Lessons from the lake, Part II: Exploring with an open mind (c) Jim Clark

Beach at Sunset – Assateague Island National Seashore, VA (c) Jim Clark

“When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.” Edward O. Wilson

Harvard professor emeritus Edward O. Wilson is one of my conservation heroes, and this is one of my favorite quotes. All nature photographers can probably relate to it. There is nature to be seen everywhere and all kinds of wildlife behavior to record.

The little mountain lake in West Virginia that I introduced you to in the previous blog taught me a few additional lessons that reinforce the meaning of that quote.

You have choices, explore your options

Regardless of how often I photograph at a location, I look for (and find) something new to photograph every time I’m there. By simply changing your perspective—slowly moving around a scene—you can discover compositions that have yet to be captured.

Cooper’s Hawk at sunset – Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA (c) Jim Clark

Understanding how to use different lighting situations—side, backlit, diffused, and frontal—also provides more options. While the subject remains the same, the interpretation doesn’t. And changing the focal length provides even more choices on portraying a familiar subject in different ways. For example, instead of using a wide-angle, opt for a mid-range telephoto to compress a scene and isolate a portion of it.

It’s never crowded going the extra mile

Salt Marsh in morning fog 11122014 Queen Anne's Ldg Chincoteague VA (c) Jim Clark_1

                        Coastal Marsh in November morning fog – Chincoteague, VA (c) Jim Clark

Through the years, I have become more discerning in what I photograph and how I go about it—passing up some typical compositions that I’ve done time and time again. Keeping in mind that I have choices and can explore other options, I usually give myself some time to become comfortable in a place. Usually, inspiration quickly follows.

Recently, I spent two weeks photographing along the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia. On the first day at each location, I didn’t worry about what to photograph. My cameras were at my side, but I took that time to explore and enjoy the area. That’s something I’ve learned to do over time, and I continually strive to instill it in my students. Enjoy the moment first and then the image will come to you. After getting into the moment, I started seeing more to photograph. Instead of rushing, I took my time. I watched, listened and absorbed my surroundings. Then, I decided to push myself by waiting just a little bit longer. While I waited, the marsh told me its stories.

Berwind Lake Wildlife Management Area, McDowell County, WV (c) Jim Clark

The lake at Berwind Lake Wildlife Management Area near War, West Virginia (c) Jim Clark

Going the extra mile means having patience. That’s the gift of nature photography. Savor the special moments that unfold before you. Capture a new, more informed image. Those who view your image just might feel the moment as well.

Lessons from the lake: Part I – Going beyond f/stops & shutter speeds (c) Jim Clark

Northern Parula Warbler 04172014 Berwind Lake WMA WV (c) Jim Clark_11

“There is no place like springtime in the marsh. I like to just sit back and let it tell me all its stories.”—Karen Hollingsworth

I have learned that an outstanding image takes more than technical skills. The more you are into the moment, the more your images stand out.

This past summer I visited my childhood home in the remote coalfield region of southern West Virginia. Much has changed since I grew up there, but one constant remains: a small mountain lake that has served as my secret location to explore and photograph nature. There is nothing fancy about this lake, but it has provided me with countless hours of enjoyment.

During my latest trip, I thought about how all landscapes hold important lessons that not only help us become better nature photographers, but also help us appreciate moments in nature. Here are a few of those lessons from my little lake:

Wherever you go, there you are

Original, eh? Well, not exactly, but this drives home the importance of making the best of your situation. While this lake is not a crown jewel of the National Park Service, I have yet to be bored or disappointed with what I find there each time I visit. When I started out on this trip, I had no idea I would be treated to two extraordinary days of photographing birds from northern parula warblers to ovenbirds to American redstarts.

American Redstart - Berwind Lake Wildlife Management Area near War, West Virginia (c) Jim Clark

American Redstart – Berwind Lake Wildlife Management Area near War, West Virginia (c) Jim Clark

Most nature photographers would prefer to be in exotic locations, but let’s face it, it’s not always going to happen. Enjoy nature wherever you are at the moment.

Don’t just photograph nature; photograph to be in nature

I am always impressed by how most of my workshop students become immersed in their surroundings. From the beginner to the most advanced, each student appreciates what is happening around them.

It helps when the instructor is more than a technical guru and shows his or her enthusiasm to be in nature. Just as important is for the instructor to be an interpreter of nature and to share that knowledge with the students.

At a recent workshop, my students had just as much fun watching a great egret patiently wait for the right moment to strike the water to catch a fish as they did actually photographing the egret. We had the added enjoyment as friends and colleagues to share the scene unfolding right before us.

Next time you are in a location you think is not worthy of your time to photograph, think again.

Great Egret - Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA (c) Jim Clark

Great Egret – Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA (c) Jim Clark