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Cleveland, Athens photographers win spots in 2024 Tennessee Wildlife Federation calendar

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: Pardon Brenda Gilbert, of Cleveland, Tennessee, and Frank Snyder, of Athens, if they pause a little longer

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: Pardon Brenda Gilbert, of Cleveland, Tennessee, and Frank Snyder, of Athens, if they pause a little longer on certain months of the 2024 Tennessee Wildlife Federation calendar. Both have photos featured on the pages.


Gilbert, a nurse practitioner in private practice, and Snyder, senior vice president with SouthEast Bank, are among 17 photographers represented in the calendar, which includes wildlife and landscapes from across the state. Theirs are among the featured monthly photos — Gilbert for April and Snyder for October.


Lauren Whitmire, communications coordinator for the federation, said the winning images in the ninth annual contest were selected from more than 2,300 submissions received from 262 photographers in seven states. The 17 award winners showcase 14 species of native Tennessee wildlife, including a bald eagle in the cover photo, taken by Kalley Cook in Loudon County.


The contest accepted submissions during August, Whitmire said by email. Forty-eight were chosen to be in the running for the People’s Choice Award, which was open to public voting for a week in September. With nearly 6,500 votes cast, the favorite was a silhouette of a red fox at sunrise, taken by Christopher Barger, of Harriman.


In telephone interviews, Gilbert and Snyder said they captured their winning photos in the Great Smoky Mountains.


A trip to the Smokies is an annual pilgrimage for Gilbert and her husband, Edward. They go in April, when black bears emerge from their dens with their cubs. Her photo shows a mama black bear ambling through underbrush in Cades Cove, toting a cub on her back.


“She actually had three (cubs),” Gilbert said. “It had been raining. Luckily, she brought them out, and we watched her for probably 40 minutes.”


For her wildlife photography, Gilbert equips her Nikon D850 with a 600mm lens so she can keep her distance and still get the shot.


“I don’t ever try to get real close,” she said.


This was her second year to enter the contest. Last year, she submitted only a couple of images and garnered an honorable mention. This year, she sent in the maximum of 20 images.


Gilbert, 58, said she divides her time “about half and half” between her medical practice and photography. She has released an inspirational photo book, “Simplicity Through a Lens,” focused on her life adventures and “how God orchestrated a life of faith.”


Her favorite subject is bears.


“I go to the Smokies to shoot the black bears and west to shoot grizzlies,” she said. “My two greatest adventures.”


Snyder, 64, said he counts nature and wildlife photography chief among his hobbies.


“I try to be in the mountains every weekend, at least for a little while,” he said. “Sometimes I’m in the Cherokee National Forest or other locations, but I do frequent the Smokies quite often.”


He has entered the wildlife photo contest for three years, earning the cover shot in 2022 for a family of pileated woodpeckers.


His winning image for 2024 shows a male eastern wild turkey in a field of yellow wildflowers. The gobbler has thick gray and brown plumage, and its bright red wattle and sky-blue head are in sharp contrast against the deep green background.


He uses a Nikon mirrorless camera “with a decent 500mm telephoto lens,” he said.


Describing photography as “pretty much a lifelong pursuit,” Gilbert said he shoots whatever wildlife crosses the lens, but bears and turkeys are his favorite subjects.


“I go up and look for certain wildlife depending on the time of year it is,” he said. “Sometimes the opportunity presents itself, and sometimes you don’t see anything.”


He believes the record-setting crowds in the Smokies have acclimated the animals to people.


“The wildlife is not quite as shy,” he said. “They’re more used to traffic. You’ll get some photographic opportunities as long as you don’t get too close.”


Snyder said he typically goes alone on his wildlife sojourns.


“I have a wonderful wife, a wonderful family and friends, but I like to go to the mountains by myself,” he said. “It’s my quiet time. I ponder things.”


The trips, he said, are “mostly about getting outdoors and getting to enjoy nature and wildlife. If you get a good picture, that’s great. It’s really just as much about the experience. You get to see things other people may not get to see.”


A photo he made of a bear in the Smokies was a monthly photo winner in the 2023 calendar as well.


Soddy-Daisy native Lauren Lyon, 30, a doctoral candidate at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, was also a monthly winner for 2023 for her photo of a northern gray-cheeked salamander obscured in fall leaves.


It was featured in October, “which happened to be my birthday month, so it was really special,” Lyon said in an email. “Honestly, it was an honor to be featured with so many wonderful and talented photographers, and I was happy to see a more secretive species native to the Blue Ridge (Mountains) featured.”


She was also pleased that her calendar page included information on “the importance of leaving leaf litter for these animals to shelter in for the fall and winter months,” she said.


The 2024 limited-edition calendars are available at tnwf.org for a $60 minimum donation to the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.