By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (May 26, 2017) – Years ago, when anyone asked biology alumna Anai Colyer ’14 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she dreamed of a life as a wildlife documentarist.
She didn’t view it as a practical choice – rather, a choice of the heart. A self-taught photographer, Colyer’s hobby has led to an Instagram portfolio filled of magical moments underwater in the springs outside of Gainesville; endangered Key deer in Key West; Wyoming moose and hugging monkeys.
Now, she’s about to get the summer adventure of a lifetime after winning a National Geographic short film contest with the first film she ever produced.
“What I’ve learned from this experience is never underestimate yourself,” she said. “If you have a passion for something and really want to do something, do it. Don’t hold back. Just go for it.”
Colyer’s love of wildlife and the world began when she was 8 years old. Her father took her underwater for the first time, sharing his tank with her, when they two spotted a pack of dolphins.
Colyer still remembers trying to reach out to the pack as they clicked sounds to communicate. From that moment, she was hooked.
A few years later, she became fascinated with photography after picking up a camera spontaneously to photograph dolphins jumping in the wake of her aunt’s boat.
“I got addicted to capturing that moment,” she said. “I wanted to share that experience and what I was seeing and maybe get people to get outside themselves and witness it.”
After graduating in 2014, she struggled to find the first open door to a full-time job and a career. So she started working part time at a local dive shop and kept snapping photos.
This past February, a friend called her to suggest she enter herself in National Geographic’s WILD TO INSPIRE filmmaking contest. The grand prize was a trip to Africa to document wildlife for “Nat Geo WILD” viewers.
Disheartened about her struggle to find a job, she did not feel confident about entering the contest.
“I was reluctant. I told him, ‘You’re out of your mind. I’ve never done a film in my life. I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s only two weeks left to submit,’” she recalled. “He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re right. You don’t need to go to Africa. Just forget about it.’”
In those two weeks, a sleep-deprived Colyer filmed everything she could while she also learned how to edit audio and video and create a script for her short film.
As she considered storyline options, she connected with one friend’s piece of advice: “The only story you’re going to be able to tell well is the story that you know.”
“That really hit home,” she said. “I thought, well, the story I know is I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done this before.”
When she learned she was one of three finalists in the contest, her immediate reaction ranged from tears to pure joy to wondering if the message she received was a mistake.
Two weeks later at the 2017 Sun Valley Film Fest in Idaho, she heard her name called as the first female winner in the 4-year-old competition.
“My whole world opened up,” she said.
She won’t know where she is headed in Africa until two to four weeks ahead of her trip. She does know for sure she wants to extend her time there and take in as much as possible.
“I probably won’t come back,” Colyer somewhat joked of her first trip overseas.
Until then she is continuing to practice her film-making skills and still always dreaming of what lies ahead.
“I don’t want to go through my life, look back and say, ‘What if?’ At this stage of life, I just want to travel. I want to experience things,” she said. “It’s the beauty and the awe of nature that keeps me going.”
Anai’s pro tips for your own photography:
1. If you’re new to photography, you can only learn so much from the internet. The best way to learn is to get out there and practice, practice, practice.
2. With wildlife photography, my No. 1 tip is to study the subject and learn to predict its behavior so you’re ready to capture the “wow moment” when it happens.
3. With underwater photography, my No. 1 rule is to get close to your subject. Rule No. 2: get closer. Rule No. 3: when you think you’re close enough, you’re not! Get closer! Water reduces color, contrast and sharpness. So to achieve a better photo reduce the space between you and your subject as much as possible.
4. Every photographer, no matter how good they are, still encounters missed shots and gear malfunctions. The key is to never give up.