With the goal of highlighting the diverse natural areas in and around Palm Beach County, conservationist Benji Studt views photography as a form of outreach
Benji Studt has always sought solace, inspiration, and adventure in the outdoors. The Florida native spent a chunk of his childhood in northern Virginia, where he would bounce around the woods and climb rocks in nearby Prince William Forest Park. He credits his parents with sparking his interest in the natural world at an early age. “I come from a long line of bird junkies and nature nuts,” he says. Summer vacation meant camping trips to the Florida Keys, Okefenokee Swamp, and all over the Appalachians. “I just love that sense of exploration you get when you’re outside,” he adds.
After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in environmental science, Studt relocated to The Palm Beaches and set about learning everything he could about its natural areas and resources. Now, as the public outreach program supervisor for Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), Studt shares that passion with locals and visitors alike.
Within his day job, that takes the form of outreach programs such as “Adventure Awaits” excursions, in-person and virtual field trips, and even a new documentary, Hidden Wild, that follows three students as they trek through the county’s wilderness. “There isn’t really a typical day, which suits me well,” says Studt. “I get to tell stories about all the awesome work that ERM does.”
In his free time, however, he often visits his favorite public lands, camera in hand, to soak in the scenery and maybe—just maybe—snap an image or two that will prompt others to do the same. For Studt, who has been cultivating his photography hobby for more than a decade, the payoff comes in showcasing South Florida for what it truly is: wild, rugged, and absolutely gorgeous.
Photography by Benji Studt
“I am so in love with the expansive pinelands, scrubs, swamps, and the black water that meanders through the Loxahatchee River,” he explains. “So many people think that these are desolate places that are wastelands, and that’s kind of the stigma of swamps and lowlands. I love to focus on those and try to show them in these really moody and beautiful ways that, hopefully, will at least inspire people to go visit them when they wouldn’t have before…when you put your toes in the mud and really feel these places, they’re so full of life and so prehistoric that you can’t help but fall in love.”
From foggy rainbows illuminating the flatwoods of Jonathan Dickinson State Park to a sunrise peeking through storm clouds off the shores of Coral Cove Park, Studt looks to capture those serendipitous moments when nature becomes indiscernible from art. “The times when I really enjoy photography and feel like I make my best or most compelling images are when I go out and have my camera with me, but I don’t have any preconceived expectations,” he says. “I’ll absolutely do what I think all artists and especially nature photographers do and go into this frenzy mode when something incredible happens.”
Studt stresses that these moments are ubiquitous across Palm Beach County, but he’s especially fond of Pine Glades Natural Area in western Jupiter and the Loxahatchee Slough in Palm Beach Gardens. The former, he notes, boasts a wading bird roost about a half-mile from the parking lot where, come sunset, you’re guaranteed to spot hundreds of birds. He describes the latter as “the beating heart of the wild and scenic Loxahatchee River,” where sloughs, marshes, and a section of ocean-to-lake trail foster stunning wildlife.
As a conservationist, Studt would love for his images to compel people to both learn more about the ecology around them and take the time to immerse themselves within it. In addition to building a connection with the outdoors and an appreciation for environmental activism, such outings come with ample mental health benefits. Just 20 minutes is all it takes to reach the peak reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, Studt explains. “All you have to do is consciously go outside, unplug, and be present,” he says. “I hope that if I can inspire people to get out there once or twice, then that inherent value they feel is going to inspire a deeper connection in them to continue that.”