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Photographing The Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail

Photographing The Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail

By Tom Wilson.

If you like to photograph wildflowers, March and April are prime time. One of my favorite places to go in the last week of March is a particularly easy boardwalk/trail in Northwest Georgia. The Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail, located at 299 Pocket Road in Chickamauga, is about a two-hour drive from my home in Woodstock. But no matter where you live, it’s worth a trip to the place called “the Pocket.”

The entire walk is just under a mile, including a portion at the end of the boardwalk that takes you to a waterfall at the end of the trail. There are approximately 50 species of wildflowers that can be seen and photographed from the boardwalk and the trail. In addition to the wildflowers, there are also many opportunities for intimate landscapes in this area.

Eastern Red Columbine. Photo by Tom Wilson

Eastern Red Columbine. Photo by Tom Wilson

The days that I typically target to visit this area are March 28-29. To help you plan your visit, you may want to check out this website – The Pocket/Pigeon Mountain | USWildflowers.com Journal – which includes a calendar of blooming dates for various wildflowers.

I tend to take a variety of camera gear with me to the Pocket, including my 70-180 micro Nikkor as well as my Sigma 150mm f2.8 Macro lens. One of the reasons I prefer longer focal length lenses at this location is because you are required to stay on the boardwalk, so sometimes you need a little more reach. I also take the lenses that I use for wide-angle close-up shots.

Dutchman’s Breeches. Photo by Tom Wilson

Dutchman’s Breeches. Photo by Tom Wilson

Additionally, I pack equipment for modifying the light, such as macro flash, reflectors and diffusers. A tripod and remote releases are always in my bag, too. It’s not a bad idea to carry a gardener’s kneepad, because even a boardwalk can start to feel pretty hard if you kneel on it long enough. I’ll also carry the lenses and filters that I use for making landscape photographs, since there are good opportunities in the area.

One of those opportunities isn’t on the property itself. It’s the “Blue Hole” in the Crockford Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area. This natural spring, with its cold, clear water, marks a good starting point for those hiking to Ellison’s Cave, one of the deepest in the continental United States. It’s definitely worth a stop on your way to or from the Pocket. The address is 1399 Blue Hole Rd, #1025, LaFayette, GA 30728.

Blue Hole spring. Photo by Tom Wilson

Blue Hole spring. Photo by Tom Wilson

When I visit the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail, I like to get there early and bring a lunch with me, even if I leave it in the car. As with all nature photography it’s good to have water, raingear, sun protection, bug repellent and any other gear that you carry on outdoor activities. To legally access this area, you need a valid Georgia fishing or hunting license, or the Lands Pass that provides access to state wildlife management areas.

Miterwort. Photo by Tom Wilson

Miterwort. Photo by Tom Wilson

When planning a trip, remember to consider the weather. Overcast conditions can be very good for photographing wildflowers, and those are the kind of days that I tend to favor when picking a time to visit the Pocket. The other element I consider is the wind. If the forecast calls for windy conditions, I will usually try to select a different day to visit there. Photographing wildflowers in windy conditions can be very frustrating, so it’s best to target calmer days. But whenever you go, have fun and enjoy this beautiful place.

 

 

Tom Wilson head shot

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

Here Come The Birds!

Here Come The Birds!

Scarlet Tanager. Photograph by David Akoubian.

By David Akoubian

Each spring, as daytime lengthens and the nights grow shorter, migrating birds return to Georgia. Those that headed south last fall to their winter grounds – some as far away as South America – will begin reappearing in our landscapes, full of color and songs. As nature photographers, many of us strive to capture images of these the birds as they pause on their northward migration, or settle in to take up summer residence.

If you want to make the most of this annual opportunity, here are some ideas to help you attract those birds and bring them closer to your camera…

Black and White Warbler. Photo by David Akoubian.

Black and White Warbler. Photo by David Akoubian.

Whether the birds are returning to their summer breeding grounds or just passing through, how do you get them to stop so you can photograph them? Well, it’s fairly easy – you invite them! Birds prefer environments where they feel are safe from predation, and they will seek out areas that have a safe “feeling.” What do I mean by that? They search for areas where other birds are frequenting, like feeders in yards. Migratory birds as a whole (or at least the Warblers, Vireos and Tanagers) are primarily insect eaters and don’t really land at feeders. Some other birds, like Grosbeaks, will feed alongside your regular birds. But the insect eaters will often fly into a feeder area to see what all the fuss is about. Getting them to stay there long enough for photos is the tricky part.

A few years ago we had our yard certified by the Audubon Society as a Wildlife Sanctuary. To do so, we had to meet certain requirements, like having a food and water source, providing cover, and providing nesting options when possible. Out of all of those requirements, the most important to me is providing cover. We leave brush piles, and have created sections of small trees and shrubs where a bird can hide and feel safe. Once they feel safe, they will explore an area and search for food.

Eastern Bluebird. Photo by David Akoubian.

Eastern Bluebird. Photo by David Akoubian.

This is where it pays off for a nature photographer to create an outdoor “studio.” I usually set up only a few feeders, such as a sunflower seed feeder, a suet feeder and another feeder where I place mealworms and suet nuggets inside. Around those feeders, I place “T” bars driven into the ground, each with a stick, branch or small tree trunk attached to them with wire. The birds will land on these strategically placed posts and wait for their turn at the feeder, or in the case of the migratory birds, will pause to check things out. The reason the posts are important is that birds follow a social tier, with the most dominant birds feeding first, thus the term “pecking order.” It’s when birds land on these posts that I capture most of my images. I also have small trees near the feeder that serve the same purpose. Either place is perfect for creating photos of the birds.

I don’t use a blind when photographing birds; I simply sit on my porch drinking coffee and eating breakfast. Birds get accustomed to you sitting there, and they are unaffected by your presence unless you make any sudden movement. My posts are set up from 8-12 feet away from my seating location (I chose that distance because it’s roughly the minimum focusing distance of my Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens).

When I position my posts, I try to create some separation between the post and the background, which in my case is a row of trees and shrubs. I do this to allow the lens to drop off focus fairly quickly, even at my preferred aperture of f8. To accomplish this, I aim to allow a minimum of 4 feet between the objects. Behind the row of trees and shrubs I have a buffer of 20-40 feet, which will give the background a smooth, out-of-focus pallet of color to create the visual separation needed to make the birds stand out.

Cerulean Warbler. Photo by David Akoubian.

Cerulean Warbler. Photo by David Akoubian.

I prefer longer lenses, like my 150-600mm at 600mm or my 150-500mm at 500mm, when I am creating images in the “studio” area. This approach provides a sharp subject, then drops off to a smooth color background, creating an almost 3D effect. I shoot in manual mode, at f8, and I begin with a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second, with Auto ISO selected. I use the Auto ISO feature simply because the birds are constantly flitting back and forth between light and dark areas, and the variable ISO will help compensate for this. My subjects are mostly front-lit, so this works really well. But if I am shooting in the evening, the subjects can be backlit, so I will step my exposure compensation up +1 to compensate for backlighting. And while shooting I will use either a monopod or a tripod, because the weight of the lens can cause fatigue and shorten your shooting time dramatically.

As the morning goes on I will increase my shutter speed to an eventual 1/1000 of a second if needed. Usually, though, by the time the light warrants even a speed of 1/500, the light is pretty harsh and I am finished for the day.

To help enrich the studio site, I plant flowers around the yard that will attract insects. That’s because attracting insects means attracting things that feed on insects, which includes birds! I let the flowers die and decay in place as well. Why? Decaying plants attract insects, which attracts the birds. Do you see a pattern? I also don’t use any insecticides or pesticides in my yard because – you got it – I want the insects to be there. Each year I get good number of Scarlet Tanagers feeding on Japanese Beetles in the trees and shrubs in the yard, and that is the direct result of inviting the birds into the landscape.

This process will continue until the birds are ready to fly south for their fall migration. Often I see a greater variety of bird species in the fall than in the spring as numbers increase each year. You can pretty much count on the birds that come through one year to return again the next year, as they recognize a safe place where it’s easy to feed. This past summer alone we saw 27 varieties of Warblers, 5 different Vireos, plus Tanagers and Grosbeaks, all from the back porch.

This same setup can be adapted to smaller areas, such as a porch or even a common area in an apartment complex. The payoff can be many hours of photographing a variety of birds, which I find extremely rewarding. And most of what needs to be done actually requires less work than maintaining a pristine garden. So consider “letting things go” a little, and in return you’ll find more birds in your area than ever before.

 

 

David Akoubian is a professional nature photographer and a longtime resident of Georgia. He has been photographing professionally since 1992, and conducts workshops around the U.S. and Iceland. For more details on David and his workshops, check out his website at www.bearwoodsphotography.com. He is also active on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.

Meet A Member

Meet A Member

Jamie Anderson, Coastal Chapter

In our newsletters, we feature short profiles of GNPA members from across the state. In this issue, it’s Jamie Anderson, of the Coastal Chapter.

When did you join GNPA? July 2014

What is your occupation (or former occupation, if retired)? I’m self-employed with two businesses: FCP Computer Services, which is a data processing business, and Coastal Georgia Fine Art Prints (www.CoastalGeorgiaPrints.com) which is my photography business.

How did you get started in photography? I actually got into nature photography when I was a scoutmaster. When digital photography experienced more widespread use around the turn of the century, I started carrying a digital camera and I photographed scouting events like camping trips. Since I was already geared toward the outdoors, I also photographed nature and wildlife. After serving as a scoutmaster, I got a little more serious about it and continued to develop it, upgrade camera equipment and improve my photography skills.

What are your favorite photography subjects? Landscapes with sunrises or sunsets, the Milky Way, and wildlife.

What are some of your favorite places to shoot? I really enjoy shooting the Coastal Georgia barrier islands. We have 100 miles of barrier islands along our coast, but each island is pretty unique. Some are fully developed, some are partially developed, and some are totally undeveloped. The Coastal Georgia area is also rich in historic sites, state parks, wildlife refuges, and is even home to a National Seashore on Cumberland Island. I grew up in Savannah, so I know the area and the local wildlife well, and continue to learn more.

What would be your photographic dream trip”?  Perhaps when I retire, I would love to to take a trip out west to Yellowstone or Yosemite National Park. I’d also like to visit Scotland one day.

Which camera body and lenses do you use most often? I use a Canon 5D II with the Sigma lenses. I like the 24-35mm for landscape and the 150-600 for wildlife.

Do you have a favorite website(s) for photography information? Early on I used www.Digital-Photography-School.com, which is a good resource for all sorts of photography, and is especially good for beginners. I also took the courses available at www.MyPhotoArtisticLife.com, which is more for creating digital fine art work in post processing. The courses there will teach you all the ins and outs of Photoshop, which is good to know even if you don’t use them to create digital fine art. You can also use the tools to enhance and improve your nature photography and make it look more natural. Today, since Covid, I find it hard to keep up with all the information coming out in video. There is plenty available on YouTube, plus ones created by software manufacturers, as well as our own website at www.GNPA.org.

Have any photographers inspired you? I like the work of all of the legendary nature photographers – Ansel Adams, John Shaw and Arthur Morris to name a few. Their work inspires me to keep trying to create better photos. Later photographers like Doug Gardner of the Natural History Channel on Youtube have also inspired me to learn more about nature photography and to get out and shoot and enjoy the experience. His Wild Photo Adventures video series are both instructional and inspirational.

Whats your favorite part of belonging to GNPA? Always learning more. The GNPA has been a place to learn and share information about nature photography and to grow your skills. It’s a place where you can both learn a new skill and then put that skill into practice during a field trip. And, it’s a place where people of all skill levels are welcome.

Something interesting about you that most people don’t know: I used to teach the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge and would bring the scout troop to Ossabaw Island, where they would experience being stranded on a remote island for a weekend.

Where are you from? Born and raised in Savannah, GA.

Tell us a little about the photos you have provided:

Tricolored in the Cattails

“Tricolored in the Cattails”

I captured this image in July 2021 at Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge. Sometimes the herons will try to blend in with their surroundings and camouflage themselves as they hunt along the edge of the pond or lake. This one was doing a good job of blending in with the cattails.

Black Swallowtail

“Black Swallowtail”

This beautiful black swallowtail butterfly was also photographed at Harris Neck last July. I was able to capture this one’s beauty on a thistle bud as it was searching for nectar. It’s an awesome macro photograph that will work quite well as a fine art piece. I captured it with a telescopic lens, because I was out hunting wildlife that day.

Parrish's Mill Covered Bridge

“Parrish’s Mill Covered Bridge”

This scene was photographed in November 2021 near Twin City, Georgia. The covered bridge is located at George L. Smith State Park. It was originally built by Alexander Hendricks and James Parrish who purchased the land to build the needed mill in 1879. It was considered an engineering miracle back in 1880. After only a few months of construction, the base and dam were completed. By the end of the year the covered bridge that would eventually house a sawmill, gristmill and cotton gin were complete. Its gristmill can still be operated today and the sawmill was used well into the late 1800s. The bridge was not closed to automobiles until 1984 and the dam still holds the water for Parrish’s pond.

Exploring The Okefenokee

Exploring The Okefenokee

By Tom Wilson.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Gator Pile Pano

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

Trails are well marked

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

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

Black-crowned Night Heron

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

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

 

Female Needhams Skimmer Dragonfly

 

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

 

 

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

From the President

From the President

Photo by Bill White

New Photographic Opportunities

Bill White
GNPA President

As we head into January, the weather is changing, and so are your photo opportunities. I will be photographing the eagles at Berry College this month, as well as sandhill cranes at the Hiwassee Refuge Overlook in Tennessee. If you’re interested in seeing the cranes, make sure you get there before they depart by the end of this month. (Check Jerry Black’s GNPA article here).

There is also a lot happening within GNPA right now:

  • Our annual election of officers is coming up in March. If you are interested in serving your organization, please let me know.
  • The Seventh Annual “Stand in Ansel Adams’s Footsteps” photography competition will open soon. Make sure you go online and join Meetup for Gwinnett to learn how to submit photographs.
  • We anticipate regular in-person meetings for all chapters beginning in 2022, depending on new variants of Covid-19 and access to our meeting sites. We do not have any set times yet, although some chapters are meeting now.
  • The Programs Committee will continue to bring various webinars and programs to our members through Zoom. Stay tuned for the announcements of upcoming events.
  • Mark your calendars for the 2022 Annual Expo at Jekyll Island, from April 8-11. We anticipate that registration will open in mid-to-late January. We are planning on having some great speakers, including a keynote talk from renowned photographer Arthur Morris. I hope to see you there.
  • The annual North Georgia Shootout competition is scheduled for Saturday, April 30, 2022, so long as Covid does not postpone it. Once again, the GNPA will be putting together a team to compete for fun and prizes. Be sure to check out the website for more information about this event: https://northgeorgiacameraclubcouncil.org/

See you in the field.

— Bill

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