Photographing Wood Warblers

Palm warbler on a branch
Palm warbler

Story & Photos by Tom Haxby

If you ever want a challenging photo subject, try wood warblers. These small, fast-moving birds are the ultimate test of being able to quickly track and capture a photo. The other hurdle with capturing warblers is that they are frequently found in thick vegetation. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a branch or leaf in just the wrong place. But persistence and lots of practice can eventually pay off with a fantastic image of a compelling subject. 

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Connections

A Roseate Spoonbill landing on a tree.
Roseate Spoonbill

Story & photo by Tom Haxby, NANPA President

NANPA recently held two online town hall meetings with our members; one with professional nature photographers and the other with enthusiasts. These meetings and a recent e-mail discussion thread among our board members are part of our ongoing search for the answer to one question: How do we better connect with our nature photography community, both professional and enthusiast? 

The reality is that this pandemic crisis has given members of the board of directors and staff time to slow down and think about where we are as an organization and where we are headed, and maybe that is not a bad thing.  And, much like the photo of the roseate spoonbill landing, it may be awkward, but we will get it done.

Questions

How can we stay connected with nature through our photography when our ability to safely venture outside of our homes has been curtailed? How do we connect with other nature photographers who share our passion and inspire us when our opportunities to meet through regional events, meetups and nature photography celebrations have been suddenly swept away? 

Eventually, we will get beyond this crisis and will again be able re-establish our connection with nature, cameras in hand, as well as network in-person with our fellow nature photographers.  By this time next year (April 28-May 2, 2021), many of us will be finally gathering in Tucson, AZ, at the NANPA Summit to again meet and greet our fellow nature photographers. 

Beyond the short term, there are longer-term questions, such as how can NANPA engage a wider audience in sharing and caring about nature through photography?  And especially, how can NANPA successfully connect with the younger generation faced with living most of their lives in an increasingly stressed natural world?  These long-term questions are the ones that are the most difficult to answer.

A few particular questions in the town hall meetings resonated with me. From the enthusiasts’ town hall meeting:

Does NANPA have a mentoring program? While NANPA does not have an official mentoring program, NANPA members often network to find others with similar areas of interest who may be willing to share their skills and experience. During these weeks that we’re unable to network in person, you may want to explore the member directory to look for nature photographers near you. Find a few and look at their websites. Follow them on social media and/or subscribe to their email lists. Meeting virtually in this way can put yourself in a good position to introduce yourself in person when restrictions are lifted. If you aren’t sure how to use the member directory in this way, this tutorial can help:

Does NANPA have a way for those with limited mobility to participate in photography events? This is something that the board has discussed, and I believe we can and should find a way to accommodate those who may have physical limitations. Our regional event in Badlands National Park, May 31-June 3, 2021, is wheelchair friendly, and that’s moving in the right direction.

And from the town hall meeting for professionals:

How can professionals increase their visibility? Our reach in several programs goes well beyond our members, making these excellent opportunities to get noticed. For example, anyone who belongs to NANPA’s Facebook Group can post images there, but NANPA members can also share promotional posts once a week when their membership number is included (check the group rules for specifics).

Host an Instagram takeover of NANPA’s account, and/or tag your Instagram photos with #NANPApix for an opportunity to be featured in our Instagram feed.

Write blog posts, give a webinar, and submit photos for the Showcase competition. Showcase winners are featured throughout the year on our website and social media accounts and are published in Expressions.

Why NANPA?

Unlike other photography organizations, NANPA is solely dedicated to nature photography.

Perhaps you enjoy using your photography to further conservation. Personally, NANPA has opened my eyes to how photography can tell a story about a conservation issue. That is why we published our Conservation Handbook and why we added a category in our Showcase competition for conservation photography. 

Maybe you believe in our advocacy efforts to protect the rights of photographers or that educating photographers about ethics in nature photography is needed now more than ever.

Perhaps being a member means that you can purchase good insurance for your valuable photography gear. Improving your photography skills is a common desire of NANPA members, and there are many opportunities to improve your photography skills through online webinars, regional events, summits and our blog posts. 

Perhaps as a professional, being a NANPA member increases your visibility. Publications such as our soon-to-be published handbook Make It Work: The Business of Nature Photography, helps established professionals reach new audiences and will give every photographer ideas and tools for improving your nature photography business.

Maybe the biggest benefit you get is just being part of a network of photographers with a passion for being out in nature and sharing the beauty and awesomeness of nature in photographs.  Could it be that you just love nature and photography, and that is reason enough to want to join with NANPA in celebrating and promoting the joy and satisfaction of nature photography?

Whatever your reasons for belonging to NANPA, the board of directors, staff and many volunteers are working hard to make NANPA the place where you can connect with nature while connecting with a community of nature photographers.

Creating Your Own Wildlife Photo Habitat

A monarch butterfly on a flower.
The striking and photogenic monarch butterfly.

Story & photos by Tom Haxby

We are all staying much closer to home these days, yet the need to connect with nature through our photography is needed now more than ever. One way to do so is to create a wildlife photo habitat in your yard. This is how I came to create a habitat for monarch butterflies in my northern Michigan yard.

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Membership Has Benefits Beyond the Obvious

Photo of a bird in a tree by Tom Haxby.
Photo by Tom Haxby.

By NANPA President Tom Haxby

Fellow board member Lisa Langell recently shared with me a member survey from another photography organization which had been used to assess their member benefits and services. Serendipity, perhaps, because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the benefits of being a NANPA member.

More than Pretty Pictures

When I joined NANPA just over 10 years ago, I did so because I was interested in nature photography and believed membership could help me improve my photographs. But I discovered that NANPA is about more than just taking better nature photos.

At the NANPA Summit in Jacksonville in 2017, and again in Las Vegas in 2019, I learned that nature photography is about more than just pretty pictures. It’s also about using photos to affect change.

In Jacksonville, Clyde Butcher spoke about efforts to save Florida’s natural areas and shared his own conservation work. His presentation was complemented by a video, created by NANPA’s Summit College Photography Scholarship Program participants, about attempts to connect these areas to create greenway corridors.

Several of the presentations in Las Vegas on conservation challenges in the Arctic were really eye-opening. Other Summit presenters like Clay Bolt and Andrew Snyder inspired me with their work on rare, threatened and endangered species through the Meet Your Neighbours technique. Because of them, I now have my own Meet Your Neighbours setup. 

I’ve seen how conservation photography can make a difference. Want to get started? NANPA’s recently-published Conservation Handbook is available to anyone interested in learning how. Find it in the Members’ Area of the NANPA website or click below.

Cover of the NANPA Conservation Photography Handbook

Ethics and Advocacy

Speaking of handbooks, we currently have available on our website a guide to the Principles of Ethical Field Practices. But that is just the beginning! NANPA has undertaken a much more extensive project to create a handbook on the ethics of nature photography. Your membership helps support large undertakings such as this that will allow NANPA to take a leadership role in educating photographers on ethics. Quite frankly, this is very much needed as the overzealous pursuit of nature and wildlife photos threatens both scenic places and the plants and animals we love photographing. And bad behavior threatens continued access to these places by photographers.

Your membership has also helped support our work on behalf of the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019 (CASE Act of 2019). If passed by Congress and signed into law, the CASE Act would provide photographers with the option of pursuing infringers in a small claims-type of process instead of federal district court. Read more about how the CASE Act will help photographers

Friendship and Networking

I will always remember the NANPA Regional Events that I attended in the Smokies and Upper Peninsula of Michigan—for the great images and friendships made. It will be my great pleasure to now be a regional event leader, myself, in the Smokies this spring with Hank Erdmann. NANPA has many more Regional Events scheduled for all levels of photographers in various parts of the country.

There are larger events, too, that offer many of the same benefits but on a bigger scale. Just around the corner is our second Nature Photography Celebration in Asheville, NC, April 19-21. These Celebrations provide opportunities for shooting, interaction with vendors, learning, networking and more. Asheville is a great place to be in April.

Travel and Equipment Insurance

As I move about the country with my photo gear in airports, cars, and on location, I am thankful that I have insurance on my photography equipment underwritten by Chubb in association with NANPA. You can find information about this and all the other NANPA member benefits in the Members’ Area of the website.

And Taking Better Pictures, Too

All that being said, my membership has also helped me improve my nature photos, just as I originally anticipated when I joined.

During my time with NANPA, I have entered the Showcase Competition, and I have been fortunate to have a few photos published in Expressions. (It’s a great source of ideas and inspiration so order your copy now!) This gave me confidence that I could get great images because, the reality is, if you want to be taken seriously as a nature photographer, quality matters.

I have attended many memorable webinars, both live and recorded. These sessions are free for members and a great way to learn or refresh photography skills. Best of all, you can participate at your own convenience, from wherever you are. Our next webinar, sponsored by Tamron on February 13 is Getting the Most from Your Long Lens with Bob Coates. Sign up or watch a recording of a previous webinar in the Members’ Area.

Sandhill Cranes flying together © Bob Coates.
Sandhill Cranes © Bob Coates.

Portfolio reviews, offered at each Summit hosted in odd-numbered years, provide another opportunity for learning from industry professionals including but not limited to agents and editors. We are currently working on logistics for our next Summit in Tucson in 2021, so stayed tuned for that.

Blog articles are yet another source of education and inspiration, and I especially enjoyed the recent article by Bill Palmer on Chasing Spring Warblers. There will be plenty of warblers—and photographers—at this year’s Biggest Week in Birding Festival at Magee Marsh in Ohio at which, by the way, you can find the NANPA booth. Note that our blog is separate from our regular member and non-member news lists, so if you do not already get NANPA blog posts in your email, you can subscribe on the right hand side of any of them (including this one).

Perhaps you might be interested in submitting a blog post too. What a great chance to expose your photos (pun intended) and stories to fellow NANPA members. Just send a note to publications@nanpa.org. That’s what we mean when we talk about “sharing” within NANPA. Everyone is both a teacher and student here.

That’s true regardless of age. As I highlighted in last month’s blog post, young nature photographers are becoming members and getting opportunities through NANPA’s high school and college scholarship programs, both of which are made possible in part due to your support of the NANPA Foundation. By the way, the Foundation’s Online Auction has some great items up for bidding starting February 3rd.  All proceeds go towards funding Foundation programs.

What Will You Do?

Gordon Illg has been known to tell me that I ramble, so I need to wrap up. But there really is a lot going on at NANPA, and I hope that you will take advantage of the opportunities. We are working hard to make NANPA a place for nature photographers to achieve all of their nature photography dreams. What will you do this year to help you reach yours?

Exclusive opportunity for NANPA members

Laptop on desk showing NANPA website

NANPA members are encouraged to share stories, tips, and how-to articles on our blog. Not as gifted at writing as you are photography? No problem. We can help you craft a post.

From the President: Come to Asheville in the Springtime

Foothills Sunrise view.
Foothills Sunrise

Story & photos by Tom Haxby

Winter will soon be upon us and while many photographers revel in the unique opportunities for winter photography, I always look forward to spring in the southern Appalachian Mountains with my camera in hand. My annual visits there quite literally put a spring in my step. Birds sing for mates from the newly green trees, waterfalls flow from spring rains, flowers bloom in profusion and it seems that the whole world is new again.

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From the President: NANPA Upper Peninsula Regional Event

Colorful fall foliage in the UP.
Colorful fall foliage in the UP.

Story & photos by NANPA President Tom Haxby

On the first evening of the NANPA Regional Event from October 3-6 in the Munising area of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, 22 NANPA members met as strangers with a common interest in photography. By the end of the event we were no longer strangers. 

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From the President: Photography with a Purpose

Loss of habitat is one of the major causes for the decline in Monarch butterfly numbers.
Loss of habitat is one of the major causes for the decline in Monarch butterfly numbers.

Story & photo by Tom Haxby

Once, in a tongue-tied moment, I used the phrase “photography with a porpoise”, but what I really meant to say was “photography with a purpose”. In the tradition of Ansel Adams, Phillip Hyde, George Masa (yes, you may have to look him up) and a long list of photographers who have utilized their photography to advocate for conservation of wildlife and landscapes, NANPA photographers continue to use photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation, and environmental protection – yes, part of our mission statement.

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Six weeks in the Smokies as artist-in-residence

Story and photography by Tom Haxby

It was my dream come true to have been the Artist in Residence as a photographer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for six weeks from September through November of 2016. I have been to the park many times and I would never have imagined having this opportunity. My background as a natural resource manager for 26 years along with my passion for photography helped to secure the chance to take photographs for an entire season in one of the most picturesque national parks. For me, it was about more than just taking photos. I wanted to take the time to gain a greater understanding of the park.

Oncoaluftee Watershed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All landscape photos seen in this article were taken with a Nikon D800 and this assortment of lenses: 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. All were on a tripod. © Tom Haxby

Oncoaluftee Watershed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All landscape photos seen in this article were taken with a Nikon D800 and this assortment of lenses: 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. All photos were taken on a tripod.
© Tom Haxby

The National Park Service, the Friends of the Smokies and the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts sponsor the artist program in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Continue reading

Superior Photo Destination: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Story and Photography by Tom Haxby

Council Lake

Early winter snow contrasts with fall color on Council Lake in the Hiawatha National Forest. © Tom Haxby

If you seek a remote place for wild and scenic photographic opportunities, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, known as the “UP” to locals, is one of those below the radar places with something for almost any photographer. This narrow peninsula is bounded by the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan to the south and the scenic Lake Superior coast forms the northern boundary. Continue reading