I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing an extraordinarily talented nature and wildlife photographer who resides in Blairstown, New Jersey. Her name is Annie Graybill and she finds inspiration for her work through a connection with nature. Through her travels, Annie has found a passion for centering her attention on avian photography as well as photographing wildlife, animals in captivity and domesticated animals. Her stunning images can be viewed and acquired at Gallery 23, located on 23 Main Street in Blairstown, New Jersey.
Annie, thank you for sharing your thoughtful answers and for allowing us the opportunity to glimpse into the mind of a person who truly enjoys what they do. Your work is inspirational and I hope to see more great things from you in the future!
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I am married with six children and nine grandchildren. I have always been an animal lover and currently have four dogs, four cats, a love bird, and a horse! The pets and the grandchildren keep me busy and very happy.
Where do you call home?
I reside in Blairstown, New Jersey where I have lived for many years and graduated from North Warren Regional High School.
After browsing through your website, I see that you’re truly immersed in the field of photography. What is it that led you towards photography and how long have you been working in it?
My husband always noticed that I had an eye for taking photos, but always used my cell phone which only frustrated me as I wasn’t getting the quality I wanted. He surprised me one day by purchasing me a Canon Rebel T3 camera, a very basic camera to get me started. The camera actually sat in the box for over a year as I was intimidated by all the buttons and gadgets. I eventually took a course that was offered in my area about getting out of Auto on your camera and that is when it really all came together for me, and then I took my first photo of a Bluebird in my yard and I was hooked! February 2020 will be five years since I have really started with photography.
What has been the best source of information along your photography journey (workshop, online forums, classroom, mentor, etc)?
I have mostly ready tutorials on the internet and have asked many questions of others that are involved with photography. My daughter took the same class with me and has gone on to be a professional family photographer and has been very successful. We quite often discuss photography and together and have helped each other through it. In the very beginning, I followed alongside a wildlife photographer local to my area and was given some great advice and knowledge. I have mostly been on my own and I continue to practice and learn each day.
What has been the biggest source of inspiration in your work?
When I first started doing photography I had no idea really what my concentration would be and then I discovered the world of birds! I couldn’t believe that my entire life was spent not paying attention to them and how many beautiful and unique species there was. It was then that the passion grew very strong and I felt a strong desire to photograph them. I started to become recognized for my talent which increased my inspiration to continue doing what I love to do.
How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?
I am motivated each and every day from dusk to dawn! No matter what the day, the weather or the obstacle I know that outside there awaits a world of wonder! Wherever I go my camera is with me. I have been able to get so many amazing shots just because I had my camera with me, I don’t leave the house without it!
What is your best photography tip?
Patience and Persistence!! In general, I am not the most patient person but somehow when it comes to photography I have all the patience in the world. Birds and wildlife won’t take any direction from us so to capture them in their element takes much patience. I have waited 3 hours for a Bald Eagle to fly from a perch so I could get the action of flight, it pays off sometimes and is worth the wait. I also never believe in giving up because of missing a rare shot or not being happy with the results due to camera settings, I just try again until I am satisfied.
What do you hope viewers take away from your images?
I mostly hope that I am able to evoke a feeling or an emotion when my photos are viewed. Its the eyes of the bird or animal that truly brings their spirit and soul to the viewer. I generally try to capture a photo that will tell somewhat of a story or something that most people would not normally see. Composition is also hugely important to create peace and serenity to the subject.
Share with us your favorite image and why.
Very early on in my photography when I was in the beginning learning stages, I captured a photo of a Merganser female duck swimming with her chicks. I honestly felt as though I had all the wrong settings and that the photo would be unusable until I viewed the photo when it was downloaded and I was amazed!! That was a huge learning experience for me about my camera settings and with that one photo, I learned so very much. It will always be my favorite photo for so many reasons.
What type of session do you look forward to the most vs what type of session you most often do?
I have a general routine most days where I go to certain places around my area. It depends on the season and what I know I can generally find. I do this most often and mostly every day. I do plan trips out of my area to capture birds and wildlife that are generally not found in my surrounding area. It’s exciting to be able to photography species that I do not normally see and I really look forward to doing that when I am able.
When shooting subjects, what do you find most challenging?
It seems all my subjects are challenging!! LOL, Honestly that is what I love most about photographing birds and wildlife, its the thrill of the chase and pumps up my adrenaline. Birds in flight are fairly challenging and that is one area I am constantly trying to improve upon. One minute they are quietly sitting on a branch and the next they are taking off, I really like to see the detailed wing movement and body pattern and I have to always be ready for it to happen.
What would you say your most remarkable wildlife encounter has been?
The most remarkable encounter that I have had actually just happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I was visiting a friend out of town and we were in a very busy shopping area. I stepped outside and saw a very unusual and small bird tucked into a corner of the building just huddled there. My first instinct was to run inside and ask the clerk for a box as I suspected the bird might have been injured. In the meantime, I had snapped a quick photo of the bird with my iPhone as my camera was in the locked car in the parking lot and there was no time to retrieve it. Never seen this type of bird prior I sent the photo to an identification site that I belonged too and my phone started blowing up with responses. It turns out I was in the presence of a bird that many birders and photographers never get to see and spend years looking for and that bird would be a Yellow Rail. I tried to get the bird into the box and even handled it but it flew off into the parking lot and underneath a car. I realized that the bird could fly and seemed uninjured. I did follow it until it disappeared from sight hopefully seeking refuge in a safer area. This is extremely rare to see this type of bird in the location where he was as they are a very elusive wading bird. I created quite a stir amongst the birding community!! I did only get an iPhone shot but it was a rather good one at that. I have recently sent the photo to a bird ID application that I use as they are in need of photos of this particular bird.
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What is your favorite lens?
I use a Canon 7D Mark ll camera paired with a Tamron G2 150-600mm lens. They are a perfect pair and mostly all I use.
What is in your camera bag?
Everything!! Extra batteries for the camera, lens cleaner, wide-angle lens, 50mm lens, lens extender, and assorted other lenses. I always like to be prepared! I always have the tripoid and monopod in the car trunk as well.
What is your favorite photography accessory?
I don’t really have a favorite, but my husband makes a great accessory for those long walks and hikes and helps me with all my gear! LOL
How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
I do use software editing programs. They are important to a certain degree. It helps with shadows, exposure, and some camera noise as well as allowing me to pop some color. I never edit the subject, for example, the bird, as I do not want to distort the natural look of the bird or animal.
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
There are some spurts where you go out in expectation to find something and walk for hours to no avail. It can be frustrating and disappointing but I never look at it as a waste of time. Being out in nature is like my temple and meditation and if I am not photographing a bird or an animal there is a joy to capture in everything, a leaf, a flower a landscape. Beauty is naturally all around and easy to find! The most frustrating and emotional thing for me was this past summer when I was incapacitated because I fractured my wrist in seven places which required surgery. I was unable to use my camera for several months and I was praying my rehabilitation would go well and it has! I am currently still in therapy but because I had a wonderful surgeon my wrist is repaired and I am able to pursue my passion.
Was there a point in your journey when you started to feel really good about your work? If so, what did it feel like to get past that “tipping point?”
Yes, April of 2018 I was juried to be an artist in our local Gallery and I am now a full member. That was the day, (it was actually my birthday when I signed the contract) that I knew my photography had merit and people really enjoyed them. It was at that moment that I actually could say without hesitation, “yes I am a photographer!”
Do you see yourself as a photographer many years down the road?
Absolutely!! There is so much more I want to accomplish and I look forward to so many more adventures!! I will be photographing and out in the field as long as I am able and I am hopeful that will be many years down the road!