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Kaleyah Braxton takes a shot at wildlife

Kaleyah Braxton at the Raptor CenterKaleyah Braxton ’21 spent Fall 2018 sharpening her photography skills as an intern in the Department of University Communications and Marketing, capturing images at sports, academic and social events. She took her craft to another level with a two-day wildlife and bird photography course limited to a dozen professional nature photographers at the Carolina Raptor Center. 

Prior to stepping into the raptors' natural habitat, Braxton and the other wildlife photographers listened carefully to how they should maneuver around the birds. She noticed that the birds became fearful and that they would flap their wings to protect themselves from danger. 

She was able to capture photos of a hawk, an owl, and a golden eagle in flight.  

“The hawk didn’t like people being behind her and she became flustered when we would try to get up close to take a photo. I was able to get up close to a small baby owl and golden eagle with a wounded wing,” she said.  “I’ve had pets growing up, but nothing like a giant eagle or black vulture a few feet away from me,” she continued. 

One of her favorite moments was taking a photo of the hawk in flight.  The hawk’s eyes left her in awe. “The intensity of the hawk’s gaze amazed me. This was truly something to see,” she said. 

Alongside professional photographers, Braxton learned how to operate camera equipment effectively and improve her camera angles to get the best photo. 

She met John, a wildlife photographer, who admired that she was a student at Johnson C. Smith University who had an interest in wild life photography. He allowed her to use some of his equipment. 

“John let me use his 18-400mm on the first day and the next day he let me use his 28-300 mm Tamron lens.” 

Prior to attending the wildlife photography course in November 2018, Braxton attended PhotoWild, a two-day event that allows bird lovers and wildlife photography enthusiasts to photograph the birds without instruction. She enjoyed the October experience so much that she was excited to have the opportunity to take the class and learn from a wildlife photography expert. 

Sherri Belfield, director of University Communications and Marketing, recommended Braxton. 

“Kaleyah is a dependable and reliable student who listens carefully and I knew that she would take advantage of this opportunity,” she said.  “This was an engaging way to begin building our partnership with Carolina Raptor Center.” 

Braxton is thankful to have mentors on campus that encourage her to try new things. 

“Having people who support me at Johnson C. Smith University is why I chose to stay here,” she said. “Knowing someone is in your corner is a blessing,” she continued. 

In the future, she hopes to work with the Carolina Raptor Center’s rehabilitation program and take photos of new raptors. 

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