How Two Photographers Found Their Focus

This is a guest post from Hugh Nourse, a photographer and friend from Georgia. I think it is very interesting how he and his wife found a home for their nature photography.

Some thoughts on my focus in photography by Hugh Nourse

Our first photography was street and travel photography when I was in the military in Japan.  My wife, Carol, and I bought a Petri rangefinder and used Kodachrome 25 slide film.  Returned home to graduate school and then an academic career in economics, so photography became shots of the family.

We came to photography a second time near retirement when trying to identify wildflowers.  I bought a point and shoot to capture images to check with the field guides.  Showed image of photos to a friend, and he said join my camera club.  Within six months I was carrying a tripod and an SLR with a 100mm macro lens.

When first learning photography, we were told to get closer.  We liked using a telephoto macro close-up to get a simple green background. We learned to think about five things for better flower photography:

  1. What is the subject?  Close in until you are just showing the subject.
  2. Where is the subject in the frame?
  3. Does the background enhance the image?
  4. Does the foreground enhance the subject?
  5. What is the light on the subject?

Today we are volunteer photographers for the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and we get the most raves from the editor (as well as the graphic designer) of The Garden Newsletter  for close-ups we provide. They also use overviews and scenes.

For a while, I tried stock photography. Even though I had thousands of images, it was not often that I happened to have the “right” image.  Furthermore, since I had been taught to do close-ups, the ones I had did not show the flower in a garden setting, so someone else got the editor's attention.  But I did manage to get some photos into American Gardener and was given picture assignments by the editor.  We also had images published in Nature Photographer, Backpacker, and Wildflower magazines.

We have also donated images to the US Forest Service "Celebrate Wildflowers" website, to identification guides to wildflowers (maybe five such guides), to University of Georgia extension web pages on wildflowers, and to Tipularia, the magazine of the Georgia Botanical Society, and to their bi-monthly newsletter. Since retiring from college teaching, Carol and I have published three books with University of Georgia Press as photographers and authors: Wildflowers of Georgia, State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and "Favorite Wildflower Walks in Georgia.

We have just finished a 7 year effort to provide photos of plants and their habitats for a Guide to the Natural Communities of Georgia, which involved a great effort to visit over 67 natural communities in Georgia with ecology authors.  For this book we were pushed to photograph ecological processes, such as prescribed burns, or other indications of change, i.e., storytelling. All royalties on this book will go to the Department of Natural Resources for Georgia.

Now we are about to embark on a Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Georgia by Natural Communities. The author, Linda Chafin, is a fine field botanist.  We have worked with her before on her book, Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Georgia.  She is a good friend.

We like doing plant identification images and plant habitat images, but there never is any money.  Our reward is that the images get published, and that they are used in a wonderful cause -- improving the botanical knowledge of the public so that they may support conservation causes. Identification images are not necessarily close-ups, since you need to show the critical identification characteristics to the viewer.  Sometimes a flower is so small, or the characteristic is so small that one-to-one photography is needed.

Mostly you need to find good backgrounds in good light for a portrait. I used to be able to hike many miles with tripod, camera, and macro lens. Today I am physically limited to about a mile to hike with this equipment. Longer hikes with equipment cause back pain, so I am working to find alternative equipment such as the small mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

One does not get rave reviews from the camera club for this type of work.  So be it. It has been a great retirement.

About Rob

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at; my blogs are at and
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8 Responses to How Two Photographers Found Their Focus

  1. Tom says:

    This is a great post of what you can do for our environment and society without the concern for the all mighty dollar. Way to go and keep trucking, it just may be time to go light once again ---- back to the Old Petri :>)

  2. Jan says:

    That's great that photography has been so rewarding. Getting published is a nice feather in your cap and is true actualization to a photographer. Having been published a few times in the past in my professional capacity (regular work not photography) I found the true reward was the recognition. You are validated by the acceptance of your work by others.

    Camera clubs are nice and my local club has helped me to grow. I believe that my skill sets as a photographer improved at a faster rate than if I had not joined the club. I find that many clubs have a single focus in their competitions however. Clubs focus on the technical, impact of the photo and composition. All of these things are important but can also limit one's creativity as well. I have seen many excellent works in competition that did not score as well as they should have because the work did not fit the mould. So keep up the good work and focus on your likes first.

    Please let us know when your works are ready for publishing. This is exciting and I look forward to seeing your works


  3. Hugh and Carol Nourse says:

    Tom and Jan, thank you for your supportive comments. The "Field Guide to the Natural Communities of Georgia" is currently in production process at the UGA Press with and expected publication date in 2013. "The Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Georgia by Natural Communities" is currently just being discussed with UGA Press, but has been favorable received.

    Hugh and Carol

  4. Steve says:

    I like your comment about showing the background or garden when shooting flower close ups. I've had a couple hundred images published through stock agencies over the years [not much lately] and it's always been more fun to see them published than to cash the check. As I near full retirement, I'm shooting less nature and more young kids. It's what I like doing whether it pays or not.

  5. Jan LeCocq says:

    Rob Sheppard suggested your blog entry. It was very interesting....I'm "semi-retired", having discovered photography now about seven years ago. Rob is one of my instructors/mentors at I, too, have found certain niche things to make my photography a contribution and not just a hobby. It is hellishly difficult to get paid for anything, so true. I have done some writing with my photos as illustration that occasionally brings in a little cash, but not enough to cover even the expense of doing the story!!! Have done a little bartering, too. Given your garden interest, check out, written by my friend Sara Malone and photographed by me.

    I look forward to seeing more of your images!!!

  6. Wiley Smith says:

    Stumbled on your page while doing Genealogy on Carolyn's father, my great uncle
    Herbert Muller. I too love photography.

  7. Hugh Nourse (also) says:

    Enjoyed the images of Helianthus porterii and Diamorpha smallii at Arabia Mountain. I wish that my photos of those plants at Mitchell Mill Nature Preserve in Wake County, NC were as good as yours.

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