Up close and personal

This patient photographer captures birds and other wildlife in stunning detail.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted January 12, 2024 | By Lisa McGinnes

Holly Yocum has photographed flora and fauna at iconic local sites including Silver Springs, Rainbow Springs and Paynes Prairie. But most of her favorite nature photographs were taken in her own backyard—and that’s exactly the way she planned it.

“Birding has always been a hobby; I started with birds and then I expanded to all kinds of wildlife,” said Yocum, who launched her wildlife photography business about six years ago. “I started setting up my yard to attract all the different migrating birds. Half my yard is wildflowers; I want everything that’s going to bring in hummingbirds. I have a passionvine section and I have a butterfly garden in my yard—anything to bring nature in. I have five different kinds of butterflies in the spring in my yard, and different butterflies require different plants. That’s so amazing.”

The self-taught photographer said she took one photography class to learn “settings and such” but “just picked up a camera” to capture the birds and wildlife she loves.

“I don’t have any professional training for photography,” she said. “I look at it as a gift because I just know where I should be photographing and what angle. And I think, for me, it came more naturally than some of the other artistic things you could do. And the more I used it, the more my birds came alive!”

Yocum, whose exhibit “Wildlife Photos by Holly” is currently on view at SouthState Bank, said she is “most patient photographing birds.”

“I will wait a half hour for a bird to move their wing,” she revealed. “I started setting up in the yard to attract all the different migrating birds; you have to put out different food for different birds. And they just started coming and I would be amazed how close they were. The challenge of getting them is a bird is constantly moving its wing. That’s the most patient I am, because you have to wait for the perfect moment when it looks like it almost holds its breath.”

A retired teacher, Yocum retains the curiosity about nature that she was so eager to impart to her students. Over her 30-year career, she taught elementary and middle school students reading, science and social studies. It was only after she shifted to teaching gifted students that she had the opportunity to incorporate gardening into her life.

“I had never done any gardening before I started gardening in my classroom. I had never grown anything,” she said, explaining that she reached out to a master gardener named Anne who helped her set up gardens at multiple schools, then eventually helped her design her home garden.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Yocum found inspiration for a new photo series by combining blooms from her garden with antique dishes and glassware she inherited from her beloved grandmother. 

“I was trying to find a creative outlet to do when we weren’t able to go anywhere,” she recalled. “I had never done this before. I’ve never done compositions, and so I was trying to create something, and they just came together. The flowers came from my yard, and many of the dishes were my grandmother’s and they have special meaning for me.”

The current exhibit is a culmination of her work from the last several years, and Yocum explained that each image is one of a kind. In addition to wildlife, the images also highlight her travels in Europe, where she especially enjoyed photographing historic sites in France and Italy. She hopes visitors will “walk in and see something that brings them pleasure” or “see something that touches them,” and she also would like those who view her work to take away an enhanced appreciation for the natural world.

“I want people to appreciate nature and just be so grateful we have it surrounding us,” she said. “People don’t know how fortunate we are to have all this. I have the best feeling when I know that we’re getting people to understand we have to take care of it.”

The community is invited to an opening reception for “Wildlife Photos by Holly” on Wednesday, Jan. 17, from 4-6 p.m. at SouthState Bank, 1632 E. Silver Springs Blvd. The exhibit is on view through mid-March during regular bank hours.

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