The Magic of Cumberland Island: A Photo Essay


 We did not have to search to become photographers, we found that passion within ourselves. You can be on the other side of the world or in your back yard, but you can only find that passion within yourself.

By Sophie A. Harrison

The North American Nature Photographers Association is an organization of nature photographers executing their talents to encourage others to engage in nature, and find beauty and science in the world. Every year NANPA awards ten scholarships to high school-aged nature photographers from around the world.  It is an opportunity to experience and explore their talents in different soundings and attend the annual NANPA conference.


This past year I was awarded one of the NANPA scholarships and traveled to Jacksonville, Florida for the annual conference, which was a great opportunity to meet and learn from professional nature photographers. We also went to Cumberland Island, Georgia to spend time photographing the natural environment there.  Cumberland Island is a National Park accessible only by boat, and as such only allows a small number of people to visit it each day.  It was established as a park to preserve one of the only remaining areas in North America that is home to a group of wild horses. The original horses were given to Lucy Carnegie in the 1800’s.  When the Carnegies eventually left the island, Lucy Carnegie bequeathed it to the National Park system.  She wanted to preserve the land for the horses, who before coming to her, were wild.


Now the island is submerged in nature. Wild horses, armadillos, deer, cardinals, and woodpeckers are just so of the animals this realm holds.  It is a perfect setting for a photographer. As you speed in the ferry along the shore, oaks and palms cover the inner beauty. Only one trail connects all of the north end. Bikes transport you to the ruins and the beach under the twisted oaks, so snarled by the wind they no longer stand straight. Palms grab at your legs, and armadillos rush to the dark woods to hide in the sand. Rain beats down upon the soft ground. At the ruins of the old Carnegie home, horses trot up from the beach. An owl darts past, and turkey vultures circle around the old brick building. Up the trail sand duns have submerged old oaks, to photographers, it is the elephant grave yard. In the mash below, horses graze in the sunset and crabs scuttle through the mud. As the clouds clear and the sun appears vividly in the evening sky, shadows stretch over the land. Through the trees you can almost hear the wind sing.





It was a magical experience, one that made me a better photographer, and a better person.  To be on Cumberland Island with the express purpose of documenting the beauty of nature was a time I will never forget.  I hope that the visions I was able to capture inspire others to visit and help to preserve the environment as well.


Sophie A. Harrison lives on Vashon Island, Washington where she uses her camera to help others understand how she sees the world. More of her work can be seen at

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