The Godmother of Nature Photography Day

Shirley Nuhn, the Godmother of Nature Photography Day.

Shirley Nuhn, the Godmother of Nature Photography Day.

On June 15th, photographers the world over will mark Nature Photography Day with photo walks, camera club outings, photography exhibitions, competitions and a host of other activities. This will bring attention to the enjoyment of nature photography and its role in conservation and protecting our natural world.

But how did that occasion start?  Whose idea was it?  And what’s this about a godmother?

Shirley Nuhn has been around NANPA from the beginning. She and her husband, John, had attended a conference at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in fall 1993, where the idea for NANPA was born, and she’s been to just about all the summits, as well as served on NANPA committees.

Shirley had been chairing NANPA’s History Committee since 1996. She had previously worked in promotions for a variety of nonprofit organizations in Wisconsin and knew that many of them had their own commemorative month or week. There was American Heart Month (February) and National Arthritis Awareness Month (May). She learned, too, of Chase’s Calendar of Events, a compendium of historical milestones, famous birthdays, commemorative days, festivals and more.

“Couldn’t we have a day designated for nature photography? I brought up the idea with Jerry Bowman and Francine Butler, NANPA’s executive directors at the time,” she said. “With NANPA’s backing, I started the process of making Nature Photography Day a reality. Also, I thought about timing—for it to be during a month with lots of opportunities for taking photos, like June. Because I didn’t want the special day to be at the beginning or end of the month, I picked the middle.”

In 2005, she sent in the paperwork, and June 15 as Nature Photography Day was authenticated, beginning with Chase’s 2006 edition.  Shirley and her History Committee co-chair, Lynda Richardson, promoted this new event to NANPA members and to the nature photography community.

Ever since then, as each year begins, Shirley spearheads promotions for Nature Photography Day. Through her efforts, she’s become the godmother of Nature Photography Day. Plus, it’s her voice that you hear in the 30- and 60-second public service spots on the web page within NANPA’s website annually.

Shirley envisioned Nature Photography Day as the opportunity to enhance awareness of the power of photography in telling important stories.

“June 15 would be a time to invite family and friends outside and to learn about the natural sights and places in their neighborhoods,” she said. “Why not look to local scenes, where you can see and appreciate nature even in your own backyard?”

Nature Photography Day has appeared in articles on a lot of websites. In 2006, Washington Post columnist John Kelly interviewed Shirley, as did a writer and photographer of the weekly Sun Gazette in Northern Virginia. Later, on his website, broadcaster and musician John Tesh mentioned Nature Photography Day.

Check NANPA's website for ideas on how you can participate in Nature Photography Day.

Check NANPA’s website for ideas on how you can participate in Nature Photography Day.

As the observance continued, the association offered a NANPA members’ event to share photos taken on June 15. But activities soon expanded to include a much broader audience and more activities.

Today, Nature Photography Day has grown into a popular worldwide event.  A Google search of the phrase Nature Photography Day last week returned 229,000 results!  NANPA has some suggestions for what you can do to participate, but the only limit is your imagination.

“Mark Lukes, NANPA’s first president and our friend, offered many of the ideas for celebrating on June 15,” Shirley said.

Shirley grew up in the city of Chicago and lived across from parks during the time she and John lived in Milwaukee after college (they met at Marquette University). But it was after they moved to northern Virginia that they have witnessed wildlife on a more regular basis, from birds to deer to foxes and more, in her yard.  She said she enjoys these creatures, even if they eat some of her plants.

Within her day jobs, Shirley is a writer, editor, professor, podcaster, and researcher. For more than two decades, she has served as faculty in English as a Second Language—mostly oral communications and reading—and composition at Northern Virginia Community College. The experience of teaching has further affirmed the potential impact of Nature Photography Day.

“That first year, in June 2006, my students and I went to the Annandale campus’s Memorial Butterfly Garden. The assignment was to bring our cameras and shoot images of flowers and shrubs. We considered which plants we knew about and which were unfamiliar. Then the task for the next class meeting, the following Monday, was to research those plants. We would talk about our experiences, too.”

Indeed, photographs open doors to rich, deep conversations, no matter which course she has taught.

These days, around the middle of June, you might see a TV meteorologist showing nature photos during a weather forecast, parks and botanical gardens hosting Nature Photography Day events, or talks and photo exhibits in libraries.

Nature Photography Day is a way to connect modern-day nature photographers and everyday folks with cameras to conservationist John Muir, and to photographers like Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson (whose images of Yosemite and Yellowstone, respectively, helped save both places as national parks).  People inspired by Nature Photography Day might just use their photos as a way to contact elected representatives about conservation issues, to reach and educate others about conservation.  It might be their photos that change the world.

That would be just fine with Shirley Nuhn.  She’s aspired to make the world a better place for the students she teaches and for everyone on this planet.

What are your ideas for celebrating Nature Photography Day?