Artistic Pelican Photo Drives Social Media Engagement

Photo of a pelican floating on water that reflects tjhe colors of nearby boats. © Susan Manley
Pelican © Susan Manley

Interview with Susan Manley

NANPA member Susan Manley lives in Maywood, close to Los Angeles, California. When she posted this photo (of a pelican in water that was reflecting colors from a nearby boat) in NANPA’s Facebook group, she wasn’t thinking it would be one of the top performers. But it generated a lot of engagement, garnering more than 700 likes, 37 shares and 128 comments. With almost 21,000 members and dozens of posts each day, it isn’t easy to generate a lot of buzz there but, with the right kind if image, it’s possible. In a continuing exploration of what drives social media engagement, we checked in with Susan.

A little background

Photography has been a main part of my life for more than 35 years. My career consisted mainly working in a communications department writing, photographing, and publishing public relations and photojournalism stories. After I retired about 10 years ago, my focus changed primarily to nature photography. Initially, I shot local city scenes and, soon afterwards, landscapes took top priority. That is until I became involved with wildlife. My favorite species are brown bears in Alaska and grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, although I love a lot of other animals. When I am not able to travel, I like to shoot waterfowl and birds in flight.

It has been a long journey from the film days. I used to take photos with a point and shoot camera and wanted to improve the quality of my photos, so I purchased my first SLR camera. I entered a photo contest at the L. A. Open golf tournament, competing against pros and amateurs. I won some top prizes with photos I took of Bob Hope and Jack Lemmon. That gave me a lot of confidence to later pursue my career in a communication department. Those were the days of all manual settings and before auto-focus.

About this photo

When I retired, I bought a Nikon DSLR. With my camera in hand, I was at a local marina, walking on a boardwalk, when I saw a pelican swimming in brightly colored water. At first I thought it was an oil spill or chemicals and was worried about the pelican. Then, much to my relief, I realized the colors were simply reflections of a nearby boat. I thought they would make a unique background for the pelican, especially since red and green are complimentary colors.

Due to encouragement in an online class by award-winning photographer Tin Man Lee, I posted my photo in NANPA’s Facebook group. Much to my surprise, I had a lot of favorable responses! Some people even shared my photo in Audubon clubs!

What made the photo resonate with viewers

I have received the most reactions to photos that have a unique look to them. It was interesting to see a variety of comments, such as “it looks like a painting” or an “abstract.” That “artistic” element probably got viewers’ attention. And then there’s the mystery of where the colors are coming from. If I first thought they might have been from an oil spill, others will wonder about the source of the colors, too.

I was surprised to learn that people live in so many areas of the United States where there are pelicans. So, part of the attraction might be that it’s a common bird that many people have seen.

I was amazed to see that one person was inspired to use a similar technique to shoot his own pelicans in boat reflections. Perhaps people liked it because it was a technique they could experiment with and use themselves.

What’s next

In retirement, I shoot for my own pleasure. So far, I haven’t posted many photos. I have received some favorable results in the few contests I have entered. And I had further encouragement from portfolio reviews when I attended the 2019 NANPA Summit in Las Vegas.

I belong to the Los Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club Camera Club. For the future, I would like to take some photos that help conservation efforts.

Two female members in the field looking at images