Capturing Nature – Larry Watts


Larry Watts operated a popular veterinary practice on Hilton Head Island for nearly 30 years. When he wasn't busy treating the area’s animals, he could usually be found out on his boat, indulging his passion for wildlife photography. After taking an early retirement in 2005, Watts channeled his love of animals and photography into an exciting second career offering photography cruises of the local salt marshes.

“I had a veterinary practice on the island for about 30 years and I always told everyone that, when I retired, I wanted to make a clean break of it and do something new,” he said. “I decided to get my captain's license and take people on photographic cruises of the salt marshes, and here we are.”

Watts' company, Salt Marsh Photographic Cruises, offers cruises of Gilbert Creek, Coulter Creek and the Doughboy Loop. Before each cruise, Watts spends a few minutes talking about cameras and camera settings, and offers helpful tips for photographing wildlife from the boat. He also treats guests to a short lecture on the types of animals they can expect to see, such as dolphins, otters, wild boars and nearly 40 species of birds, including bald eagles.

“I hope the cruise is educational for folks, both with the cameras and the wildlife,” Watts said. “If I'm really lucky, it goes both ways and I sometimes learn a lot from the folks I take out as well. It always makes for a good day.”

Watts loves what he does and particularly enjoys helping tour guests overcome their uneasiness when working with a new camera. Thanks to his advice on camera settings and tips for getting just the right shot, it's not unusual for tour participants to go in as novices and come out feeling like pros.

“It's fun to see all the folks with their new cameras and, at first, they're just a little bit afraid of it, but by the time we get back, they're shooting photos like there's no tomorrow because they're a lot more comfortable with their cameras,” Watts said. “I hope they take what they learn here and carry it into their own photography in their daily lives. I hope they enjoy their cameras and photography that much more when they get back.”

Photography is more than just a hobby or a job for Watts, who bought his first camera in Vietnam in 1968 and has been an avid shutterbug ever since. For him, photography is a creative way to express his feelings.

“I enjoy photography and it's very therapeutic for me,” Watts said. “I love taking photos of wildlife. There's a saying, ‘The lens goes both ways,’ meaning, you take a picture and the picture says a lot about the person who took it. Photography is a way for me to be a little artistic — I can't draw, but I can share my feelings and creativity through my photographs. It's wonderful.”

For more information on Salt Marsh Photographic Cruises, call 843-681-3728 or 843-290-2720, or visit

Larry Watts’ Tips for Photographing Wildlife

•    Don't shoot on manual. When things happen out there, they happen fast.
•    Be observant. Watts said that when he takes my camera with him, he notices a lot more.
•    Be patient. Watts has been known to stay in one spot for more than an hour to get the right photo.
•    Know your subject. Research the animals you're photographing to learn their temperament so you can gauge how they'll react in your presence.
•    Be creative and have fun.