Nature in the Frame

What’s my nature? The answer is in the images.

By Daniel White on April 28, 2017

I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled

—Bryan Adams

I turn my camera on
I cut my fingers on the way


Failing to teach myself guitar, I turned to another type of instrument altogether. I bought my first real camera — not coincidentally — upon landing my first real job. That Minolta X-270 was easier on the fingers than guitar strings, but buying and developing miles of 35mm film certainly bled my bank account.

I’m a mostly self-taught photographer. That’s another way of saying I’ve left behind a decades-long trail of utterly terrible photos. But through working for The Nature Conservancy, I’ve been fortunate to observe and learn a few riffs from some of the best nature photographers to ever squeeze a shutter.

My images say something — or everything — about what matters to me. Family. Nature. Dogs. Family (and dogs) in nature. In the archive of my most treasured memories, nature fills the frame.

There’s a reason I’ve been thinking lately about my relationships with nature and photography. It’s the theme of this year’s Conservancy photo contest: What’s Your Nature?

I hope that my answers, presented through some of my favorite images and the stories behind them, might inspire your own reflections. If so, I encourage you to share your nature by entering our photo contest.


Exploring neighborhood nature, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Neighborhood Nature

My suburban neighborhood on the fringes of Charlottesville is the kind of place I used to mock. It’s just so … suburban, with its manicured landscaping, paved pathways and constructed “lakes.” Yet nature is anywhere you look for it.

Those paved paths? They veer off onto miles of single-track weaving through acres of wooded hills and along creeks. Our fake lakes? Teeming with fish, frogs, turtles, and waterfowl. Buffleheads, scaups and cormorants are among the migrants that have dropped in for a few days this spring to rest and feed.

Between runs, bike rides and dog walks, I’m typically on the trails at least twice a day. When my grandson visits, I see these familiar paths through his eyes. A wonderland of stones to skip and half-buried treasures like pine cones to discover.

Humpback Rocks_640x427

Humpback Rocks, Virginia.

Whims and Winds

Central Virginia is blessed with an array of public lands and waters. A half-hour’s drive, for example, will take us to Rockfish Gap, where we can turn north onto Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, or south onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A few more minutes along the parkway lies the trailhead for Humpback Rocks. The one-mile trail is short and steep enough to catch the sunset and then barrel down before full-on darkness descends. At least that was our theory one January evening when my daughter, youngest son and I decided on a whim to take in a Humpback sunset. Howling winter winds certainly tested our mettle.

But the views from the roof of the Blue Ridge? Totally worth it. 

Yosemite trail ride_640x427

Trail ride in Yosemite National Park, California.

Finding Our Parks

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that our national parks were and still are America’s best idea. Our summer vacations revolve around exploring our national and natural heritage.

Last summer, we celebrated my birthday during a four-day saddle trip among the High Sierra camps of Yosemite National Park. Our ride to May Lake featured an especially precipitous climb, and nearing the ridgetop, I turned to capture the shot above, feeling as though we’d been transported into a movie western. 

Calaveras sequoias_640x427

Giant sequoia trees, Calaveras Big Trees State Park, California.

At the Feet of Giants

On the way to Yosemite, flight delays canceled our plan to stop off at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. But with a full day before catching our red-eye home, we bee-lined across the Sierra and arrived at Calaveras in time to catch the late-afternoon light filtering down through the North Grove.

I love how tiny my six-foot son appears, above, at the feet of those giant sequoias, the most massive trees on Earth. 

Indian Arm_640x427

Say Nuth Khaw Yum Provincial Park, B.C., Canada.

Off the Grid

The interior of British Columbia’s Say Nuth Khaw Yum (AKA Indian Arm) Provincial Park is only accessible by boat. After being dropped off for the weekend, we explored Indian Arm by canoe and, that night, fell asleep to the patter of rain on the cabin roof.

I woke to a sudden predawn silence, grabbed my camera and stepped onto the deck. As the first rays of sun began burning through the clouds, a rainbow seemed to emerge from the mountains rising abruptly from the other side of the fjord. It was a magical beginning to our first full day in this stunning Canadian park.

Tangier sunset_640x427

Sunset on Tangier Island, Chesapeake Bay.

Its Own Reward

Virginia, too, boasts places than can only be reached by water (or air). As a young teen, my daughter had once been on the ferry with friends for a day trip to Tangier Island. But a storm forced the boat to turn back.

She had to wait a while for a second chance, but we spent a weekend on the island as a high-school graduation present. By foot and kayak, we explored most of the island — much of it several times over. The image above captures her mid-cartwheel on Tangier Beach as the sun sinks toward the Chesapeake Bay


Farm near Keene, Virginia, at dawn.

Enlightened by Nature

If I were a serious photographer, I’d have as many sunrises as sunsets to show. Capitalizing on the warm light of early morning is the single best thing anyone can do to take better photos. Most days, though, a rock star on tour is more likely than I to see the sun rise.

The only regular exception is Saturday morning runs with the Charlottesville Track Club. The summer long-distance program, in particular, takes us to some of the most scenic backroads in Central Virginia – places like Green Springs, Sugar Hollow and Keene.

What’s Your Nature?

We want to see nature through your lens! Enter our photo contest and show us your nature.

Categories: Nature Photography

Daniel White is a senior writer for the Conservancy in Charlottesville, Virginia.

comments powered by Disqus


Stay Updated

Learn about the places you love and find out how you can help by signing up for Nature eNews.

I'm already on the list Read our privacy policy

Thank you for joining our online community!

We'll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates, and exciting stories.