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A visitor looks intently at an iPhone screen attached to a large photographic scope.
Information icon Shutterbugs photography course in action on St. Marks NWR. Photo courtesy of Karen Willes, USFWS Volunteer.

Shutterbugs at St. Marks

When St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on the Florida panhandle was awarded a $5,000 grant to encourage mobile photography on the refuge, staff originally planned to offer a class to children with an accompanying adult.

However, few adults with children signed up for the first class. In addition, adults told refuge staff members that they would like to sign up but didn’t have a child to bring with them. After the refuge opened the classes to adults, more than 100 participants enrolled in the three-hour classes that have been offered in the last two years. Six classes were offered in 2016; three classes in 2017; and two classes are scheduled in 2018. Class sizes vary from 10 to 15 participants. Classes are free with refuge admission.

The grant money purchased three spotting scopes, four iPad Minis, and five Galaxy tablets that are being used with other refuge educational programs in addition to the St. Marks Shutterbugs class. Also, Phone Skope donated more than $1,000 in adapters for different kinds of smartphones, as well as adapters for the iPad Minis so they could be used for phonescoping while attached to the spotting scopes.

Each three-hour class consists of three parts. During the first hour, participants are introduced to different features of their smartphone cameras. Topics include: focus and exposure, rule of thirds (including adding the grid to their screen), 3-D rule of thirds (foreground/middle ground/background), macro/telephoto/landscape, as well as photographing a single subject in several ways including burst mode. During the second hour, participants go outside to capture images in macro, telephoto (phonescoping), and landscape. During the third hour, participants learn how to edit their photos in Snapseed (a free app that is available for both iOS and Android platforms).

All of the work is done with the smartphones. After a photo has been edited, images may be shared via e-mail or on social media. Other features are also presented — video, slo-mo, panorama, and the new portrait mode available on iPhones 7 Plus, 8 Plus, & X. Several additional photo editing apps are discussed.

Each December, participants are invited to return to St. Marks for a reunion. The attendees are invited to send two or three photos which are included in a PowerPoint After the PowerPoint presentation, participants are treated to a two-hour wagon ride into the backcountry of the refuge.

Many of the images shown in the December 2016 and 2017 reunions were not taken during the class, but later, in the weeks or months afterwards, using information learned in the class. Some participants included “before and after” photos by including the original photo along with the edited photo.

For more information reach out to the Refuge on Facebook, by email at or by phone at (850) 925-6121.

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