2013 North American Nature Photographers Association Conference
I’ve just returned from the 20th annual NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) conference that was recently held in Jacksonville, Florida. It was a terrific four days of meetings and seminars, all inspired with the world of nature and photography in mind. NANPA graciously awarded me the 2013 Outstanding Nature Photographer of the Year award. It was a very moving experience and appreciated honor. Thank you NANPA!
For me, NANPA has been an on-again, off-again affair for many years. In theory it was always a great idea but for numerous reasons, I just never embraced the organization as much as I really wanted to. This year may be the turning point for my interest in what really has the potential to be a powerful and FUN group of like-minded individuals who congregate due to a mutual love of photography and the outdoors.
Gone was the often palpable undercurrent of extreme egos. Many of the noted names in the wildlife field were missing. Not once did I see or experience the animosity and antagonism outwardly exhibited at NANPA conferences of the past. It made for a much more relaxing, enjoyable and productive atmosphere and left me feeling like NANPA’s time may finally be coming into its own.
The positive experience most certainly came from the top down, and that was evident by the superb organization we saw this year headed by Jamie Konarski Davidson, Susan Day and Bill Campbell. There were lots of others doing their part to make it all run smooth such as Eric Bowles, Gary Farber, Margaret Gaines, John Lock, Gabby Salazar, Mark Lukes, John Nuhn, Gina Dorworth, Marcy Monkman, Cindy Svec, Sharon Cohen Powers, Julie Schmidt and Jeffery Davidson. My goodness, just typing this list makes me wince. An event this large is a ton of work.
For me, the highlight of the conference was seeing my colleague Art Wolfe work his magic during his presentation for his Lifetime Achievement Award. His presentation, as usual, was filled with amazing imagery, dozens of belly laughs, insightful thoughts and sincere warmth.
Robert Glen Ketchum presented an amazing body of work coordinated with the sounds of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. I was told there were over 1100 people from the Jacksonville community that came out for this performance. What a phenomenal way to get the NANPA name out in front of the general public.
A NANPA conference wouldn’t be complete without reaching out to local NANPA members from within. Friday evening with Clyde Butcher, the grand old man of the Florida swamps, proved to be a spectacular show for all those in attendance. Finally, James Balog’s tireless work to document the melting glaciers of the world was on stage in a big way with a private screening of his new movie Chasing The Ice.
There were a lot of others offering their expertise to the several hundred NANPA members in attendance. It began with Advance Your Skills Boot Camp lead by Lewis Kemper, George Lepp, Tony Sweet, Mike Moats and Greg Downing. The last day included several workshops on ways to Advance Your Business as a working pro or individuals who are interested in earning income from photography. John Harrington gave one of the most amazing tutorials on negotiating contracts I have ever seen and I’ve been to a lot of seminars on this exact subject. He was terrific.
The exhibit hall had a great collection of vendors though I was astounded at the names that were missing. Where in the heck was Nikon? Canon was there in a big way. They had all their huge glass, a sample or two of all models of the more serious cameras, one of their large format printers and three or four staff to handle all of the questions. I am just astounded at the support Canon gives the conservation community and I offer my deepest respect and appreciation for what they do.
Olympus was showing their newest models in the Micro Four Thirds world. Sigma had a grand booth and my goodness, Sigma has some amazing new lenses. The newest 120-300 F/2.8 looks and feels equal to or better than any lens I’ve seen from ANY camera manufacturer in the business today. Sigma is becoming a force to be reckoned with. What a beautiful lens. Now if they would just give us Image Stabilization in that monster 300-800 zoom they have.
Also in attendance were smaller vendors such as MK Controls, the folks that make the Lightning Bug™, an automated shutter trigger system
used to photograph lightning and fireworks.
Cosmos BLS was in attendace showing their line of high quality books they’ve done for self-publishing photographers.
Acratech had a booth with a dozen or more products that defy the traditional ball head concept.
Mindshift Gear was showing off the new combination backpack/fanny pack they’re in the process of bringing to market. The quality material and craftsmanship of this product is better than anything I’ve seen in camera packs on the market.
Gary Farber from Hunt’s Photo was there as usual, seemingly always on the job. If there is any harder worker in the world of photo sales I’ve not met them. I had a chance to stop and say hello to Gary and he was as easygoing and enjoyable to talk to as ever. If you’re buying all your gear from B&H or Amazon, give Gary a try. He works tirelessly and is a super nice guy. All that and his prices are very competitive.
CamRanger had a booth where they were highlighting their new iPad app that allows you to run a Nikon or Canon camera remotely. Their booth was swamped and I just about didn’t get one of their new devices. It’s a great new tool for the images we all want to capture where the animals are completely unaware of our camera’s presence. The iPad app allows you to logon to your Nikon or Canon camera to see the image the camera sees and to fire as well as change almost all controls remotely. It created quite a stir. I bought one for my Nikons although I hesitated slightly since my new Panasonic GH3 has this exact same feature built directly within the body itself. With the Cam Ranger I’ll have the same capabilities for both systems.
John Martin from the Images for Conservation Fund was on the job again this year. John is one of the best sales guys I’ve ever met and I mean that in nothing but a positive manner. He’s as enthusiastic as anyone you’ll ever meet about the possibilities to photograph wildlife and nature in the wilds of Texas and he does it in a soft and gentle southern way with a big smile and lots of laughter. I just have to find the time to head south and take him up on the offer to comes see his prized ranches that have amazing wildlife photography opportunities.
Gura Gear was sharing some space with the folks from NatureScapes. Gregory Schern from Gura Gear seems to be a terrific guy. He and I had some great conversations about how to try and snare better sponsorship for NANPA. I’m hopeful to continue that conversation over the next few months. He had a deep collection of his new bags in a couple of different colors.
Barry Walton was showing his invention of a portable, easy to break down and transport, multimedia screen. I plan to buy one of these devices for the ability to have something to project on in the field. Take a look, it’s quite portable and is made of a material with considerably better attributes for a quality image compared to something like a wall or bed sheet. Yes, I’ve used both walls and bedsheets for teaching the ins and outs of Aperture and Lightroom.
Panasonic sent down long-time professional and industry rep Thomas Curley to investigate the possibilities. We had a nice dinner with Tom one evening where I was able to share some of my thoughts on the Lumix line of cameras I’ve been shooting for the past four years. Tom was with Fuji for many, many years and was recently hired by Panasonic to lead a new department dedicated to professionals.
Frontier’s North Adventures had their beautiful booth on full display. John Gunter was on the job showing NANPA members the tremendous opportunities FNA offers for those wanting the ultimate experience in polar bear viewing at the Llegendary Cape Churchill. John and I spent about an hour one afternoon showing photos, answering questions and announcing free key lime pie that was being handed out right next to our presentation area. Man, polar bears and key lime pie were an appealing combination for attracting people to the show.
I finally got a chance to meet our friends from Nik Software including Laurie Shupp. Laurie was there showing the amazing Nik Software that I’ve been working with for several years now. My favorite option in the Nik software is their U-Point Technology. It’s a phenomenal tool for making subtle to radical changes in your images. I’m more interested in the subtle options which allows me creative control normally provided by Photoshop. Not being a fan of Photoshop, Nik, along with Aperture and Pixelmator, give me all the tools I need to fine-tune my pictures. When I say fine-tune, I’m talking about tweaking color balance, reducing highlights, increasing detail in shadows, sharpening and other traditional methods of finalizing an image for publication. She had all the options such as Viveza, Nik Sharpener, HDR PRO and several others. The Nik plugins for Aperture are my favorite way to work with Nik. Oh, I almost forgot Snapseed. Fabulous piece of software for the iPad.
The portfolio & editorial review program was back by popular demand. This program allows a photographer to have a 30 minute critique session for a portfolio of images with a NANPA professional photographer, editor or agent. This has always been a popular part of the NANPA experience. Some of the reviewers included John Nuhn, Photo Editor of National Wildlife Magazine, Rob Shepard who was an editor for many years at Outdoor Photographer, Miriam Stein, freelance photo editor for National Geographic books and children’s publications and Stacy Frank from Minden Pictures. All these folks and many others are professionals in the field of photography and provided an exceptional service to NANPA members.
I’m full of hope for NANPA. The positive things they could accomplish are literally infinite. The time is right for this organization to use its numbers and influence to help attract the tens of thousands, possibly millions, of new photographers who have embraced the love of digital photography. Gone are the days of a few individuals roaming the planet, documenting the natural world, then returning with their pictures to share with others via magazines books and maybe a calendar or two.
Today, the readers and viewers of the past are now the photographers themselves. It may be a challenge to see how our natural world can handle more and more individuals wanting to experience what we professionals have been seeing for decades. But it’s a challenge we have to embrace and work with. The value of creating a world of nature enthusiasts is just too great to ignore.
If you haven’t thought about joining NANPA in the past, give it some thought now. If we could build the numbers of this organization it could truly do some wonderful things. I’m hopeful their step towards the direction of embracing conservation issues is one that will continue to flourish. If not I may rethink my enthusiasm. But if enough of us join to encourage them to follow this path as well as join them in their quest to teach and mentor, it could be a great thing for everybody involved. I had a great time and you could do the same at the next conference.
Take a look at the NANPA organization for yourself and make a commitment to become a better photographer and conservationist all in one fell swoop.