Trail cameras, also known as trail cams and camera traps, can be a great way of capturing images of elusive animals, as well as candid photos of more common critters. Getting started requires a fair amount of gear, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. And, like almost anything in photography these days, there’s a bit of a learning curve. I recently spoke with Maryland-based nature photographer Mark Hendricks about how and why he uses trail cams.
NANPA member Wendy Shattil is a full-time professional wildlife photographer with a list of accomplishments as long as your arm. She’s no stranger to awards and photo competitions, having won her first (of many) awards back in 1972. But did you know she was one of the people most responsible for creating NANPA’s Showcase photo competition, which grew out of a member photo slideshow at the 1999 NANPA Summit? She continues to be involved in the competition and administers the entire process. So, who better to give you some tips for selecting your best images, insight into the judging process and the critical role that good captions play.
Our headlights cut through the darkness as we wind down the Blue Star Memorial Highway through the Lapanza Range of mountains. Just before nautical twilight ascends onto the earth, we pull into the parking area marked with an old vintage American water pump windmill. It’s good to have a landmark for our location. Out of the blackness, barely visible to the naked eye, carpets of Gold Fields speckled with Tidy Tips and patches of Baby Blue Eyes, glisten with the newly-dropped dew. Arriving 30 minutes before the scheduled meet up time, Bob and I set up and prepare to greet the members of our 367 strong NANPA Meetup Group of the Central Coast of California. Usually we have about 40 people RSVP, around 30 will actually make an event. Goodness knows what we would do if all 367 members showed up. Today we are gathering to photograph the wildflowers along Highway 58 and Carrizo Plain super bloom. Distant headlights begin to appear down Highway 58 coming in our direction. Members are beginning to show, and soon our meet up will begin.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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
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.
Crowds of tourists and photographers start to gather by Delicate Arch hours before sunset.
Story & photo by Frank Gallagher
Where do you draw the line between access and preservation? At what point does introducing a larger number of visitors to the wonders of nature start to endanger that very nature? It’s a tough call and one that land owners, government agencies and photographers are facing every day.
Stories of hordes of Instagrammers descending on the super bloom attracted world-wide attention, including The Guardian from the UK. (Screen grab.)
California is in the midst of a wildflower super bloom and, along with vast fields of poppies come unruly hordes of people. The small town of Lake Elsinore was overwhelmed by “Disneyland size crowds” of up to 50,000 tourists last weekend, resulting in traffic jams, accidents and unruly behavior. “#poppynightmare” as one town official put it. This kind of chaos risks placing these locations off limits to everyone, including photographers.