Quiet Beauty Surrounds Us

Personal observations and bird images of Wilmington photographer capture international and state-wide attention.

By: Karen A. Pennington

Wilmington resident and professional photographer Jeffrey P. Karnes is making quite a splash with his impactful bird and nature photography. Jeff’s work has been recognized by the National Audubon Society as one of 15 Awesome Instagram Accounts for Beautiful Bird Photos, and earlier this year, selections of his work were displayed in all three NC Aquariums. Drawing inspiration from wildlife around the water, especially coastal NC waters, birds have become the central interest driving his passion for photography and conservation. Through his images, Jeff is engaging others to be mindful in caring for precious coastal resources and the creatures great and small that live within.

Raised in San Diego California, his interest in photography began as a young boy. While camping up and down the West Coast with his family, Jeff began using his dad’s old Kodak camera. Travels north to Canada’s Yukon took Jeff even closer to nature. Jeff met his wife in 1992, moved to Wilmington in 1999, raised two children here while continuing his interest in photography, and challenges himself daily to capture incredible images depicting the natural beauty of the abundant wildlife throughout our coastal region. His passion for wildlife photography has grown since putting down roots in Wilmington in 1999. His work has been described as “ Bird Vogue” by one Audubon officianodo. Earlier this year, several pieces of his work hung in the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island, Fort Fisher Aquarium in Kure Beach, NC and Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. A permanent display of Jeff’s images is available to the public in the eagle exhibit at Pine Knoll Shores. Locally, you can see Jeff’s work hanging at Tama Tea (now until August), at Caprice Bistro downtown (this summer), and Bellamy Mansion in our historic district has requested Jeff’s work as part of an exhibition happening April – June 2019.

Q: What is it about birds that has so captured your imagination?
A: “The fact that they can fly, free like me … free to do anything they want to do. I grew up on the water and enjoy being part of it every day. My passion for coastal living and the birds around the water just brings out my artistic side. I never get tired of observing them.”

Q: Where are some of your favorite neighborhoods to shoot in the lower Cape Fear area?
A: “Fort Fisher, Airlie Gardens, the north and south ends of Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro Island all are great spots. And of course, the Audubon Islands (isle of 300 pelicans) in the Cape Fear River at the ferry.

Q: What is a typical number of hours you have to sit and be quiet to get the amazing types of shots you capture?
A: Sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes all day. I like to be near some water at magic time which is early morning or just before sunset. You never really know. It just happens.

Q: What are the most prominent types of birds a guest at Blockade Runner might see around the hotel or out on one of our cruises?
A: Pelicans, gulls, and egrets, along with smaller shore birds like sandpipers and plovers. You’ll see skimmers in summer … you’ve got to look for them eating at dusk. They are magnificent catching fish at 30 mph, skimming the surface.

Jeff involves himself in the community by volunteering with Wings Over Water in the Outer Banks and also teaches photography to birders through this program. He and Abby both volunteer with a local bird rehabilitation center, Skywatch Bird Rescue in Burgaw, whose mission is to raise public awareness through education and to promote preservation and conservation. Abby and Jeff have been married 24 years this May, and it seems that she remains a great part of his inspiration, serving as an advocate branding his work to their conservation efforts.

If you’d like to see Jeff’s work in person, look for him in any number of shows around the Wilmington area: The Carolina Beach Art Festival in May, the American Craft Walk downtown, Art in the Arboretum and Art for All at the Brooklyn Arts Center. If time permits, Jeff may spend a little time around Blockade Runner this summer, and explore the amazing coastal habitats that surround our resort on every side. If we are lucky enough for Jeff to visit, we’ll likely have more beautiful images to share with our readers this fall. Fingers crossed. As Jeff would say, “You never really know until it happens.”

All animals pictured below can all be found in the Wilmington / Wrightsville Beach area. They can be seen almost every day along the Intracoastal Waterway, and are actually quite common for this region.