How one hobbyist nature photographer found inspiration and learning at NANPA

View of coastal wetlands from the NANPA Foundation Funded Photo Blind in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, © Chris Herig
View from the NANPA Foundation Funded Photo Blind in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Chris Herig

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Chris Herig has been interested in photography since age nine when she went away to camp for the first time, but she didn’t “get serious,” she says, until much later in life.

“It wasn’t until both of my parents had passed away and no longer needed me that I truly began traveling for pleasure and then eventually traveling longer distances and visiting the places I had only dreamed of, most especially our national parks,” Herig explained. “I started my national park adventure with Grand Teton and then Yellowstone on my 50th birthday!”

Herig registered for a brown bear workshop led by NANPA member (now President) Dawn Wilson and was inspired by Wilson’s 15-month journey traveling across the U.S. by RV. So she joined NANPA and keeps discovering new things.

A photo blind in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

While participating in a NANPA webinar, Herig mentioned that she frequently photographs at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in northern Florida. The refuge is home to numerous waterfowl, hawks, eagles, bobcat, deer, butterflies, alligators and, well, a lot of wildlife. But Herig didn’t realize it is also home to a photo blind funded by the NANPA Foundation.

View of the NANPA Foundation Funded Photo Blind in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, © Chris Herig
View of the NANPA Foundation Funded Photo Blind in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Chris Herig

Like many, Herig was aware of the NANPA Foundation, but not of the Photo Blinds Grants Program. To date, NANPA Foundation funding has helped build 47 blinds in 37 National Wildlife Refuges in 29 different states. Organized groups can apply for a $1,500 grant to build or modify a photo blind at a wildlife refuge, park, or other public natural area.

While Herig was a regular visitor to St. Marks NWR, she was not aware it contained a blind. Not surprising, given that the refuge covers 80,000 acres of coastal marshes, tidal creeks, wetlands, the estuaries of seven rivers, and swaths of longleaf pine spread over three counties and 43 miles of the Gulf Coast. For six months or so, she had been photographing at the refuge, learning the ins and outs of her new camera.

When NANPA asked if she’d look for the St. Marks blind and send photos, Herig jumped at the chance to find a new place to photograph and photograph from. The blind, built in 2005, is still in good condition and has a wonderful view. “I am thrilled that the Foundation funds blinds. I can’t think of a stronger way to promote truly responsible wildlife photography,” says Herig.

Coastal brown bear cubs playing in the grass, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaskka, July 2021© Chris Herig
Coastal Brown Bear Cubs, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska, July 2021© Chris Herig

Portfolio reviews helped improve wildlife photos

After making “that financial leap to travel for wildlife photography and jumping into manual mode,” Herig said, “I needed a whole lot of help.” Luckily, the transition to online learning in 2020 made it easy for her to learn about photography.

“When the NANPA Foundation advertised portfolio reviews, I jumped at a chance to get a baseline for how I was doing,” she said. “At this year’s Summit, I again did a review to see what progress I had made in learning and using manual mode.”

Photo blinds, webinars, inspiring colleagues, and portfolio reviews have certainly won over Herig. “I will continue to support the NANPA Foundation any way I can. I would have to say that the educational opportunities are worth the price of membership, and everything else is just golden light on the subject.”

Osprey, standing on a branch, about to take flight, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, August 2020 © Chris Herig
Osprey, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, August 2020 © Chris Herig

What comes next

“This summer’s trip to Alaska is definitely the pinnacle of my photography and my travels, but it has only increased my thirst!” said Herig.

“I am not pursuing being a professional photographer,” she continued, “but I am a strong advocate for not allowing photos to languish on a card or computer. I make extensive trip books whenever I travel and I make all manner of gifts for friends and family. I never tire of finding new ways to inspire others with what drives my passion to spend hours behind the lens and focus on the positively magnificent wonders and wildlife that surround us.”

A sign points the way towards the photo blind in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Chris Herig
A sign points the way towards the photo blind in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Chris Herig

Send us your photo blind images

If you’re a regular user of one of these blinds, drop us a line. If you haven’t used one, the next time you’re heading out to a National Wildlife Refuge or Reserve, check the NANPA Foundation Photo Blinds Map and see if there’s one where you’re going. We’d love to see photos of what they look like now and hear how you are using them. Send photo blind images to publications@nanpa.org with the subject line “Photo Blind,” and we may include your story in a future blog.