With a tripod in one hand and his trusty Nikon camera in the other, Chris Drummond waited for the light to be just right over Georgia's Flint River — and for the turtles to show up.
Drummond, a business executive, father of three and longtime photography enthusiast, waited a bit longer. Then everything fell into place.
A group of turtles surfaced, lounging on a cluster of rocks in the middle of the fast-flowing river. The sunlight gently reflected off the water.
In the distance, a man began to climb a large boulder at one of the Flint’s most popular diving spots. The turtles faced the man, as if they were spectators at a diving meet.
Snap. Snap. Snap. Perfect.
Drummond was one of about 10 amateur photographers who spent a warm day in May taking pictures at the Flint under the close tutelage of two seasoned professionals: Kathryn Kolb of the Serenbe Photography Center, and Peter Essick, a National Geographic photographer who lives in Stone Mountain, Ga.
The trip marked the launch of a collaborative effort between the Georgia Conservancy and Serenbe Photography Center to offer outdoor photo workshops. A second trip, to the Dawson Forest in north Georgia, was held in late July. A third session is planned in late October at the Pinpoint and Sandfly communities near Savannah.
The Flint trip was also sponsored by the Flint Riverkeepers.
Drummond, 59, grew up near the Flint in Thomaston and has long taken pictures of the river and its environs. But he said the pictures he brought back from the trip in May were among the best he had ever taken.
Drummond, who lives in Cartersville, said Kolb and Essick taught him the value of patience, of waiting to shoot until the lighting is ideal.
“I got more good pictures in those two days than I had in the last two years,” he said.
For the Georgia Conservancy, the trips also offer a chance to raise awareness about important environmental issues. The group has been fighting to stop a proposed damming of the Flint, which is listed as the No. 2 most endangered river in the country.
Will Wingate, Georgia Conservancy’s vice president of advocacy and land conservation, was on hand to deliver a talk about the Flint.
“I really appreciated getting up close and personal with the Flint River and getting to know the issues,” said Stacy Freeman of Atlanta.
“I think choosing locations that have some sort of angle like that, not just places that are pretty to photograph, makes them more interesting to photograph, because you care.”
Dawson Forest was chosen because it has become a battleground of sorts in the tri-state water wars among Georgia, Alabama and Florida. A private developer and public water authority have promoted damming Shoal Creek to create a reservoir to provide water to north Georgia.
A reservoir could affect the Etowah River and divert water from downstream communities, including many in Alabama, and involve a massive transfer of water from the Etowah River basin to the Chattahoochee River basin.
Allie Kelly, senior vice president at the Georgia Conservancy, briefed the group on these issues before the day hike and encouraged the group to get involved by writing local officials in Atlanta and Dawson County.
Freeman said the Flint trip greatly improved her photography skills. She learned that it’s sometimes best to turn her lens on the seemingly little things that are easily ignored.
One of her favorite pictures from the trip turned out to be a close-up shot of fungus on a tree trunk.
“I loved being at the Flint, because there’s so much to take pictures of — butterflies and beautiful plant life,” she said.
Serenbe Photography Center's Kolb recently won a 2010 International Book Award in the nature photography category for her book "Kathryn Kolb Photographs." The award is hosted by JPX media.
Kolb said the photography trips have been incredibly successful.
"The quality of the students' work is fabulous," she said. "These workshops are attracting people who are really interested in making good photographs and working through real-world assignment conditions to get them. And they really enjoy being in natural areas.”
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Thumbnail photo: Allie Kelly/Georgia Conservancy