Wild About Wildlife: Decatur photographer captures images of north Alabama’s nature

Stan Hyde started photographing wildlife [JERONIMO NISA/LIVING 50 PLUS]

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

As the crisp, cool air of New Year’s Day whipped around Stan Hyde, he steadied his camera, followed the bald eagle’s path and gently pressed the shutter button.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Hyde captured the eagle in flight over Crabtree Slough.

“I used to hunt, but now I only hunt with my camera,” said the 80-year-old Hyde, of Decatur.

Two or three days a week, for a couple of hours each day, you can find Hyde camped out at one of his favorite “hunting” spots on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge – Flint Creek, White Springs Dike, Crabtree Slough, Visitors Center and Limestone Bay.

“After you’ve watched different species for a while, you can kind of recognize what they are going to do in different situations. You can tell if they are about to fly or not. With wildlife photography you also need a lot of luck,” Hyde said.

For Hyde, the hundreds of hours he spends every year among the creeks, woods and wetlands of north Alabama, represents an extension of his childhood.

Born in Marshall County, Hyde’s family moved to Tennessee and Huntsville before settling in Decatur when Hyde was 14.

“I’ve been a Decaturite ever since, except for the time I spent in the Army Reserves and in college at Auburn University,” Hyde said. “I grew up on the Tennessee River, boating, hunting and fishing. The Tennessee River is where I fell in love with the outdoors.”

His love of photography, however, came later – much later – after he graduated from Decatur High School, studied mechanical engineering at Auburn University and worked for decades designing robotic cells and automated industrial assembly equipment.

“In the early 1970s, my brother-in-law, who was in Vietnam, had a real good deal on a camera, so I bought one. I mostly shot landscapes and made slides out of them. That didn’t last long, though,” Hyde said.

After briefly picking up photography in the 1970s – the era of film cameras – Hyde returned to the hobby in the late 1990s as the popularity of digital cameras grew.

“If you are just starting to experiment with photography, be grateful that there is digital so you don’t spend millions of dollars developing film,” Hyde said. “It took me a lot of patience and practice and a lot of trial and error to get decent at it.”

Hyde used his first digital camera for taking snapshots – the types of photographs you might find from a vacation or of family and friends. In 2018, he bought his first DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera.

“I was taking different kinds of photos and posted several of them on different websites. A wildlife photographer in south Alabama saw them and invited me to join his web group. That’s when I started shooting mostly wildlife and nature,” Hyde said. “I enjoy the challenge of wildlife photography and the accomplishment I feel when I get a decent composition and a decent shot.”

One of the people who helped mentor Hyde is 76-year-old nature photographer Charles Seifried, of Decatur.

“Stan is great. He is 80 and you would never be able to tell,” Seifried said. “Nature and wildlife photography is a great way to stay young.”

Starting wildlife photography increased the time Hyde spent outdoors. Within five minutes, he can travel from his home in Hickory Hills to the wildlife refuge.

“It is a great hobby for retirement. It keeps me active and outside and I have the time to just sit and wait and watch the birds, animals and insects,” Hyde said.

During the late summer, he enjoys shooting insects, including dragonflies, butterflies and bumblebees. In the winter, he captures birds, including bald eagles, pelicans, sandhill cranes and the endangered whooping cranes, which typically arrive at Wheeler in November and leave in February or March.

He has also captured cormorants, northern shovelers, great egrets, mallards, red-bellied woodpeckers, American wigeons, kingfishers, kestrels, blue-winged teals, barn swallows, hummingbirds, yellow-breasted chats, herons, cedar waxwings, a painted bunting, butterflies, fox, deer and wildflowers.

“I enjoy shooting anything that moves and some things that don’t,” Hyde said. “Wildlife and nature fit very well with that definition.”

While Hyde often shoots alone, he also photographs with Seifried at the refuge and Bankhead National Forest.

“Charles has been great. We share information, but most of the time it is one-way, from him to me. I’ve learned a lot from him,” Hyde said.

For every two hours of shooting, Hyde spends two to four hours processing and editing the photographs.

Since his first camera, Hyde has upgraded his equipment several times. He currently uses a Nikon D7100, D500 and D850 and various lenses ranging from 5½ pounds to 3 pounds, which Hyde described as an “old man’s lens” because of its lighter weight.

For individuals interested in wildlife photography, Hyde recommended starting with a Sigma or Tamron zoom lens, 150-600 mm, and the Nikon D500 body for its high speed shutter.

“You just have to cross your fingers and hope that you get a good shot in the more than 20 you take,” Hyde said.

Combining art and nature has become a family affair. Hyde’s daughter, jewelry designer Kristi Hyde, uses hydrangea flowers, orchid leaves, seed pods and bark to create necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets.

“Nature and wildlife are so inspiring. There is no other place I would rather be than outside with my camera,” Stan Hyde said.