On Tuesday, August 19, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge held a Nature Photography Workshop in the Refuge Auditorium for aspiring nature photographers. The workshop featured professional nature photographers, Jay Fleming and April Abel, who provided tips and suggestions to workshop attendees.
The first half of the program provided information to those in attendance regarding how to take good nature shots and provide them with tips on improving those photos. The second half of the workshop, Abel and Fleming viewed photos that the photographers shot and provided them with insight on how to improve them.
April Abel, who is the Exhibits Coordinator for the Delaware State Parks System, began her photography career late in life. She picked up a digital camera for the first time in 2009 when she began studying for a Media Arts Degree at Wesley College. In the spring of 2012, she set out to photograph the marshes and wildlife of central Delaware capturing images of the coastline, the sunrises and sunsets, and the migratory birds, otters, muskrat, and deer that make their home there.
“It is important to understand not only how to take pictures, but why we take them,” Ms. Abel said. “Pictures document events, capture beauty and give others the sensation of ‘wow’ we feel when we see something we like. A photograph translates our excitement about something we see to others.”
Ms. Abel showed many of her photographs, some of which have been used commercially. She enjoys photographing in the early morning and says many of her most successful photos were taken on days when she thought the weather was uncooperative. She told those in attendance that they should not discount rainy or foggy weather when they decide to venture out to take photographs of nature.
“Often, fog can add elements to a photo you cannot get on a clear day,” she explained. She also provided the amateur photographers with tips on settings for shooting white birds or animals, also pointing out that a lot of her winter scenes were in black and white. Ms. Abel said that to get good photos of nature, photographers had to go where the birds and animals are, but that it was important to stay a safe distance from any wildlife.
“The safe distance from a beached seal is 50 yards,” Ms. Abel explained, showing a photo she took of a small seal reclining on the beach. “You can’t get a good shot with a cell phone from that distance. When taking nature photos, it is critical that you remember that we are the guests in nature. At no time, should you harass or bother a bird or animal just to get the shot.”
Jay Fleming, the son of well-known photographer Kevin Fleming, said that his father would give him his old equipment to keep him busy while Jay was on photo shoots with him. Jay says that he started learning photography using film and that the fact that he was limited to only 32 or 36 shots helped hone his skills in nature photography.
“Digital cameras have revolutionized photography,” Mr. Fleming explained. “When you can take thousands of shots and see your results immediately, you are more likely to experiment and go for it than you would with film.” Mr. Fleming said that his first underwater shoot was in Rehoboth Bay, which is one of the few relatively clear bodies of water in the area. As his skills grew, he began to travel and learned that clear water is one of the most critical elements in underwater photography when using natural light.
Mr. Fleming said that local areas where the water is clear include the Susquehanna River and Deep Creek after long dry periods, as well as local mill ponds. Areas around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and some spots in Cape Henlopen State Park also offer good opportunities for underwater photography. He also enjoys shooting in grass beds in the Chesapeake Bay in the spring and fall.
“Try to stay in shallow areas so that you can bounce natural light off the subject or objects around them,” Mr. Fleming explained. “One reason that grass beds are a great place for underwater shoots is that the grass filters out sediment.” Unlike nature photography, Mr. Fleming says that it is important to get close to the subject to take clear photos and avoid sediment. He uses a wide angle fish-eye lens for many of his photos. He pointed out that the camera lens is magnified by 25 percent when underwater, so photographers should keep that in mind when shooting.
“Waterproof housings are not cheap and they do require certain maintenance,” he said. “It is critical to maintain the O-ring on the housing as this is what keeps your camera dry. Being able to place my camera at the water’s surface, or shoot when water is splashing in a boat allows me to provide interesting effects in my photographs.”
Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge is currently accepting entries for the Friends of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge’s 11th Annual Nature Photography Contest. The contest is open to all nature photographers with separate categories for students. Deadline for entries is October 11 and the photographs will be on display from October 18 until December 14. For more information, individuals can visit www.fws.gov/refuge/prime_hook/.