Whether you are a professional wildlife photographer or just want to learn more about nature photography, there is a Rio Grande Valley organization that welcomes all who are interested in the outdoors. Texas Nature and Environmental Photographers, TexNEP, is dedicated to enhancing appreciation of the South Texas wildlands.
"We call it the TexNEP organization and everybody is welcome," said President Ruth Hoyt. "We try to bring anybody interested in the outdoors together. We have people that shoot little point and shoot cameras, and we have people who shoot professionally and everybody in between."
Hoyt is an accomplished professional wildlife photographer, and her work has appeared in numerous magazines and books. She moved to the Valley from Missouri six years ago, and soon began teaching photography classes. Her students wanted to start a camera club, and Hoyt told them about an organization she had formed back home called Missouri Nature and Environmental Photographers or MoNEP. Her Valley students thought that sounded like a good idea for South Texas. In July of 2001 they started TxNEP and now have some 60 members.
"I am pretty new to the organization," said Hector Astorga of Mission. "I got into photography quite a while back but only recently into nature photography. I have only been a member for about three months. I really enjoy it, the field trips that you have, what you learn from the camaraderie of the group, the interchange of ideas we have between one another is fantastic."
A recent filed trip was held on the Starr County property of Steve Bentsen who has developed his ranch, Dos Venadas, for photography. Permanent blinds are set up on small ponds where birds and other wildlife are regular visitors, and TexNEP members were able to take some outstanding shots.
"A little while ago, we were shooting bird photographs and this big old indigo showed up, and that is something that you don't see every day that close," Astorga said. "It's kind of like hunting. You get a little excited when you see something unusual and a little nervous trying to take a good shot."
Chuck Mann from Edinburg has been a member of TexNEP for a couple of years and has learned many valuable techniques for taking exceptional wildlife photographs. "I used to wonder how people got all these incredible shots of birds, and now I know," Mann said with a smile.
Accessing well managed property with suitable habitat and abundant wildlife such as Dos Venadas is the key to getting great shots. In many respects, snapping pictures is the easy part. Building the blinds, keeping the feeders full, maintaining pond levels and arranging perches is the real work.
"You can only learn so much about cameras form reading the manual," Mann said. "You really need to be around people who have done it for a while and can tell you quickly how to accomplish what you are trying to do. It's not hard. It just takes time and practice and patience."
"I have been taking pictures since I was about eight years old, but the nature photography I got into when I got to the Valley and that was probably three years ago, said Kathy McKee.
McKee moved to South Texas from Canada and has enjoyed the abundant sunshine and mild winters. "You don' have to shovel sunshine, and that works for me," she said with a laugh.
"I really enjoy the camaraderie that TexNEP has," McKee said. "Everyone helps each other. You can ask a question any question and people are ready to help you. It's just really great the way people are so open and ready to help."
"As a beginner I was a little apprehensive about showing photos of our favorite places, because you have Larry Ditto in the audience and Ruth Hoyt the teacher and other accomplished people, but everyone claps at the end, and you feel like you have really made a contribution," McKee said. "It gives you encouragement to go out and take better shots or learn how to do something different."
"It is a fun thing to talk with people who are really excited about nature photography, said professional wildlife photographer Larry Ditto of McAllen. "I think that is one of the great things about TexNEP is bringing people into the nature photography world."
"I truly enjoy working with different photographers and different people learning about photography, and it's been a lot of fun," said Paul Denman from McAllen who is Vice President of TexNEP.
"We are not a bunch of professionals in an exclusive organization, added Mike Hannisian. "We are together because of a shared interest, and we can learn form each other. We are always looking for new people to come and help us."
"We would like more people to be involved, and it's a real opportunity for young people to be involved," said McKee.
"What I really like about nature photography is that I can get away from it all," said Astorga. "I am out in the brush for five or six hours, and I turn my cell phone off. It's just peaceful. I also like being able to capture an image to share. It's nice."
If you are interested in learning more about TexNEP, their website is www.texnep.org.
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore