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Backyard safari: SC photographers share their horticulture and wildlife on social media

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Traveling to Africa, Alaska or even the ACE Basin isn’t necessary to get stunning photography of animals and plants.

A backyard with a diversity of trees, vines, bushes and blooming flowers, mixed with some birdfeeders and water sources, will draw an array of photo ops throughout the year.

Some South Carolina amateur photographers combine their loves of horticulture, wildlife and photographs by stepping out their back door, capturing images and then sharing them on social media.

Honing skills

Frank Baker of Columbia is an avid outdoor photographer, but often taps the wonders of his own backyard, in part to hone his skills.

“The best part of backyard photography is that your subjects are literally in your backyard — you don’t have to travel miles to see them. Sure you have trees and perhaps flowers, but if you look around you can find many opportunities to create a special photograph,” says Baker.

“Also, a photographer, who takes the time to understand and appreciate visual literacy, will be better equipped to use creative techniques that result in a better image. Visual literacy involves things like depth-of-field, rule-of-thirds, composition, focus and much more.”

As a result, Baker says the backyard is an ideal place for beginners or photographers with limited time to practice with a camera.

“I always advise folks to take their cameras to familiar settings, so that they’re comfortable,” says Baker, adding that a nearby park or playground also can provide nice settings. The Riverbanks Botanical Garden is a favorite place for him. 

Marvels of Edlandia

Ed Swails, 57, of Johns Island, rediscovered a love of photography that has lain dormant since college after buying a used cell phone with a decent camera on it less than two years ago.

The Clemson-trained horticulturalist and landscaper has been bringing plants and other found items for nearly 30 years to his 5.8-acre yard, which he now uses as the primary focus of his nature photography pursuits.

Swails, who gravitates to closeups and abstractions, posts many of his minimally-altered images on Instagram and Facebook. The former includes nearly 500 posts from nearly 4,600 images he’s taken with the used phone.

“I grow plants just because it’s cool and it’s like art,” says Swails, noting that photography is his way of capturing and sharing it. “I call it ‘food for the soul’ because it makes an impression on you from a design standpoint.”

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The cell phone makes it easier to have a camera ready when he’s outside and sees something he wants to capture.

“A lot of times I go outside and say to myself, ‘That’s cool. It’ll be a good picture.’ Something catches my eye. Most people don’t look at stuff up close. People will tend to look at a big rose or other flower. I look at that too, but you can’t miss that. If you zoom in, it’s a different perspective. Get in there close to see what’s going on there. It’s a whole different world.”

Examples recently posted on Instagram include extreme close-ups of spent hibiscus bloom, the green tube of a sprouting banana leaf, the bright yellow fungus growing along a fracture in a log, and the spikes of an agave plant.

Looking for a macro image, as opposed to the micro one, limits the number of subjects one can shoot, Swails notes.

“People want to get hit in the face with something big, but they are missing so much if they don’t look for the detail. I like the close-up more than anything and if you think about it, it’s easier to find.”

Gardens & birds

Like Swails, Terri Bowman of Mount Pleasant regularly posts spectacular images of wildlife, primarily birds, on her Facebook page.

Long before she strapped her camera on, Bowman was an avid gardener and started her photography four years ago by capturing images of her flowers.

“I have a pretty fabulous garden but don't spend as much time in it now,” admits Bowman, adding that only about 10 percent of her photography now takes place in her backyard.

Still, she's drawn there when certain flowers are blooming or when hummingbirds are fueling up at flowers and feeders in late summer for their migration to South America.

“From my backyard I can also spot storks and ibis on their way to the marsh, which is right behind me a block or so,” says Bowman.

While Bowman hasn’t been on social media for long, she says it has enhanced her joys of both gardening and photography.

“What I really enjoy is sharing my photos and seeing the photos of others that enjoy the same hobbies and the best place to do that is on social media. I have quite a few Facebook friends, that I have not even met, through my posts or on other nature photography sites. It's fantastic. And when you share a passion, it creates a bond.”

Contact David Quick at 843-937-5516. Follow him on Twitter @DavidQuick.

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