The 2011 Nature Photography Summit, McAllen, TX, March 9-12

by Jerry Monkman | February 1, 2011

© Jerry MonkmanThis year’s Nature Photography Summit is being held in McAllen, Texas, one of the premier birding destinations in the United States. Situated near the Mexican border in the lower Rio Grande Valley, the McAllen area’s diverse habitats are home to 500 species of birds, 139 species of reptiles and 159 species of mammals. Hosted by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), the Summit has its own diversity, offering up local shooting opportunities and inspiring keynote presentations by Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Jack Dykinga, award winning conservation photographer Daniel Beltra, and underwater photography guru Michele Westmorland.

The four-day event also features a variety of breakout sessions, seminars, and workshops that provide a host of skills-building opportunities. Workshops include a digital darkroom seminar led by Adobe’s senior digital imaging evangelist, Julieanne Kost, and DSLR multi-media storytelling, taught by 2010 Nautilus Book Award recipient Ian Shive. The list of breakout sessions includes social media marketing for nature photographers, songbird setup photography, and how to get your first book published. Throw in portfolio reviews with leading image professionals and field trips to local photography hot spots, and the 2011 Nature Photography Summit promises to be an energetic festival offering nature photographers the opportunity to make great photos while learning new skills and rubbing shoulders with top-notch professional photographers and image buyers from across the country.

I attended my first NANPA Summit in Corpus Christi, Texas back in 1997. I still remember the awe I felt watching a slide show given by David and Mark Muench using a medium format slide projector (anyone do that anymore?) At the time, I was an aspiring photographer, excited about the chance to show some photo editors and top pros my work. I was instantly hooked by the generosity of all of those I met, and I left feeling inspired to continue towards my goal of becoming a full-time professional. I have been to nine more Summits since then, and though I achieved my dream of shooting full-time 10 years ago, I still find myself drawn to attending the Summit each year. I find it to be a great place to network and share new ideas with colleagues. I also find that the energy I get from watching compelling keynote presentations and hanging out with a bunch of like-minded nature photographers really jumpstarts my year, giving me a renewed spirit to go out there and make a difference with my camera.

While I am always excited about the Summit activities, this year I am just as excited to be getting a break from a New Hampshire winter and to do a little shooting in south Texas, which I am sure will be quite the exotic landscape for this northerner. Nicknamed the City of Palms, McAllen enjoys a subtropical climate and is in the heart of the Rio Grande valley. Four distinct climate zones (temperate, desert, coastal and subtropical) come together here. The result is unusually high biological diversity. Several ranches that are part of the Valley Land Fund photo competition are located nearby, and many will be opened to Summit attendees for no charge on Wednesday of the Summit. The valley is also home to the World Birding Center, a network of nine sites that protects native habitat and encourages appreciation of wildlife. One site, Quinta Mazatlan will be hosting a Summit photo show and is close to Summit hotels.

Near McAllen on the banks of the Rio Grande are two other popular shooting locations—the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters of the World Birding Center. The park features feeding stations, blinds and a hawk tower, along with 6 miles of trails and boardwalks that wind through 760 acres of riparian woodland. The Santa Ana refuge has 12 miles of trails and is home to 400 species of birds, including altamira orioles, great kiskadees and hook-billed kites, as well as half the butterfly species in North America and rare species such as the indigo snake and ocelot. Though the landscape photographer in me will be searching out those “big sky” landscapes, I’m also inspired to drag along my 500 F4 and see what critters I can find.

More information about the Nature Photography Summit can be found at NANPA is also giving away a 16GB iPad to one of the first 300 registrants.

About the Author

Jerry Monkman is a nature and adventure photographer based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He specializes in photographing land conservation projects in the northeastern U.S. and has completed more than 100 commissioned conservation photography projects since 2000. With his wife Marcy, he has co-authored eight books about New England, including Wild Acadia, which was named a top photo book of 2007 by Shutterbug Magazine. His most recent book is The AMC Guide to Outdoor Digital Photography. He is a former board member for the North American Nature Photography Association. You can see more of his work at

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