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Bald Eagle Bonanza On the Mississippi River

Bald Eagle Bonanza On the Mississippi River

By Ray Silva

If the opportunity to photograph wild bald eagles is high on your bucket list, then the Upper Mississippi River may be your holy grail.

Every year, eagles from Canada, Minnesota and Wisconsin migrate south in the early winter to find open water for feeding. Because most of the northern Mississippi River (and other waters) freeze over during this season, those options can be limited. But the turbulence below the big Mississippi River dams provides open water where eagles can feed upon stunned fish throughout the cold winter months.

These open-water hotspots are a major magnet for eagles. In fact, up to 2,500 eagles spend their winters along the locks and dams on the upper Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois. The wooded bluffs that overlook the Mississippi also provide excellent habitat for eagles to nest and roost.

The eagle population varies from week to week, depending upon the weather. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performs “Eagle Counts” weekly during the winter months to tally the populations at the various locks and dams on the river. Although eagles frequent several locations along the river, the Quad Cities area (Davenport & Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island & Moline, Illinois) is a primary winter vacation spot for bald eagles. The high count for 2022 at Lock and Dam #18 was over 1,100 birds, including adults and juveniles. (You can find last winter’s eagle counts here:



But eagles aren’t the only visitors you’ll find feeding here. It is not unusual to see a variety of ducks, geese, swans and even American White Pelicans. All of them can be photographed flying, perching and feeding along the river, often with striking winter landscapes in the background.

I’ve visited these winter spots multiple times, and often encounter photographers from across the Midwest and the South. You can make a road trip from Georgia to see this incredible display of eagles on your own, or if you like, you can attend a GNPA field trip that I’ll be hosting Feb. 16-19. (While the eagles are present most of the winter, my favorite time is the late winter months when the weather conditions tend to be considerably milder than January).


For our field trip, we should be ready to start shooting on Friday morning Feb. 17, and return to the Quad City airport after a final morning shoot ending at noon on Feb. 19. All told, we’ll be visiting at least two locations (possibly a third), traveling up to 90 minutes away to the prime locations.

There is no fee for GNPA members to join our field trip, but you will need to cover your own lodging and meals. The deadline for registering is Jan. 19. You can find more info here:

If you’ve always wanted a chance to photograph lots of bald eagles in action, this is a remarkable opportunity. Whether it’s this year or another time, be sure to add these dams to your photographic wish list.



Ray Silva was originally a member of GNPA’s Coastal Chapter before moving to Illinois to be closer to family. He still attends the Expo and Smokies events, and is a current GNPA board member.

Meet A Member

Meet A Member

Photo by Travis Rhoads

Travis Rhoads, Alpharetta Chapter


In our newsletters, we feature short profiles of GNPA members from across the state. In this issue, it’s Travis Rhoads, from the Alpharetta Chapter.

When did you become a GNPA member?  2018.

What is your occupation?  Architecture Project Manager.

How did you get into photography?  I grew up with photography. My dad always had a film camera with us on family trips. In college I took many photography classes and would have liked to minor in photography.

What are your favorite photography subjects?  I shoot a lot of different things throughout the year – people, sports, architecture, race cars and just about anything in between. But what I enjoy most are the opportunities to immerse myself in nature and work on landscape photography.

What are your favorite places to shoot?  The Great Smoky Mountains are my favorite place in the country. I have been there so many times, yet still manage to find something new every trip. In recent years I have been to many places, and a new favorite is Death Valley National Park.

What would be your photographic “dream trip”?  I have thought about this idea many times and the dream trip changes from time to time. The current dream would be to have a year off to travel the country in an off-road RV, exploring places off the beaten path.

Which camera body and lenses do you use most often?  I currently shoot with a Sony A9 and A1, along with a variety of Sony lenses in focal lengths from 12mm to 400mm.

What are your go-to websites for photography information?  I have always had more success at learning by doing, with trial and lots of errors. YouTube is a great resource anytime I want to learn something new, and I am always watching videos on things I want to do better.

Have any photographers inspired you?  Dan Mitchell, Jennifer Renwick and David Kingham are some of the modern photographers whose work I admire.

What’s your favorite part of belonging to GNPA?  Meeting new people that are passionate about nature photography. I’ve done presentations for most of the chapters and have enjoyed all of them.

Something interesting about you that most people do not know:  I used to take my car to the race track and was a high-performance driving instructor.

Where are you from?  I was born in Kansas, grew up in Texas and moved to Georgia in high school. I’ve been here ever since.

Tell us a little about the photos you have provided: 


My favorite place in the country is the Great Smoky Mountains and this image is one of my all-time favorites. On this occasion I was leading a photography club into the park to shoot sunrise at this iconic location.


Death Valley has become a recent favorite place to wander and explore. On my most recent trip we camped in a van that allowed us to be more remote and photograph in places that are harder to get to.


One of my more memorable trips was my first time visiting Mt Rainier. The fog and weather had the mountain hidden all day, right until sunset when the clouds started to break and a classic photography tale began to take shape

From the President

From the President

Photo by Bill White

Website Improvements On The Way


Bill White
GNPA President

It’s 2023, and our GNPA website is getting a makeover.

Based on feedback from members, last May we began researching ways to improve our site. Since then, we’ve identified problem areas and explored ways to make the web site more helpful and easier to use.

Here are some key improvements you’ll find when the web site is updated in February:

  1. Many members had difficulties making changes to their memberships, billing and payments. The new membership management system allows you to quickly and easily upgrade, downgrade and renew, while allowing you to instantly update billing information and your personal profile.


  1. Entering photo competitions was also an issue for some members, and the software required separate payments for each image submitted. Our new system is a specialized, purpose-built photo competition service. It’s simple to use, highly intuitive and provides features to help you submit and manage your entries. We could literally run a worldwide competition with this system!


  1. Beginning in February, all chapter meetings and events will appear on our website in both list and calendar views. Gone will be the problematic use of MeetUp to manage our meetings, register for events and coordinate with our web site. Events, meetings and field trips will be easy to find, and sign up for, with this integrated system.


  1. Previously, members needed to switch between the GNPA site and MemberClicks to find information on events, sign up, locate resources or fill out forms. Now, all the information will be linked together on one site.

In February, your current GNPA registration information will be imported to the new system, simplifying and minimizing the one-time steps when you log in for the first time. Much of the website will look the same as it does now, but there will be some important changes to enhance your experience.

Stand by for emails from GNPA in the next 30 days that will provide more details and sneak previews.

Here are some other items of note this month:

  • January is a great time of year to take photographs of woodpeckers, sandhill cranes in Tennessee, and bald eagles at Berry College in Rome and at West Point Lake Dam. Move quickly on those sandhill cranes, though – they will be gone by late January.
  • I’m happy to report that GNPA continues to grow and add new members. Our organization is also in a good position financially.
  • The annual GNPA elections for board members are coming up in March. If you are interested in serving our membership, please let us know as soon as possible. You can contact the nominating committee through Vice President Doug Flor.
  • Would you like the opportunity to display one or two of your best nature photographs at the Chattahoochee Nature Center or the Hudgins Center in Gwinnett? Watch for announcements soon for your chance to submit photographs for consideration.
  • Our Programs Committee continues to provide us with great Zoom programs, featuring some of the top outdoor photographers in the Southeast and beyond. Members can access past programs at, where you can also sign up for new monthly presentations throughout 2023. These are a great way to learn new photographic techniques that can help you elevate your own photography.

We’re in the midst of planning our annual Expo event, scheduled for April 2023. This year, it will feature virtual speakers along with guided outdoor field trips across the state. We will have more details in late January.

See you in the field.

— Bill


From the President

From the President

Photo by Bill White

What’s Happening in GNPA


Bill White
GNPA President

Our chapters are conducting in-person meetings again, and offering some excellent speakers.  If you cannot make it to your local chapter meeting for whatever reason, our Programs Committee has been producing monthly programs with outstanding photographers on Zoom. To learn about upcoming programs, join the statewide GNPA Meetup Group for updates. As a GNPA member, you can also watch recorded versions of all these programs, at your conveneience, via our website. One of the benefits of GNPA membership is the ability to learn from outstanding phgoraphers, and our webinars and chapter meetings are great opportuities to do that.

Our annual weekend in the Smokies will have concluded by the time you read this. If you couldn’t attend this year, be sure to take part in 2023. It’s a terrific trip that you don’t want to miss.

The 2023 GNPA Expo will be held in the Atlanta area. Plans are being finalized now, and will be announced once all the details are completed.

The nominating committee is looking for new GNPA board members for next year. If you want to throw your hat in the ring, please let me know. Plus, every chapter needs a few more good folks to help out with the meetings and events. It’s a great way to get involved, meet other photographers and contribute to our volunteer organization.

See you in the field.

— Bill


The Art of Intentional Camera Movement

The Art of Intentional Camera Movement

“Flying Free” by Cheryl Tarr

By Cheryl Tarr

As a young photographer I gorged on a visual diet of great Western landscapes produced by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and other outstanding photographers. As a result, I grew up with the notion that an image should be sharp throughout the entire scene, with everything in focus.

But now, I will purposefully slow down the shutter speed and “shudder” the camera a bit, creating images that are not sharp but rather are unique and expressive. By using slow shutter speeds and moving the camera during exposure — a technique called “intentional camera movement” or ICM — a beautiful blur can be created, resulting in impressionistic landscapes, abstracts and other surprising images.

There are a number of ways we can move our cameras during exposure. The best-known method for introducing movement for ICM is panning — moving the camera either vertically or horizontally depending on the prominent lines in the scene. Vertical panning is often used for trees (image a stand of birch trees), while horizontal panning can be ideal for sunrise/sunset at the ocean or a lake.

Panning does not require particularly long shutter speeds. I don’t use panning techniques very often, but I used what I call “pause and pan” to capture an image of yellow daisies (above) at Arabia Mountain (ISO 64, 52mm, f18, 1/5 sec).  I titled it “Flying Free” based on the exhilaration I feel when looking at this image. Pausing before movement, as I did for this image, helps create a basis of definition for the subject matter. That’s why I often incorporate such a pause so that my subject is recognizable. I used my favorite ICM lens for this image, which is a 24-70 mm Nikon zoom lens. Longer focal lengths are easier, as wide angle requires more movement and/or longer shutter speeds.

”Transcendence” by Cheryl Tarr

”Transcendence” by Cheryl Tarr

The motion I utilize most often is what I call “push/pause.” In these cases, I frequently use a shutter speed of about one second. I will pause briefly after tripping the shutter, then push the camera forward one or more times. The image “Transcendence” was captured at Sweetwater Creek State Park one morning (ISO 64, 38 mm, f16, 0.6 sec) when the colorful sunrise I was hoping for did not materialize. I had a NiSi variable neutral density filter on my lens (which reduces light by one to five stops) so that I could slow the shutter without stopping down too much (very small apertures will bring every dust spot into focus).

The push/pause movement created an ethereal landscape. The predominant blue color helps convey a sense of peace and tranquility, and after seeing this image I was no longer disappointed about the lack of a colorful (i.e., red/orange/yellow) sunrise. The image titled “The River Awakens” was also taken using the push/pause movement with a Lensbaby Velvet 85 (ISO 64,  85mm, 1/3 sec, f-stop not recorded because it’s a non-CPU lens). I processed this image using an app called Distressed FX+ on my iPad to add a texture as well as to add the birds flying over the river.

“The River Awakens” by Cheryl Tarr

“The River Awakens” by Cheryl Tarr

While sitting in exactly the same spot along the Chattahoochee River but using a different movement, I created a number of distinct images including “Chattahoochee Rising” (ISO 64, 85mm,  1/3sec). These two photographs show that very different images can be created using ICM, even when shooting from a single vantage point.

“Chattahoochee Rising” by Cheryl Tarr

“Chattahoochee Rising” by Cheryl Tarr

Blending multiple exposures of a scene is another way to create ICM images (as long as you are actually moving the camera between exposures, or at least one exposure captures motion blur). I use a versatile iPhone app called Average Camera Pro (also available for Android phones). You choose the number of exposures (I most often select 4 or 8) and the camera automatically cycles through the chosen number of exposures once the shutter is triggered.

How the images are stacking up on one another can be seen during the exposure series, and you can set the timing between exposures so that you can adjust the position of the camera with each exposure. The app automatically blends the series of images into one final photograph. One of my favorite photographs from the Galapagos Islands was a series of eight shots of a Galapagos sea lion. Yes, you can photograph wildlife with ICM!

“Galapagos Sea Lion” by Cheryl Tarr

“Galapagos Sea Lion” by Cheryl Tarr

Lastly, when photographing with ICM, I often capture still shots because I might want to layer and blend that still shot with an ICM image. Early one January morning near Hiawassee I was photographing sandhill cranes and also capturing ICM images of the river. When I arrived home and started processing, neither the stills nor ICM shots really conveyed how I felt while on the river. I was seeking a soft, impressionistic image of the river but also wanted to clearly show the cranes flying overhead. By layering two images in Photoshop and brushing in the cranes (80% opacity) and the tree tops (40% opacity) from the still shot, I had the soft image I wanted to create, with just enough detail to convey a sense of place and the experience of crane watching.

“Hiawassee” by Cheryl Tarr

“Hiawassee” by Cheryl Tarr

The best part of ICM is that each image is unique, and I am always pleasantly surprised at what I capture (sometimes without even knowing exactly what I did to create an image!). I occasionally use a tripod when panning or shaking the camera, but usually I handhold the camera. I often play with more complex combinations of movements such as push/pause followed by twisting or wiggling the camera or zooming in or out. The most important thing is to experiment, look at the back of your camera and then repeat and/or refine your movement(s) if you see something that looks interesting. Also, consider following for inspiration.

I’ve learned that by using ICM, I can create an image that is more expressive and evocative than any standard still photograph ever could be. If you haven’t experimented with it yet, give ICM a try!


Cheryl Tarr is a retired professional biologist who loves photographing flowers, birds and landscapes both big and small. She enjoys blur, abstracts and impressionism, and ICM enables her to create images that are emotionally stirring and combine them with her own words



A Winter Playground for Bird Photographers

A Winter Playground for Bird Photographers

By Tammy and Jimmy Cash

In mid-November each year, there is a vast natural wonderland that becomes blanketed not with snow, but with thousands of migratory birds.

Just over three hours from Atlanta, nestled around the Tennessee River in various areas near Decatur, Alabama is one of America’s largest wildlife refuges and a true national treasure. Known as the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Complex, this 35,000-acre site becomes a winter home to literally thousands of migratory cranes, geese and ducks. The remarkable concentration of birds continues through February, peaking in mid-January.

The Sandhill Crane Dance. WNWR Visitor Center. Photo by Jimmy Cash

The Sandhill Crane Dance. WNWR Visitor Center. Photo by Jimmy Cash

The “main attraction” is situated just three miles west of the I-65 Decatur exit. As you enter the road leading to the visitor center with open fields to each side, you will begin to see sandhill cranes flying in groups overhead and scattered about the landscape, feasting on the remnants of corn, millet, winter wheat and more. As you reach the visitor center, you begin to hear the cacophony of inharmonious vocalizations of literally thousands of sandhill cranes as they frolic, feast and dance in and around the purposely flooded farm land behind the visitor center. After leaving their roosting areas each morning, this is where the majority of the cranes spend their day.

You’ll find several viewing areas and blinds, plus an enclosed, heated observation building (note: viewing and photography from the building is done through glass). From inside, we use telephoto lenses (100-400mm and a 500mm prime) on tripods with the lens positioned very close to or against the glass. The best time to visit WNWR for the cranes and waterfowl is late November to early February, before the cranes begin their migration north to their spring nesting grounds. At their peak, there were 12,000 sandhill cranes reported during the Jan. 18, 2022, waterfowl survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Sandhill Cranes in Flight Over Fields @ WNWR. Photo by Jimmy Cash

Sandhill Cranes in Flight Over Fields @ WNWR. Photo by Jimmy Cash


Whooping Cranes in Flight @ WNWR. Photo by Jimmy Cash

Whooping Cranes in Flight @ WNWR. Photo by Jimmy Cash

However, sandhills are not the only crane in town for the winter. Ever since 2004, a few highly endangered whooping cranes have been joining the party. Each year since, anywhere from a couple of “whoopers” up to 15 have been reported, most of which are banded and/or fitted with GPS tracking devices. Even when mixed in among the sandhills you cannot miss their snow-white plumage as they tower above their smaller cousins. Also in the mix, you may see large numbers of greater white-fronted geese, Canada geese, ducks and white pelicans, plus occasional snow geese, bald eagles, hawks, wading birds and shore birds.

Whooping Crane With Sandhill Cranes @ WNWR Visitor Center. Photo by Jimmy Cash

Whooping Crane With Sandhill Cranes @ WNWR Visitor Center. Photo by Jimmy Cash


White Pelicans at Crabtree Slough. WNWR. Photo by Jimmy Cash.

White Pelicans at Crabtree Slough. WNWR. Photo by Jimmy Cash.

The refuge is also known to be the home of Alabama’s largest duck population. Various species combined to reach a total of over 55,000 ducks at their peak in the Jan. 18, 2022 survey. Wintering duck species common to Wheeler include northern pintail, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, American black duck, mallard, gadwall, American wigeon, canvasback, redhead, ring-necked duck, lesser scaup, hooded merganser and northern shoveler.

The year-round resident wood ducks are common nesters in the spring and summer months within the refuge. The White Springs Dikes area is the best place to view and photograph the wintering ducks, according to one of the rangers. Some can also be seen behind the observation building at the visitor center.

Great White-Fronted Geese in Flight. WNWR White Springs Dikes. Photo by Jimmy Cash.

Great White-Fronted Geese in Flight. WNWR White Springs Dikes. Photo by Jimmy Cash.

What makes WNWR such an inviting haven for migrating birds? At the time of its designation as a national wildlife refuge by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, share agreements were reached with crop farmers who cultivated thousands of acres nearby. That continues today, so farmers intentionally leave a percentage of their crop in the fields as food source and cover for ducks, geese, deer and other wildlife. Additionally, water control structures were built to manage the water levels and provide food for waterfowl by encouraging the growth of moist-soil plants and flooding agricultural crops such as corn, milo and millet. Examples of water-level control and field flooding during the fall and winter can be seen behind the visitor center and at the White Springs Dikes area.

So where are the best places to photograph wintering birds at WNWR?  Here are our suggestions:

The Visitor Center (3121 Visitor Center Road, Decatur, AL 35603). Here you can see cranes, geese, ducks, wading birds, bald eagles, hawks and more. From November–February, the Visitor Center is open seven day a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The entrance gate to the Visitor Center  locks at 5 p.m. (see “Important Note” below for ongoing renovation info). A brief walk to the water’s edge directly behind the Visitor Center offers an open view.

A short trail behind the Visitor Center and to the right leads to the Wildlife Observation Building, offering glass-enclosed rooms with seating and spotting scopes.

Also, viewing and photography blinds overlooking the fields are scattered about, and established walking trails wind along the water and through the fields and woodlands.

Flint Creek Day Use Area and Hiking Trail: Leaving the visitor center, turn left onto Hwy. 67 and take an immediate right into the parking lot of the day-use area. Cranes can be seen along the water’s edge, and white pelicans frequent this area. Songbirds and other wildlife can be spotted along the trail.

Crabtree Slough: Leaving the visitor center, turn left onto Hwy. 67, travel a half mile and turn left into a small parking area with walking access to what looks like an old road on top of a pond dam. The slough to the left is often frequented by white pelicans.

White Springs Dikes: Located eight miles from the visitor center, this is the best place for viewing wintering ducks, colonial waterbirds, marsh birds and shorebirds. Leave the Visitor Center and turn left onto Hwy. 67. At the Hwy. 31 & 67 intersection in Decatur, turn right onto Hwy. 31. Follow 31/72A through Decatur and, just after crossing the Tennessee River, turn left onto a gated gravel road with a very small parking area to the left before the gate (GPS: 34.628761, -86.951042). Walk around the gate to enter. There are several miles of dikes that you can walk to view birds and wildlife in and around the wetlands and backwaters of the Tennessee River. This area of the WNWR is noted as a premier birding area by Alabama Birding Trails.

Other nearby areas of interest within WNWR:

  • Beaver Dam Swamp Boardwalk (GPS 650328, -86.818176)
  • Arrowhead Landing & Boat Ramp area on Limestone Bay for birding, kayaking and canoeing. (GPS 602002, -86.891991)
  • Public boat ramp on Hwy 67 on the left before the Visitor Center entrance for birding, kayaking and canoeing. (GPS545650, -86.931404)

With the exception of the Visitor Center, all other locations are accessible from sunup to sundown. View the refuge map and website for additional locations and information.

Click here to view the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s video of the refuge to learn more about the wildlife at WNWR.

Photo Equipment
For bird photography you will want to use a long telephoto lens, ideally 400mm or more, and a tripod. For capturing birds in flight, a camera with fast autofocus capabilities is ideal. You may also want to bring your lens of choice for landscape photography, especially for early mornings and evenings.

Whether you make it a daytrip or choose to spend a couple days photographing in the various areas of the refuge, we believe you will not be disappointed.

Important Note
Due to on-going renovations at and around the Visitor Center, some of the areas have been closed. However, we were told by the ranger the renovation of the observation building, board walk replacement, and new viewing blinds have been completed, and the refuge around the visitor center is scheduled to reopen November 12. Renovations of the Visitor Center building are ongoing through the winter, but the restrooms inside the center are scheduled to be accessible via a side door beginning November 1. Because plans are dependent on contractors and weather, it is best to call or check their website to confirm days and hours prior to making the trip. Their annual Festival of Cranes will still take place on January 14-15, 2023.



Tammy and Jimmy are avid nature photographers and conservationists. Their hope is that by capturing and sharing images, they will inspire a greater appreciation, awareness, and stewardship in others for the infinite wonders our natural world has to offer. They enjoy being members of Friends of Chattahoochee Bend State Park and serving as the park’s photographers. As active members of the GNPA, both are members of the Conservation Committee. Jimmy serves as a GNPA Instagram moderator, and Tammy chairs the Communication Committee and serves as the Conservation Committee’s Communications Sub-Committee Chair

Focus Tips for Sharper Images

Focus Tips for Sharper Images

All Photos by Eric Bowles

By Eric Bowles

With all the talk about new cameras, we get the impression that focus is suddenly like magic – a new secret sauce that will make all your photos perfectly sharp. Sadly, that’s not exactly the case. Yes, there are new technologies that help with focus, but photographers still must do their part. Let’s take a closer look at what you can do to create more images that are sharp and in focus.

There are, of course, lots of different cameras. And depending upon when a camera was developed and the intended market for that camera, performances will vary. In general, newer cameras bring better focus performance with a range of scene- and subject-recognition technologies. These new focus technologies mean the learning curve with a new camera may be steeper, and your old settings and techniques may not apply. Part of focusing is knowing what settings to use and how to help your camera focus quickly and accurately.

No matter the camera, there is a limit on how much data can be processed quickly. So the general guideline would be to use the smallest auto-focus area you can accurately maintain on the subject. A smaller focus area means the camera looks for a subject or target over a smaller area, and thus has less data to process. If you use the entire frame for focus, it may work fine in some situations, but if you are having trouble, try reducing the focus area to a smaller group or area of the frame. If the subject is large relative to the focus area, the camera will have a much better chance of sharp focus.

The second way you can help the camera is by making sure the subject is large enough in the frame. Sure, we often encounter distant subjects. But the subject needs to be large enough in the frame to be a target rather than just a few pixels. Try to have a subject occupy at least one-third of the height and width of the frame. If it is smaller or more distant, consider using a longer lens or try to move closer. If the subject is small within the frame, you will much more likely need to use traditional focus methods rather than face or eye detection. Don’t get hung up on trying to make the eye focus detection function work – the point is to focus on your subject and get a good photo no matter what techniques are required.

Autofocus generally works by utilizing contrast within the area you’ve chosen. But if your subject has little contrast or is undefined, your camera may struggle to identify the intended target. There are a number of reasons why you may have low contrast (and cameras tend to cope with this remarkably well), but be prepared to step in and help if necessary.

Conventional wisdom dictates you should always focus on the eye of your subject. And that’s true – you do want the eye in focus. But in many cases the eye is too small, or moving too quickly, to be a good focus target. In this case, you can choose a different focus target within the same focus plane and still capture that subject in sharp focus.

In this photo of a rider on a horse, the eye of the rider and the eye of the horse are small and moving rapidly. Another problem is that, by focusing on the eye of the rider, the resulting depth of field will likely throw the horse’s head and eye out of focus. The solution? Select a good target that is easier to follow, in this case perhaps the knee of the rider, the rider’s hands, or the front edge of the saddle. Even with fast movement, the knee of the rider is relatively easy to follow and the horse’s eye and the rider should both be reasonably sharp. The angle of the horse and rider relative to the camera makes a difference. If the horse is running, say, right to left in front of you, all within the same plane, it’s much easier to keep everything in focus. If it’s running right at you, depth of field will be more of an issue, since the horse’s head and the rider are not the same distance from the camera.

For photographing birds in flight, there are some similar strategies. Focusing on the eye of a moving bird can be difficult, but if the neck or shoulder of the bird is in the same focus plane, it makes a much easier focus target. Even if the bird angles slightly to the side as it flies, the bird’s head and its nearest wing will remain in focus.

What does it mean to have a good focus target? While focus generally relies on contrast, there’s more to it than that. Focus tends to be faster and more accurate with a good target. A good focus target is one with contrasting elements, adequate lighting and sufficient size to fill a meaningful portion of the frame. A poor target tends to have irregular shape and texture, relatively little contrast, low lighting (and therefore minimal contrast), or an indistinct pattern. If you have a poor focus target, auto-focusing will take longer and/or be less accurate, so you may need to identify an alternate focus target.

Let’s consider some examples:

When I photograph a subject or genre, I have a very specific focus target. I’m not focusing on a group of trees or flowers – rather, it’s a specific tree trunk, flower or plant. The closer I get, the more specific that focus target becomes, coming down to a specific petal or part of the stamen of a flower, the near corner of the eye of an owl, or the eye rather than the muzzle or nose of a dog, etc.

I also want to be aware of hyperfocal distance – the distance at which I can focus and make the entire scene sharp, including my subject and the background. With a 24mm focal length on a full frame camera, I can shoot at an aperture of f/8 and the entire scene will appear in focus if the camera focuses on a target 8 feet away. In this case, everything from 4 feet to infinity is in acceptable focus. I’ll typically use f9 for a little extra cushion on my depth of field.

I’ve memorized several focal lengths and the related hyperfocal distance so I can shoot at 24mm, 35mm, 50mm or 70mm and make a reliable guess on hyperfocal distance, which allows me to predict which parts of the scene will appear in focus. These settings are a starting point, and I adjust depending upon my subject and where it is located within that range.

For wildlife, in most cases you want the near eye to be in sharp focus and to contain a catchlight. Depending on the position of the bird’s head, depth of field may need to be increased to bring both eyes into relative focus. But it may not be possible to capture a large flying bird that is in sharp focus from one wingtip to another. So make sure the eye and head are sharp even if your depth of field is relatively shallow. The same would be true for insects, like this butterfly:

Sometimes, however, your subject is partially obstructed, or in such low light that your camera fails to focus reliably. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use for those situations.

My first choice is to look for an alternate focus target near the same plane. For example, I might focus on a tree trunk or branch near a small bird. I may try a smaller auto focus area, such as a small group or single point instead of the entire frame. I might focus on the wing or feet of a bird if that presents a better target than the head. Or I may override auto focus and use manual focus to zero in on my subject. I find that once focus has been achieved, the camera is remarkably good at maintaining that focus on a difficult subject.

In the following image, I focused on the trees and waited for the birds to reach that approximate area in order to have both the trees and birds in focus in the pre-dawn light.+

Many photographers have questions about focusing on fast-moving subjects. Certainly, the degree of difficulty goes up in these situations, but the principles are the same.

Of course, we all like our subjects to be isolated, with the clean backgrounds that are associated with a fast lens and shallow depth of field. But if your subject is completely out of focus and the image in your viewfinder is a blur, your camera will take longer to focus because it can’t readily identify your subject.

However, if you can pre-focus in the general vicinity of your subject, you will likely make it a lot easier for your camera to pick up a fast-moving target. Cameras can make small focus adjustments almost instantly, but large changes in focus distance take much longer. It will usually help if you focus on a fast-moving subject before you are ready to make a photo. Pre-focusing allows the camera to find the subject and will make it easier to maintain focus as the subject gets closer. So try to lock focus on that big bird as soon as possible, and then maintain it as he gets close enough for your photo.

If you are trying to focus on a fast-moving subject, make sure it is large enough in the frame and can be clearly identified and separated from the background. It’s very difficult to focus on a small songbird flying across a cluttered, wooded background, but much easier to focus on a wading bird as it launches into flight or drops to the water for a fish.

 Closing Comments

Practice, practice, practice! With a difficult subject, it’s amazing at how much improvement you will see with lots of practice. I’ve seen photographers start the week struggling to capture birds in flight, but by the end of the week they are nailing a very high percentage of their shots. Even if you are photographing slow-moving subjects or landscapes, practicing focus and concentrating on your focus targets will provide sharper images.


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.



Meet A Member

Meet A Member

Photo by Armetrice Cabine

Armetrice Cabine, Roswell Chapter


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

When did you become a GNPA member?  I don’t recall.  I purchased my DSLR camera in 2015, and joined GNPA shortly after.

What is your occupation?  I am currently retired.  Prior to that I was an engineer with AT&T for 32 years.

How did you get into photography?  It started as a hobby when I was 14 years old.  I put my camera down during college and picked it back up when I began traveling as an adult.

What are your favorite photography subjects?  I love photographing children, landscapes and wildlife. I also enjoy flower and macro photography.

What are your favorite places to shoot?  I love the Smokey Mountains and any of the national parks.

What would be your photographic “dream trip”?  Tanzania, to see the great migration.

Which camera body and lenses do you use most often?  I use my Nikon D850 and my 70-200mm lens most often, but I just purchased the Nikon Z9 and I look forward to making that my go-to camera.

What are your go-to websites for photography information?  Not really. I love YouTube for learning to edit and enhance my photographs.

Have any photographers inspired you?  Yes, I love the work of Bryan Peterson and I have traveled with him on several occasions.

What’s your favorite part of belonging to GNPA?  Being around other photographers who enjoy nature photography as much as I do and seeing all of the great photographs that our members create.

Something interesting about you that most people do not know:  I’m a bookworm. When I’m not out photographing, you can find me listening to a good book.  I moved to audio books after donating over 70 books to the Woodstock Public Library.

Where are you from?  I was born in Arkansas but raised in Flint, Michigan, so I consider myself a Flintstone and a Michigander.

Tell us a little about the photos you have provided: 


“Oregon in the Fall”This was taken in Oregon, using intentional motion blur.

“Oregon in the Fall” This was taken in Oregon, using intentional motion blur.


”Who’s There?” This photo was taken at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida.

”Who’s There?” This photo was taken at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida.


“Pure Michigan”I took this image on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan

“Pure Michigan” I took this image on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan

Fall Color at George L. Smith State Park

Fall Color at George L. Smith State Park

Text and photos by Jamie Anderson

If you enjoy photographing fall colors, now’s the time to plan a visit to George L. Smith State Park in Georgia.

Here you can discover beautiful pond reflections of cypress and tupelo trees, complete with all the amber colors of autumn. Most years, the trees will transition from green to amber sometime in mid-November. (The trees in these photos were actually past peak when photographed in late November, but still showed some fall colors.)

While fall offers some colorful opportunities for photographers, this state park includes surprises as well, such as white sand dunes and a 137-year-old gristmill. Outdoor enthusiasts will find lakeside camping, cottage camping, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking and biking.

The mill pond invites you to explore the cypress and tupelo trees, some draped in Spanish Moss, to look for beavers, blue herons, great egrets, white ibis and other wading birds. The seven miles of hiking trails make it easy to explore the exterior forest, where you might find Georgia’s state reptile, the gopher tortoise.

On the 3-mile loop trail behind the covered bridge you can see areas with a lot of white sand. These are actually beach sand dunes (yes, in mid-Georgia) created when the ocean level was receding from the mountains and hills of northern Georgia thousands of years ago.

Hognose snakes, which prefer sandy soil, are sometimes spotted in this area. They are completely harmless, but if they feel threatened they may hiss and puff up like a cobra. If that doesn’t work, their best defense is to simply roll over and play dead. If you look closely, you may also find a tiny rare lichen growing on the sand in this area.






Of particular interest to photographers and history buffs is the Parrish Mill. Built in 1879 by Alexander Hendricks and James Parrish, it was considered an engineering miracle of the day. The dam and base of the mill were completed in a few months, and within a year the house – which would eventually contain a sawmill, cotton gin and gristmill – were also standing.

The road to the mill passed right over the dam and through a covered bridge. So the “mill” was a combination dam, covered bridge, lumber mill, cotton gin and gristmill. It was first used to saw cedar, pine, and oak trees that were felled near the dam. A cotton gin was installed next, and by 1885 a gristmill was added.

Local people could bring wagonloads of cotton and corn right into the mill for processing, and buy lumber to build farms and barns. The gristmill ran 24 hours a day to produce corn meal that was sold to all the surrounding counties. By 1944 the gristmill was the only part of the site that was still operating, and it continued to do so until 1973. The covered bridge was not closed to automobiles until 1984. In 1998 the mill was restored, and it can still grind corn occasionally at the rate of 200 pounds per hour.

To reach George L. Smith State Park, take I-16 to the Metter, Georgia, exit (which is also Hwy 23). Follow Hwy 23 to George L. Smith State Park Road (which is before you get to Twin City, Georgia). For navigation purposes, the address is 371 George L. Smith State Park Road.



Jamie Anderson

Jamie Anderson is a contributing writer for the GNPA newsletter, and also serves as the newsletter production editor and the co-coordinator for the Coastal Chapter of the GNPA. His website is

Meet A Member

Meet A Member

Lowell Sims with Tucker. Photo by Ansley Wilbanks.

Lowell Sims, Smyrna Chapter


In our newsletters, we feature short profiles of GNPA members from across the state. In this issue, it’s Lowell Sims, of the Smyrna Chapter.

When did you become a GNPA member?  I joined during the initial meeting of GNPA. I believe it was 2010.

What is your occupation?  Retired since May 2002. I’m the former IT/Administrative Services Director for Hartford Financial Service’s Omni Automobile Insurance Divisions.

How did you get into photography?  Soon after my wife and I married, we planned a trip to Lookout Mountain. I purchased a point-and-shoot camera for pictures and I’ve been hooked ever since,

What are your favorite photography subjects?  Birds are at the top of my list of favorites.  I also like to photograph dragonflies, animals, amphibians, flowers and landscapes.

What are your favorite places to shoot?  Cades Cove (for wildlife), Cataloochee Valley/Cherokee (elk), Hiawassee Wildlife Refuge (Sandhill Cranes), Merritt Island, FL (water birds), Alligator River NWR near Outer Banks, NC, Lake George, FL, (St. Johns River) and Blue Cypress Lake, FL are all at top of my list. I’d be hard-pressed to pick a top spot.

What would be your photographic “dream trip”?  Galapagos Islands (#1) and Machu Picchu, Peru (#2).

Which camera body and lenses do you use most often?  Most of my DSLR life, I’ve used a Nikon body with a 150-600 mm lens, but now I’ve moved to a Sony A7Rlll with a 200-600 mm zoom lens and only recently obtained a Sony 100-400 mm G Master lens. I have an adapter that accepts all my Nikon brand lens on the Sony body.

What are your go-to websites for photography information?  Mark Galer on YouTube is probably my first “go to” for tutorials on Sony equipment. I would still be fumbling through Sony’s menu system were it not for him explaining various set-ups (and I still have a lot to learn).

Mark Denny is another favorite on YouTube. His tutorials are geared more toward technique than equipment. He once was a Sony user but has recently switched to Olympus.

Another weekly subscription is Digital Photography School’s newsletter. Sometime it is quite rudimentary, but occasionally I find a little gem to “chew on.”

Steve Perry’s Back Country Gallery is a really good source of knowledge on how cameras work and setup advise. He has several e-books available that explain various camera functions (Nikon equipment exclusively).

Have any photographers inspired you?  I am in sheer awe of Arthur Morris’s ability to photograph birds. I am totally incapable of capturing bird photos that in any way come close to rivaling the quality of his images. Art Wolfe is another photographer I admire a lot. Leonard Lee Rue III through his book “How I Photograph Birds and Wildlife” showed me how I didn’t have to go to the forest or nature area to photograph birds.

What’s your favorite part of belonging to GNPA?  Camaraderie at GNPA events. Reticent by nature, I really feel at home when attending GNPA events, especially photography outings.

Something interesting about you that most people do not know:  When I was a lad we played “livestock technicians and indigenous people” (Cowboys and Indians) and I had a keen interest in archery. In the early 1970s, I joined an archery club (Tomo Chi archery club) and won my first tournament (by default – I was the sole competitor in my basic bowhunter class). I was embarrassed to step forward to receive my winner’s medal and the club president added insult by saying facetiously, “Come back and join us again, we’ll try to be more competitive.” He had just won the “Pro” class. Five years later, not only did I trounce him in a similar club tournament, I was Southeastern Outdoor Field Archery Champion (1977 Clemson, SC), Indoor S.E. Runner up Champion (1978 Greenville, SC), 5-time Georgia State Champion (1975-79) and Georgia State Archer of the Year in 1979.”\

Where are you from?  I hail from South Georgia, born in extremely humble beginnings in Sparks. If anyone is old enough to remember going to Florida via US 41 in the late 1940s to mid-1950s, perhaps you remember Sparks and Adel were like Atlanta and Decatur. Without a sign you couldn’t tell when you left one city and entered the other. The favorite local quip was “Adel was so close to hell you could see Sparks.” In 1948 we moved to Tifton and after a relatively short tenure there we relocated to Ty (an outlying community of Tifton pronounced “tie,” an Indian name derived from the Ti bush that grew along nearby Ty Creek) where we lived until I graduated high school and moved to Atlanta. My favorite quip about Ty is “both ‘Entering Ty’ and ‘Leaving Ty’ signs were on the same post.”

Tell us a little about the photos you have provided: 


Hummer on my finger

Hummer On My Finger: Without gloating or bragging, I think this is an amazing photograph. I marshaled at The Tour Championship at East Lake for several years, and the year I took this photo our uniform included a bright red cap. I came home the last day of the tournament and sat down on the deck with my red hat on. Before long I was being buzzed by hummingbirds looking for a place to drink nectar. They were so close I could feel the wind generated by their wing beats. I quickly erected a feeder stand, attached it to the deck railing, set up my camera on a tripod with a wireless remote attached and covered all the fake flower feeder outlets but one. Sitting next to the feeder and resting my arm on the deck rail, I positioned my finger near the only flower outlet. After 4-5 approaches, a hummer finally lit on my finger and I began to fire away with my remote. Several people accused me of “PhotoShopping” the bird onto my finger, but the only “PhotoShopping” of this photo was cloning out the feeder.


Blue Jay

Blue Jay: Like most photographers, I can’t wait to see my photos so I “chimped” it onto my tiny LCD. When I saw it there on the screen, I could tell it was a keeper. It won “Best of Show” at a Smyrna photo contest judged by Bob Fitzgibbons. I thought, “Finally, Arthur Morris just might take a look at one of my photos.”


Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly: This photo was entered in GNPA’s Double Vision contest a few years ago at Chattahoochee Nature Center. The photo didn’t win, place or show, but the lady who painted her version of it placed either first or second. To this day, it’s probably the sharpest photo I have ever taken. Absolutely no post-sharpening has been applied.