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The Year of the Okefenokee

The Year of the Okefenokee

Photo by Tom Wilson

Two great organizations – GNPA and the Georgia Sierra Club – are teaming up to spend a year celebrating the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. “The Year of the Okefenokee” project will feature field trips, seminars, photo contests, special GNPA e-newsletter articles and more.

The two photo contests will be centerpieces for this year-long event. The competitions will be open to the public and include an entry fee of  $5 per submission. The images should be taken in the Okefenokee and can only include species found there. There is no time limit on when the photo was made, but it must be the exclusive work of the submitting photographer.

The first contest will accept submissions from May 1-31, 2022. This will be following the GNPA Expo at Jekyll Island on April 7-10, which will include several presentations as well as field trips to the Okefenokee. A pre-judging panel – consisting of Larry Winslett, Eric Bowles and Tom Wilson – will select the final images to be reviewed by judge Amy Gulick. Winners will be announced around July 1.

The second contest will take submissions from November 1-30, 2022. The same panel will prejudge the submissions, with Peter Essick serving as judge. The contest winners will be revealed in the second week of January 2023.

The contest will have cash prizes for each of three categories: Landscapes, Wildlife and Macro/Closeup.  More information including specific rules, prize amounts, and submission guidelines, will be forthcoming.

The purpose of this year-long celebration is to increase public awareness of the Okefenokee. We hope all GNPA members will participate, and learn more about this amazing, world-class location within our state.


Now’s The Time for Hiawassee Sandhills

Now’s The Time for Hiawassee Sandhills

By Jerry Black

If you’re intrigued by the prospect of photographing thousands of Sandhill Cranes just a few hours from Atlanta, now is the time. Beginning in mid-November, the Hiawassee Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee is home to huge flocks of wintering cranes that provide plenty of opportunities for wildlife photographers.

The cranes nest there throughout the winter, and after arriving at Hiawassee this month, will typically stay around the refuge until mid to late January. There will be thousands of them, up and down the river and in the fields of adjoining farms. My understanding is the refuge has the largest winter flock of Sandhill Cranes in the southeast other than Florida. I can say I’ve been to many locations in Florida and have never seen as many cranes in one place as I see in Hiwassee.


Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge spans about 6,000 acres, comprised of roughly 2,500 acres of land and 3,500 acres of water. At the refuge location on Priddy Road (545 Priddy Road, Birchwood, TN) there is an observation platform and gazebo. From this location you can observe a large area, but it’s still only a small portion of the total refuge. If you are a bit more adventurous and have a few dollars to spend, you can book a tour with a friend of GNPA who occasionally takes people out on the river to see the back side of the refuge, where you will find thousands of cranes along the shorelines and islands. Or, you can rent a boat at the marina in Dayton, TN. But because the refuge has certain locations that are protected for the cranes, check ahead of time to see where you’re allowed to venture by boat.

If you live in north Georgia and you’re an early riser, you can be there by sunrise for early light, stay the whole day, photograph during late light into the sunset, and then drive back home. Some may prefer to drive up around noon on day one, shoot the late light, spend the night nearby, shoot the next morning early light and depart for home around 9-10 a.m. depending upon light conditions.

I have photographed at the refuge many times in all kinds of weather conditions, from sunny fall days to cold and blustery conditions. Personally, my favorites are when the temps are in the 40- to 60-degree range with good light, or on foggy days when you can create magical images of the cranes flying through the mist. If I had to choose between morning and evening conditions as my only option for a day trip, I’d choose evening. At that time of day, you can shoot one direction toward the lake and river and capture the cranes in flight as the sun illuminates their beautiful mating plumage. Then, as the sun sets, you can shoot the birds flying by from the opposite side of the gazebo and capture silhouettes against the sunset skies, which are especially striking if you are fortunate enough to have a sky full of reds, yellows, pinks and oranges.

What To Expect

The refuge is closed from Nov 15 through the last day in February. This means you cannot travel down into the refuge itself, as this a protected habitat for the cranes. But the gazebo and platform are open year round, and are great places to set up. The cranes roost in the field at night, but as the morning sun rises they begin to fly out to nearby fields to feed for the day. Then, as the evening approaches, they will fly back into this field across from the platform. These are the two best times to photograph them in flight.

These fly-in and fly-out times will vary depending upon weather and light conditions. You may have about 90 minutes to two hours of ideal shooting time in both the morning and the evening. If it’s a very windy day, don’t expect a lot of flying.

On some days there can be lots of people there. The overall area to shoot from is rather small, all things considered. In the accompanying photo, you’ll see the gazebo and to the right of it is a ramp where many photographers choose to set up. The main open field area is to the right of this gazebo. Try to go during the week if possible, to avoid the larger weekend crowds. Your field of view can seem a bit restricted depending upon where you position yourself. Getting there early to “claim” your spot is a good idea. The 2022 Sandhill Crane Festival is currently scheduled for January 15-16, and there will likely be more visitors then. Once you leave the main entrance road, access to the parking area is via a dirt road that’s usually in decent condition and is almost always quite passable by car. The parking area can handle about 30 or so cars.



Recommended Camera Gear

Since you’ll want to capture birds in flight, you will benefit from using a good camera and lens with fast, reliable autofocus and continuous autofocusing capability. Ideally, you’ll want to have a lens with a focal length of at least 300mm. Many people will use a Nikon 80-400 or 200-500, Tamron 150-600, Canon 100-400, or any variety of 300mm-plus prime lenses. In my opinion, a tripod is optional. I like the flexibility to move around quickly and be able to follow the birds’ flight patterns.

Hiawassee Refuge is a great place to see lots of cranes and to test your birds-in-flight skills. But there is more to the refuge than just cranes. You may see eagles, herons, ducks, hawks, assorted small birds in and around the platform and white pelicans flying overhead. Even whooping cranes have been photographed there on occasion, as well as a golden eagle. In the evening and early morning, you may also spot deer in the refuge area.


Jerry Black is an avid amateur photographer who is well known for his wildlife and nature photography, having won numerous local, national and international competitions. Jerry has received first-place awards at GNPA EXPO in both the wildlife and landscape competitions, first place in the Ansel Adams B&W Photo Contest, and for six years running has had one or more images selected for the Booth Museum Photography Annual Exhibition and other curated exhibits.

Nature: Captured and Presented

Nature: Captured and Presented

By John Mariana

From my perspective, successful nature photography is comprised of two very different elements. Understanding the role that each one plays in the process is critical. Capturing the photo is clearly important, but so is our thought process for presenting that image.


The camera, of course, is only a tool. Yes, it is the tool we use to capture nature images, but the tool itself does not create the image or provide the final presentation. Our own in-the-field experiences, our training in composition and the understanding of the elements of “good images” are the critical aspects for the capture. Composition, special light, depth of field, shutter speed and good exposure represent the craft of the capture. These should become second nature to you, so when a special nature opportunity presents itself, you are prepared to capture it.

Capturing moving animals and birds in flight requires good depth of field as well as a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. For flying birds, I typically use f11 at 1,000th of a second to capture sharp details from wing tip to wing tip. I will try to focus on the eye and use focus tracking for multiple captures as the bird or animal is moving. Also, I always shoot images in raw format. You can capture both raw and jpeg images simultaneously, but those raw images will provide many more pixels. And those extra pixels will give you the ability to crop the image and still produce quality prints.

Positioning yourself is also critical, but too often overlooked. Locate a position where the background is simple, distant, or shows an environment that brings special meaning to the capture. Then you are prepared.


Once you’ve captured quality raw images, the next step is determining your final presentation. This step is accomplished with software, not in the camera. Certainly, today’s cameras have very good software for adjusting light, shadows, color and more, but the best method is to simply capture the best raw pixels in the camera and then use software to enhance the captures. I use Photoshop, Topaz Modules, DXO modules and Luminar NEO to enhance my images. Those enhancements involve cropping, sharpening, color enhancement, vignetting, dodging shadows and burning some highlights. I use these tools to bring the eye of the viewer instantly to the main subject. Post processing is the difference between just presenting an image and presenting an image with real impact.

Happy Little Green Frogs

Darcy Elleby Pino conducts workshops in Costa Rica, where I assist her. This image (“I’m So Happy”) was one of several that I captured as a 3-inch tree frog was climbing a Bird of Paradise plant. Timing is everything with these opportunities. I made sure I had good depth of field for the frog’s body, and I darkened the background with a small amount of highlight behind the frog. The face is highlighted to bring the viewer’s eye instantly to the frog’s face. Compositionally, the frog dominates the center of the image, breaking the rule of thirds, but is in the upper third of the image.


Images with instant impact are the most appealing. This image has been cropped, and the highlights increased, so that the viewer looks instantly into the face. This presentation also has increased contrast to emphasize the three-dimensionality of the frog and the entire image. The frog seems ready to jump out of the image. This elicits emotion in the viewer. Winning images are those that have great composition, instant impact and elicit emotion.

The next image (“Hi Honey, I’m Home”) is a composite made from two separate frog photos. I created this image to tell a story and elicit amusement. Still, the image demonstrates the use of highlights, dark background and good depth of field to capture the details. The very dark bakcground creates the three-dimensionality of the frogs.

Special Birds

It is quite easy to capture a beautiful bird when it’s just sitting on a branch. This image was captured at a zoo, of a bird behind glass. However, it’s been enhanced in many ways. Originally, the image contained distracting branches, the background was not appealing, and the light was from above. Using the gradient background emphasizes the erectness of the bird. Meanwhile, enhancing the color of the head and beak immediately brings attention to the upper portion of the bird.



Hummingbirds are perhaps the most difficult bird to capture well. The best hummingbird images show detail in the wings and are difficult to capture. Understandably, depth of field and shutter speed are critical. Place yourself in a position where the bird has been flying and you have a good background and light. Then, patience and timing are required to seal the deal.

Note the sharpness of the wings, the body and the head in this photo. The curve of the stem on the flower brings the eye up around and back to the hummingbird. Capturing these tiny speedsters requires lots of time watching the same flower and waiting patiently as the bird flits around. But if you’ve done your homework, that patience will be rewarded.

Cataloochee Elk

From early September to late October, the male elks in Cataloochee Valley, Tennessee, offer a great opportunity for photographers. This is a prime location to capture big bulls as they gather their females. They often butt heads with other large elks to protect their territories. The best time to capture images is the early morning, just as the sun is rising and casting beautiful beams of light. This image is a panorama of three images as the elk turned to look at me. I had positioned myself near the open field because of the light rays there, and I waited. Timing is critical.


Early morning mist often fills the fields before the sun rises high enough to burn it off. This large elk stood very close to the female and searched for other females to add to his group. For this photo, I waited until the bull stopped eating, lifted his head and turned it toward the female. It made for a special moment.












This image was captured during early spring in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Again, I found the position I wanted, on a hillside with the farm in the distance and the sun creating a burst through the tree limbs. Patience, patience! I knew the location from previous occasions, positioned myself and waited. Eventually, a doe brought her young offspring into the pasture to feed.

Magnificent Magnolias

One of the most delicately beautiful flowers is the Magnolia. But the special beauty of this flower can be fleeting. Once the bud opens and the flower unfolds, it is pristine for only one day. By the second day the inner areas begin to fall out. I first tried to capture pristine magnolia blooms on the tree, but it’s very challenging to be in the right position at exactly the right time. So, I recommend removing a bud from a tree, taking it home and placing it in water. The next morning the flower will begin to open. Place it in front of a plain background, near an open window with soft light. With the camera on a tripod, make several captures at different levels as the petals are opening. This first image was placed against a white backdrop and the close-up capture emphasizes the beauty of the shape of the flower.

In the next photo, using a black backdrop emphasized the overall shape and beauty of the bloom. It was critical to preserve the detail in all the white areas. This was accomplished by utilizing very soft light from a side window. As the bloom continued to unfold, multiple images were captured. When all the petals have unfolded, a beautiful gold center pod is revealed.




The Magnificent Beauty of Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the most beautiful of all the national parks, and I have visited there at least 50 times. As you enter the valley and look at the 2,000-ft.-high cliffs all around you, you understand why this park is so special. The Merced River runs through the center of the valley, providing great reflections of the famous mountains and waterfalls.


Winter is spectacular in Yosemite. The mountains are covered with snow, creating a stunning three-dimensional look, and the pine trees are highlighted by the clinging snow. Panoramas are the best way to capture the entire scene. Depth of field is critical for all the details from foreground to background. As I studied Bierstadt paintings, I discovered a compositional “must” for photographers. I call it “a place to stand.” When the viewer has a place to “stand” in your image, that viewer will feel the emotional experience of being there. But if there is not a place to stand, the viewer is only looking at an image.














The Coastal Lights

The coasts of Massachusetts and Maine are filled with special lighthouses, stretching from Boston through Acadia National Park in Maine. Morning light is very good for capturing these iconic structures, and late day can be special when the beams from the lighthouses can be seen against the darker sky of sunset. A A tripod can be used to capture several images at different exposures, with a high dynamic range image. This provides details in the shadows and in the highlights. You never want to have photos with “blocked up” shadows or “blown out” highlights.


These are a few of the ways I approach capturing and presenting images. By concentrating on the nuances of these two different steps, I believe you can continue to improve as a photographer.



John Mariana is a well-known photographer and educator who has conducted numerous workshops across the United States, Scotland and Tuscany, as well as volunteering time to speak at functions, museums and photography groups. He has specialized in large print images and published two books. John is also a founding member of the Booth Photography Guild at the Booth Art Museum in Cartersville, GA. You can find his website at:

Meet A Member

Meet A Member

Janet L. Poole, Roswell Chapter

In our newsletters, we feature short profiles of GNPA members from across the state. In this issue, it’s Janet L. Poole, of the Roswell Chapter.

When did you join GNPA? June 12, 2017

What is your occupation? Accounting – CPA

How did you get into photography? I travel a lot, and it was a way to document the beautiful animals and scenery.

What are your favorite photography subjects? Water, gardens, big animals (moose, bear bison, elk, pronghorn, etc.) and birds, especially hummingbirds.

What are your favorite places to shoot? National and state parks.

What would be your photographic “dream trip”?  I have already taken it. That was to Alaska, at Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Fjords and Katmai National Park. Spending time with the bears, moose and whales in their home was incredible. I would love to return and also go to Denali. Yellowstone and the Tetons are a very close second. Outside the USA, I would love to do an African safari and photograph the big five (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard).

Which camera body and lenses do you use most often? Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 mm G2.  I love this combo.

Have any photographers inspired you? Ansel Adams, Thomas D. Mangelsen and David Akoubian.

Whats your favorite part of belonging to GNPA? Learning how to become a better photographer and meeting so many nice people who are willing to share tricks of the trade.

Something interesting about you that most people don’t know: I have visited all 50 states (some many times) with Hawaii (the 50th state), being the last one I visited.  I have also been to 42 out of the 63 National Parks.

Where are you from? New Carrollton, Maryland

Tell us a little about the photos you have provided:

This is the first time I got a picture of a hummingbird that was in focus and did not look like an ant. I used the Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 mm. I was so excited. This was taken at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail, Colorado. It’s the world’s highest botanical garden at 8,200 feet, and a beautiful spot.

After a fantastic flight from Homer, AK, into Katmai National Park on a beautiful day, I was blessed to meet this cute baby brown bear with its mom. It’s famous, having been featured in a Disney movie called “Bears” that came out in 2014, the same year we visited.


This is the Nāpali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii, viewed from a helicopter. It’s one of the most gorgeous and magical spots on earth. This is my happy place!

Don’t Leave Home Without It:  Your Spares and Repair Kit

Don’t Leave Home Without It: Your Spares and Repair Kit

Photo by Eric Bowles

By Eric Bowles

As nature photographers, we need to be prepared for just about anything out in the field. That’s why, through the years, I’ve learned that one of the most important things I can pack for any photo outing is my Spares & Repairs kit.

What’s that? For me, it’s a zip-lock bag that contains solutions for all the problems I might run into in the field (and for all the workshop participants or friends who may be with me). It goes beyond just a spare battery and memory card. Instead, it’s a small bag with all the replacements and tools for things I might lose, break, or need to repair on a trip. My kit is like an insurance policy covering all of the problems I’ve encountered through the years – including the solutions I wish had been with me at the time.

You should put together a Spares & Repairs kit that suits your particular needs. But to get your started, here’s what’s in mine.

My kit starts with the thing I lose most often – lens and body caps. It’s such a nuisance when you lose a cap, and it adds some risk that you will scratch your lens elements or expose your camera body to dust. I carry a rear lens cap that fits all of my lenses, and the 1-3 most commonly used front lens caps. I also have an extra camera body cap. These items don’t need to be branded OEM parts. You can buy a set of three third-party lens caps for any size at about the same cost as one lens cap from your camera’s manufacturer. I carry 82mm, 77mm, and 62mm spare lens caps. That’s not enough for every lens, but it covers the ones I use most frequently.

Next for me is a set of tripod wrenches. You know, those small wrenches you need to tighten or adjust your tripod legs or the hub. A floppy tripod leg can be a horrible nuisance, so you need to be prepared. Gitzo uses a special star-shaped wrench, while others may use hex keys or Allen wrenches. Just be sure you have the types and sizes you need. Also be sure to carry the wrench you need to tighten or remove camera and lens plates if necessary. After all, a good camera plate doesn’t do you much good when your camera is spinning around loosely. I also pack a spare tripod foot; it’s not something you need often, but it can be a real nuisance if you lose yours.

On the subject of tools, a handy item for me is a set of small screwdrivers. This is an easy-to-find item often used for computer repairs or eyeglass repairs, but it can be very useful for tightening a screw on your camera mount or on a lens foot. On my 70-200mm lens, for example, the foot mount is attached to the lens with four small screws, and if they are loose my lens will not be stable even on the best tripod. If you are dealing with a loose screw, there is a risk it will loosen again, so I also carry a small tube of Blue Loctite as a thread locker. Just a fraction of a drop is enough to hold a screw in place. Don’t use the Red Loctite, which requires heat to loosen.

I like carrying some basic cleaning supplies as well. Start with a bulb blower to clean your sensor. Dust can be a problem, so at the very least, carry a blower in your bag. I use a Giottos Rocket Blower to handle most dust on my sensor. It’s also great in the field just in case you get something on your lens or camera that might scratch the glass if you rub it. Add a small microfiber lens cloth as well. This is an all-purpose item that not only cleans lenses, it can double as a lost lens cap. For lenses, I carry a handful of Zeiss lens wipes, the small alcohol-based wipes intended for optical lenses. These wipes are perfect not only for removing dust and fingerprints, but they work very well with rain, mist, snow or frost on your camera or lens. Alcohol is used in anti-freeze to prevent freezing, but it also dries more quickly than water.

Let’s remember a few basics that are probably already in your bag. These are items you can’t live without and are probably not in a Spares kit, but you better have them. Start with an extra battery and memory card. If you use more than one type of memory card in your cameras, keep at least one old card for each format (this is a great use for old cards). Have you ever left your camera battery sitting in the charger at home, or a memory card in your card reader? Having spares of these items can save a lot of stress. If you are traveling, the other critical item is a battery charger with any cables required. Finally, if you wear glasses, be sure you have an extra pair in your camera bag for emergencies.

So, what’s in your Spares & Repairs kit? Everyone will make their own decisions about what is important. But before your next trip, make sure you have the supplies you need to handle the unexpected.


Eric Bowles is a former president of GNPA, a professional nature photographer, and director of Nikonians Academy. He leads bird photography workshops for Nikonians, Chattahoochee Nature Center and Georgia Audubon in addition to his own programs.



From the President

From the President

Photo by Bill White

Get Ready for 2022

Bill White
GNPA President

Several of our GNPA chapters are once again scheduling group field trips. I joined one in October, and had a great time photographing waterfalls. I encourage you to do the same when you have the opportunity. It’s a great way to get outdoors, enjoy the company of fellow photographers, learn about new locations and shoot new images. You can sign up for field trips sponsored by any of our chapters. You’ll find all of those field trip opportunities on the chapters’ Meetup pages.

Along with the return of field trips, we also anticipate the resumption of regular in-person chapter meetings next year.

Meanwhile, the Programs Committee is continuing to develop more webinar programs for everyone, available through Zoom. Stay tuned for announcements of upcoming events. Plus, if you attended the GNPA Virtual Expo in September, the videos from those events are now available for viewing.

The 2022 Expo will be held at Jekyll Island April 8-10, with optional field trips on April 7. We are scheduling some great speakers for the event, including Arthur Morris. I hope to see you there.

The North Georgia Shootout will be Saturday, April 30, 2022, in Dallas, Georgia. The GNPA will once again be putting together a team to compete for fun and prizes. Check out their website for more information at

With these activities and more on the horizon, the GNPA is looking for a few good men and women to assist with programs, field trips and other events. We’re also seeking candidates for officer positions. If you are interested in getting involved, please let me know.

See you in the field.

— Bill