Kelley studied film photography at Appalachian State University . She spent many hours in the dark room experimenting with processing techniques , a discipline much less common in the digital age . After college she moved to Cape Cod and Nantucket , where she met her husband and started a young family . Eventually they made their way to Beaufort , South Carolina . The Lowcountry proved the perfect inspiration for Kelley ’ s work . Like many female artists , she paused her art pursuit to raise children . When asked how she juggled that time in her life with the need to create , she replied , “ We all go through phases . They are your little sidekick , but if they stayed like that , you ’ d never find yourself again .”
Kelley picked her camera back up in 2013 when she enrolled in Master Naturalist classes . Master naturalists volunteer their time and are specifically trained to study and help maintain the quality of local ecosystems . “ I wanted to document all the things we were seeing and learning . I started out thinking I would photograph everything — insects , birds , landscapes , etc ., but I soon realized that birds stole my heart , and they are what I truly love to photograph .” It shows . Her portfolio features local and migratory birds , often in dramatic poses . A pair of great blue herons share a kiss , roseate spoonbills model ballerinas , and great egrets with feathers in grand display , her work bleeds passion .
Roseate spoonbills captivate anyone who catches them in the wild . The large pink birds are the subject of many paintings by local artists , and they are perhaps the biggest stars in Kelley ’ s portfolio . She ’ s photographed them in the softest of pastel morning light as well as in dramatic dark backgrounds that heighten the tiniest feather detail . Her exceptional use of natural light and compositional skills elevate her work beyond the next level .
The intimate nature of her photographs begs to question “ how on earth did you get that shot ?” Kelley started shooting in popular bird rookeries , and upon studying the birds learned their songs and habits . She scouts locations when she knows she will have the best light and often covers herself with hunter ’ s netting , so her subjects have no idea she ’ s there . The fun lies in the unknown . Just who will show up that day ? Her website showcases encounters with bobcat kittens , baby alligators , an array of hummingbirds and the spectacular painted bunting , a bird she laughs and says , “ are literally everywhere .” Further proof we need to put down our phones and connect with our environment .
Aside from aesthetics , Kelley ’ s wildlife studies play an important role in documenting the changing landscape . In the 15
years she ’ s been photographing our coast , she ’ s noticed the spoonbills are now here year-round , whereas they used to only appear from late July until September . She credits climate change and loss of Florida habitat for this move . It is interesting to note that two percent of Kelley ’ s sales are donated to Audubon South Carolina , an organization that helps protect birds and their native habitats .
“… I soon realized that birds stole my heart , and they are what I truly love to photograph .”
Kelley ’ s work allows us a peek at a world we often take for granted yet coexists alongside our busy lives . Supporting artists like Kelley Luikey calls awareness to our native species and the need to protect them . Each of her pieces tell a story of its place in time and reminds us to pause and appreciate the natural world around us . You can find Kelley ’ s work at Pluff Mudd Art Gallery in Old Town Bluffton or at naturemuseimagery . com . •