The Photography of Jim Clark

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Home > News & Views > Lessons from the Marsh - Part II

Lessons from the Marsh - Part II

Exploring with an open mind

One of my heroes in the conservation field is Harvard professor E.O. Wilson. He just seems to have it right each time he writes about our connection and relationship to the natural world. And he’s very eloquent about it, too.
One of my favorite Wilson quotes is “When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.” I believe this quote really applies to nature photography and especially to the individual photographer, and I am including myself here.
No matter how many times I see a robin in my yard, I remain fascinated at watching it search for worms or listening to its melodious song in spring. While others in the neighborhood stroll by without notice of what’s around them, I’m the opposite. I cannot get enough of nature and it doesn’t matter how common it is, I view it as if this is the first time I’ve seen it. Even in the typical suburban neighborhood where I live, there is nature to be seen and discovered, which brings me to a few more lessons I’ve learned from the marsh.
“You have choices, explore other options.” As much I explore and photograph in my home state of West Virginia or along the Eastern Shore, I always find something new to discover and photograph. With more than thirty-five years going to these places, I am still amazed at what I find. Even in those areas where I photograph frequently, I’ll find another way to photograph a familiar subject. By changing your perspective, you can capture an entirely new image. By simply moving around the scene, you can discover a new composition that someone else, even yourself, has not yet captured. Through understanding how to use different lighting situations – side, backlit, diffused, and yes, even frontal lighting – you have options for creating a composition, that while it may be of the same subject, interprets it a bit differently. By changing the focal length, you have additional choices on how to portray the familiar scene in different way. Instead of using a wide-angle, opt for a mid-range telephoto to compress the scene and isolate on only a portion of the scene. You have choices, so use them and this goes for photographing the critters as well, including your neighborhood robins.
“It’s never crowded going the extra mile.” These days I find myself becoming more discerning in what I photograph or how I photograph. I might pass up a typical composition that I’ve done time and time again. So, keeping in mind that I have choices and that I should explore other options, I usually give myself some time to become comfortable and inspired. And it usually doesn’t take that long.
This past November I was photographing at Blackwater and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuges along the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia. I spent my first day at each location not worrying too much about what to photograph. My cameras were of course ready for any surprises I might encounter, but it was more a time for me to explore and to enjoy what I was seeing.
As a die-hard birder and nature watcher, this is not a problem for me; it’s something I continually strive to instill in my students: Enjoy the moment first and then the surprise -- the image -- will come to you. I guarantee it or your money back.
After getting into the moment, I started seeing more to photograph. Instead of rushing, I began to take my time – watching, listening, and absorbing everything around me. Then I decided to push myself a bit more, to spend a little more time photographing a subject or to wait just a bit longer to see what unfolded. By patiently waiting, I was able to capture this image of a bald eagle lifting from a snag tree and taking flight. At the same time the marsh was telling me it stories while I waited. I listened. I enjoyed. I was thankful. Again, it doesn’t get any better in life than that.
Going the extra mile for me is having the patience – a lost art, I might add – to see what might transpire. That’s the gift of nature photography: savoring those special moments unfolding before you. Use the time you have to enjoy it and then go the extra mile to capture a new surprise to share with others. Those who view your images will feel the moment as well.  

Jim Clark


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