The North American Nature Photography Association is heading up the 8th annual Nature Photography Day, a day to get outside with your camera and explore the beauty that is our natural world.
As NANPA writes on its website, "NANPA encourages people everywhere to enjoy the weekend by using a camera to explore the natural world. A backyard, park, or other place close by can be just right. Walking, hiking, and riding a bike to take photos are activities that don't lead to a carbon footprint. And fresh air can do wonders for the spirit!"
In preparation for the day, I asked a few wildlife photographers what draws them out into backyards and hiking trails and the far-off wilderness to document nature.
Clay Bolt is an avid nature photographer and works on several projects that encourage folks to get to know their wild neighbors. As an Affiliate Council Member at International League of Conservation Photographers, he is well versed in what it means to the human spirit and to the protection of the environment to be out enjoying nature, camera in hand.
He tells me, "When I’m out in the field photographing nature, I am constantly reminded of how incredibly rich life on our planet is. There is so much that we’ve yet to learn and discover and this gives me hope that, despite all of the bad things that affect our world today, there is so much left to cherish and protect. In a time when we’re bombarded by so much negative news, I want to show others through my work that all is not lost."
Neil Losin is another incredible wildlife photographer who offers inspiring words for getting outside with a camera. I asked him what draws him into nature to photograph, and he replied, "I think the ultimate thrill in photography is to slip quietly into the realm of a wild animal, capture a special moment in its life, and leave without unduly influencing that animal's behavior."
You can do this whether you are traveling great distances into silent old-growth forests, or sitting on your porch watching birds at the feeder. It is your chance to be still, and to let things happen around you, being a witness to it while also letting that stillness heal you.
"Nature photography forces you to slow down," Losin tells me. "When you're photographing in nature, you've got to stop moving to take a photo -- you have to stop moving long enough to approach your subject, to compose, to focus, maybe to try a few alternative images. And when you spend all this time with a subject, whether that subject is an animal, a plant, or even a landscape, you start to learn things about your subject, things you might never have noticed if you hadn't stopped. It's this intimate connection to nature that I enjoy the most."
Being active with a camera is a way to become actively involved with nature. Take your camera and use it as an excuse to be out looking for, paying attention to, and thinking deeply about wildlife and wild spaces. But it is also possible to use a camera as a tool for passive interactions as well, as an excuse to go out and simply sit and enjoy.
Recently I shared a concern with my photographer friends that, what if we as a culture have become so obsessed with photographing the world for platforms like Facebook or Instagram that we eventually do not see the world except through a photograph or lens? Morgan Heim, a conservation photographer, responded to my thoughts by telling me of an experience she recently had.
"While shooting a video assignment, I set up my camera for a timelapse and went off to sit in the shade, leaning against a boulder. While I sat waiting, I started to notice the birds singing all around and then a deer walked out of the forest. It had no idea I was there. And I simply sat and watched it go about its life without any awareness that a human was watching. It made me realize how long it had been since I had had an awareness like that. It's so easy to not realize what your missing when you're so focused on photography. I might practice timelapse more often, just to remind myself to sometimes just sit back and be in the moment."
Without the camera, Heim may not have been out there at all, but by setting up the camera and then sitting back, Heim could both experience the joy of photography, and the joy of simply witnessing.
Sitting with a camera, intent on capturing certain images, can get you through to the most amazing moments nature has to offer. Sometimes the moment doesn't come as peacefully as Heim's, but if you wait, it's usually worth it, as this next story shows.
Krista Schlyer, a conservation photographer and an associate fellow photographer with the International League of Conservation Photographers told me, "I just returned from a few days in a longleaf pine forest in North Carolina, photographing carnivorous plants like the venus flytrap, pitcher plant and sundew... I spent an afternoon taking photos as rain poured down intermittently and mosquitoes attacked and chiggers infested my gear, but the beauty of the place held me there. And after a while the rain stopped and the clouds thinned and I lay down in the grass and listened to the wind rustling through the trees and the birds singing and insects chattering all around and my mind just emptied of everything else. I felt connected and at perfect ease, in a way that I only feel when spending time photographing nature. I think by working creatively as a photographer to capture the intricate genius of nature, you can connect in a very unique way to our primal relationship to the planet."
So on Saturday, get outside with your camera -- even if it's simply your trusty iPhone or GoPro -- and head out to your front yard, city park, favorite hiking trail, or way in the backcountry. You can add your photo to NANPA's Facebook page showing what you saw when you went out and let the natural world in.