My guest today is Donna Zapalac Mueller, rancher and photographer. The ranch is located in Fayette County, on the banks of the Colorado River near the communities of La Grange, Ellinger & Fayetteville. Located in two of Texas’ ecological regions, Blackland Prairies & the Oak Woodlands, the land is rich in Native Texas natural resources. The Zapalac family immigrated to Texas in the 1840s from Moravia, and have been in Texas for seven generations. The Zapalac Ranch lands have been in the family since the 1800s, established by Vinc & Anna Andreas Zapalac, 2nd generation Texans. Vinc started with small parcels of land, building the ranch to several thousand acres. Vinc & Anna were entrepreneurs, referring to the ranch as a “land of milk & honey”. In the 1860s, Vinc drove cattle up the Chisholm trail, later (1880s) evolving to shipping cattle on the “Zapalac Switch” by rail. The “Switch”, as the family referred to the rail site, shipped cattle, lumber, sorghum molasses and native pecans. The ranch had sugar cane fields that supplied the Zapalac Molasses Mill, as well as native pecan orchards and the Zapalac Sawmill. Donna just recently inherited the sawmill and donated it to the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in LaGrange to be restored as a living history museum, to mill lumber again.
You take great pictures of plants and wildflowers on your ranch, Donna. What motivates you to make these photographs?
The sheer beauty of nature inspires me to take these photos. Just taking a step back for a really good look at the small things in nature. The magnificent colors, the intricate details of these living organisms. So awesome! I was raised on this ranch. My Grandparents, Fred T. Zapalac & Pearl Koehl Zapalac, my teachers & mentors, taught me to ride a horse, hunt, fish, cook, work and become a “good steward of the land”. Grandpa’s words of wisdom, “Nature is beautiful. Take care of the land and it will take care of you.” As a youth, one does not comprehend those words of wisdom. Alas, as we mature, then comes wisdom and appreciation of nature. She (Nature) has so much to offer. All we have to do, is take the time to appreciate her.In 2013, I became a Texas Master Naturalist. The TNM program and certification was my
“Aha Moment!”. The TMN classes, seminars, instructors/professors and the importance of the program to promote the education and teaching of conservation on water issues and promoting the instructions to be “good stewards of the land” and to become a part in educating our future Texas generations on native flora and fauna, reinvigorated me.
What kind of camera do you use? Do you have to use special lenses or settings to get close-ups of insects or flowers?
About 90% of my photos for close-ups are taken with my cell phone camera, Samsung Galaxy S4. Great resolution for enlargements, not so great for long range photos. For that I go to my number 2 camera. A Nikon Coolpix P510. I go simple now. I don’t like lugging around heavy things. So I gave my big lenses & macro lenses to my daughter for her Rock Art work along with my Cannon, which was out-dated when it came to pixel number.There are so many great cameras & cell phone cameras with unbelievable resolutions. Choose what is right for you.
How did you start taking pictures?
I have always enjoyed taking pictures. I just started photographing flowers recently because of Texas Master Naturalist to create a journal of wildflowers and native grasses on our ranch. My favorite subject would be native Texas plants especially the wildflowers. I love to photograph butterflies, dragonflies, birds, spectacular sunsets-anything to do with nature.
Where can people see your photographs? Have you had any shows or publications?
At present they only place to see my photographs is on Facebook as I post them and I don’t post all of them. I have been asked to do some prints on canvas. So this is a work in progress. I will keep you posted.
What are your top three tips for taking great shots of flowers?
We humans are so out of tune with nature. This is what works for me.
*Try to use your five senses; sight, hearing, touch, smell & taste.
*Choose your favorite season in the year. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter or All those listed.
*Find a safe natural area to escape to. Maybe your own back yard.
*Tap into your senses. Close your eyes and try to hone-in on nature.
1st sense that kicks in, hearing
2nd sense is awareness of hot or cold, touch.
3rd sense is smell, the air around you
4th sense is taste.
Now open your eyes.
5th sense is sight. Hopefully this will provide a new perspective on the small things that were insignificant previously. Look for those bright colors, shapes amid designs and Photograph away.
Thanks for being with us today. You inspire me to go out and take pictures!