who lives in Lilburn. He serves as the co-coordinator of the Decatur Chapter.
All Photos by Mark Buckler
By Mark Buckler
I’ve spent nearly 40 years (I started at a young age) working with wildlife in one professional capacity or another, either by performing field research studies or through photography. When it comes to photographing animals, my preference is to capture their behavior in some type of action. I’d much rather photograph a flying bird than one perched on a branch, because it’s a much more dynamic image. This doesn’t mean that I won’t shoot wildlife portraits – just that my priority has always been to capture action.
But to get those compelling action photos, I’ve learned that you need to be properly prepared. Here are a few suggestions that can help:
Pre-set Your Camera
Contrary to what you see in many documentary films, wildlife action can happen without much warning and is often very fleeting. If you’re not prepared, you will likely miss it. That’s why you need to preset your camera in order to capture these wild moments whenever they occur, because you won’t have time to adjust your camera each time. This means presetting your camera to faster shutter speeds, larger apertures and higher ISO settings. Larger apertures will allow more light to reach the camera’s sensor, which in turn allows you to shoot at faster shutter speeds. Those wider apertures have the added benefit of reducing your depth of field, allowing the background and foreground to fall out of focus and therefore draw more attention to your subject.
Faster shutter speeds, of course, will allow you to “freeze” the action in front of you. Determining the necessary shutter speed depends on how quickly your subject can move. For instance, for most birds in flight, I like to shoot at a minimum of 1/2500 second, because this will freeze the flapping wings of most birds. However, much of the time (if the light allows) I will be shooting at speeds even faster than that. It’s important to realize that, in many situations, sharper images are the direct result of faster shutter speeds.
Consider Your ISO
If you’re going to photograph wildlife, you will need to get over any fear of shooting at higher ISO settings. Wildlife is often the most active early and late in the day, when there is little available light, so you will need to shoot at higher ISOs in order to achieve the faster shutter speeds you need to freeze the action.
Many photographers are overly concerned with the increased noise levels associated with shooting at higher ISOs. I don’t worry much about my ISO level; I simply shoot at whatever ISO is going to give me the proper exposure at my desired shutter speed and aperture. It is critical, however, to get proper exposure at high ISO settings so that you don’t end up revealing excessive noise and artifacts in the shadow areas. Modern cameras have sensors that are much better at handling noise at higher ISOs. Noise reduction software can also be used during image processing to help alleviate that pesky digital noise.
Autofocus and Frame Rate
You will want to rely on the power of autofocus to capture sharp images of moving animals. Specifically, you will need to use continuous autofocus when photographing a moving subject, which will help keep the focus locked on your subject. Continuous AF, coupled with a high frame rate (number of frames per second), will help you capture stunning images of wildlife behavior and action. If you are using a mirrorless camera, however, you need to make sure that you are shooting within a frame rate that is compatible with your continuous AF. Just because your camera is capable of shooting at 60 frames per second doesn’t mean that continuous AF will function at that level.
This is a topic for a more detailed article, but I am a firm believer that shooting in full manual mode is the best way to photograph wildlife, especially action. If the light is consistent and you have the right manual settings, you will get the right exposure in manual mode regardless of the tonal composition of the image and the background. With wildlife photography, the tonal composition is often changing because the animals are in constant motion, with backgrounds that change from shadows to sunlight and back again. In essence, manual mode allows you to set-it-and-forget-it and not worry about changing shutter speeds, apertures and ISO; you can simply concentrate your effort on the animal’s behavior.
Know Your Subject
As with any genre of photography, the more you know about your subject the better you will be able to portray that subject in an image. This is particularly true with photographing wildlife action. Many animals provide clues that can indicate a particular behavior is about to happen. This can be something as simple as reading the body language of an animal or maintaining an awareness of certain types of actions that will allow you to anticipate specific behaviors.
For instance, a bathing duck is likely going to sit up on the water and flap its wings to expel water from its feathers. And of course, a photo of a wing-flapping duck is much more compelling that one of a duck simply sitting on the water. If you are hoping to photograph a bird taking flight, it’s important to know the wind direction, because birds are almost always going to take off (as well as land) into the wind. The more you learn about your subjects, and watch for cues, the better you will be able to anticipate their actions and capture them in motion.
Mark Buckler is a professional photographer who leads photo tours around the world, including near his home base on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His background in wildlife biology and teaching promotes immersive and engaging photographic learning adventures. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram (@markbucklerphotography) and Bucklerphoto.com
Photo by Bill White
A Time for Opportunities
Spring is in the air, and you can find opportunities for great nature photographs everywhere.
I have a bird feeder in the backyard, which I use for a bird studio. I’ve been able to photograph cardinals, titmouses, wrens, bluebirds, woodpeckers and owls outside my door, and most people can do the same in their yards. Meanwhile, Gibbs Gardens is opening in early March (check their website), and you should not miss the Daffodil Colorfest this spring. At Berry College in Rome, the bald eagles are still nesting, but their the chick will fledge soon. So if you want to photograph the eagles, time is short. And diamorpha will soon be in bloom at Arabia Mountain.
Things are also happening at GNPA. The annual elections of the GNPA Board of Directors and officers will be conducted later this month. Watch for the ballot in your email, and don’t forget to vote.
Due to the unpredictability of Covid, the Programs Committee has been planning its events monthly for the rest of 2022. We’re hopeful that all of the local chapters will be meeting in person again soon.
Registration for the 2022 Annual Expo at Villas by the Sea on Jekyll Island is now open, and you can register at the members’ section of the GNPA website. This year’s Expo, which begins April 7, will include great speakers, programs, field trips and critiques, so be sure to check out the schedule and sign up right away. Jekyll itself offers many different kinds of nature photo opportunities, so it is well worth the trip. I hope to see you there.
As usual, GNPA plans to field a team in the North Georgia Shootout, scheduled for Saturday, April 30, 2022. This has been a fun event for GNPA teams in the past. Check out the website at https://northgeorgiacameraclubcouncil.org/ for more information.
See you in the field.