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Lessons from the Marsh


Part I: Going beyond f stops and shutter speeds

Posted: December 9th, 2010 @ 1:35pm


Lessons from the Marsh – Part I: Going beyond f stops & shutter speeds
© Jim Clark
One of my favorite quotations comes from a dear friend and colleague of mine, nature photographer Karen Hollingsworth: "There is no place like springtime in the marsh. I like to just sit back and let it tell me all its stories." 
 I like this quote so much that I often recite use it in my photography workshops to emphasize to my students the value of savoring the experience of being in nature over the capture of an image. I feel the more you are into the moment, the more your images will stand out from the rest. It’s hard to explain, but trust me on this. After more than 35 years photographing the natural world, I have learned it is more than the technical aspects of photography that make an outstanding image. It also requires something from you, something from the heart.
This past November, I spent two weeks along the fabled Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. You can’t get any coastal than that. Between leading two back-to-back workshops and having a few days on my own to photograph, I suddenly discovered that the marsh – any landscape for that matter – holds important lessons for us; lessons that can not only help us become better nature photographers, but also become better at appreciating those moments we have in nature. So, from one of my great teachers – the coastal landscapes of the Eastern Shore – here are some field lessons to place into your toolkit.
“Wherever you go, there you are.”  Original, eh? Well, not exactly, but this drives home the importance of you as a nature photographer to make the best of wherever you are. I’ve been exploring the Eastern Shore for more than 36 years now and I have yet to be bored or disappointed with what I see, experience, or discover. There is always another moment to experience and a memory to capture. I know many nature photographers would prefer to be in exotic locations with the National Geographic music playing in the background. But let’s face it; it’s not always going to be that way. Enjoy nature wherever it might be for you. That could be even your backyard.
“Don’t just photograph nature. Photograph to be in nature.” During my workshops this past November, I was impressed by how all the students became immersed in their surroundings. From the beginner to the most advanced, each student seemed to appreciate what was happening all around them.
Of course it helps when the instructor is more than a technical guru of photography. It’s important to also be an interpreter of nature. We simply had fun watching a great blue heron patiently wait for the right moment to strike the water to catch a fish. We applauded its successes and gave an encouraging word when it failed.  
 
For a couple of days, we also enjoyed the antics of two river otters as they swam, fished, and explored the channel along the road.  Don’t be misled – we photographed both the great blue heron and the river otters. But we also had the added enjoyment as friends and colleagues sharing in just watching these critters.
Are there more lessons from the marsh? Yes there are, so stay tuned for Part II of Lessons from the Marsh. 




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