Saturday, March 16

NANPA Summit - Jacksonville, FL

Least Sandpiper
Conferences have the potential to change your life - if it goes well, you come home inspired and you've met great people -- maybe even someone who you're excited to keep in touch with for the rest of your life.  It can be totally thrilling.  I knew that when I heard that I'd been selected to attend the North American Nature Photography Association's (NANPA) Summit in Jacksonville, as part of their College Scholarship Program - but those few days vastly exceeded my expectations.

Twelve of us, graduate and undergraduate students from across North America, eventually converged on Big Talbot Island, after a series of flight delays and cancellations.  For the first part of the week, we would be staying in a house owned by the North Florida Land Trust, and spending all of Wednesday and Thursday shooting people and places on the island.

Tricolored Heron
Big Talbot Island is one of several state parks in the Jacksonville metro area, which together comprise the largest urban park system in the country - a whopping 28,000 acres. Big Talbot itself is unique in many respects. It stands as one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on the eastern seaboard, and consequently hosts an exceptional diversity of habitats. Its eastern beaches bear the brunt of the Atlantic's relentless weathering, a fact evident in the scattered skeletons of dead oaks and rapid dune erosion along the beaches' length.

Dead Tree Beach
As a barrier island, Big Talbot serves to protect the mainland from these same eroding forces, a function which may become increasingly valuable in the face of rising seas and more frequent hurricanes.  With diminished wind and salt damage, the leeward side of the island reminds one of the Florida that early settlers and Timucuan Indians would have recognized: a rich, subtropical ecosystem dominated by old growth oak forests draped in spanish moss.  The island also allows a vast saltmarsh system to exist on its western side, which in turn acts as a nursery for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl and local wading birds, as well as huge fisheries which carry  significant economic value to the Jacksonville area.  Big Talbot Island is just one of seven state parks within driving distance of Jacksonville's 1.3 million residents. That's a lot of people, and a lot of potential for popular support of these protected areas.

Live Oak forest along the northeast shore of Big Talbot
During our two days on the island, we explored this diverse array of habitats, interviewed a diverse array of people who enjoy them, and collected as many photographs and video clips as we could to tell a story about the Island's importance to the Jacksonville area.  During the following days at the NANPA Summit, we compiled our work and edited the story.  Between shooting, attending talks, and editing, this amounted to about four hours of sleep each night.  It was completely exhausting, and entirely worth it.
Filming interviews on Big Talbot Island - Photo © Mark A. Larson
Last minute edits - Photo © Mark A. Larson
Shooting at Big Talbot Island was an awesome experience, learning to coordinate the efforts of a dozen people to get the coverage we would need to tell a story. But the Summit itself was incredible, too, thanks so much to the team of mentors and coordinators of the College Scholarship Program.  We had amazing opportunities to meet with some of the world's leading wildlife and conservation photographers, and talking through project ideas with the people who have found ways to make these things work in fabulous ways was truly inspiring.

If you or anyone you know has an interest in a career in nature or conservation photography, do not miss the chance to apply for this scholarship!  The information you need is here.

Below is the short video that we produced for the North Florida Land Trust and Florida State Parks.

I'm now sitting in the Syracuse Airport, less than two weeks after the NANPA Summit, headed off to the Mojave Desert and surrounding areas in southern California, as part of a Cornell Lab of Ornithology expedition to film and record high desert breeding birds and their environment.  More on this soon, hopefully!


  1. Great Photos and I really love the shot of the Tricolored Heron that you have. I was hoping to get in touch with you but couldn't find any contact info on your site. I hope to hear from you.

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