Story and photographs by Jim Clark
We are all overbooked these days. Our lives are commandeered by everything we deem uncompromisingly critical. Add those electronic devices that have become as indispensable as an appendage, and we are saturated with an excess of things to keep us too preoccupied to even take a breath.
Remember a time when you hiked into a meadow, laid down and watched the clouds float across the blue sky? Did hawks and vultures glide into your view, and did you wonder what it would be like to fly? Watching, admiring, thinking and developing—that is slowing down at its essence.
Psychologists have termed this as “off the clock” activity that helps to develop creativity and awareness. And while it seems counter intuitive, even nature photographers should take a break now and then. We need to simply watch and observe, to appreciate where we are and what we are doing, to be in wonder of nature and to seek to understand what it is we are photographing.
One of my very first workshops took place in the beautiful mountains surrounding West Virginia’s Canaan Valley in autumn. After a great day of photographing fall colors, the students went back to the lodge. The sun had already set, but its afterburners turned on, draping the sky with curtains of deep reds.
Instead of going back with the students, my assistant and I put our gear aside, sat along a beaver pond and watched the evening show. Adding to the sky’s colors were silhouettes of wood ducks flying past then landing on the pond. We took in the summer fragrances, the soft call of the wood ducks, the light summer breeze and the cool touch of the grasses around us. We slowed down. We became observers. We made memories.
I am in wonderment of what I experience in the field. My senses go into overload as the moments play out: the formation of thunderclouds above the mountains, a flock of shorebirds flying just above the rolling waves, or the choir of bird songs from the forest. It’s the type of sensory overload I believe is healthy. It’s sensory overload that takes time to absorb, appreciate and savor. It’s sensory overload that creates enduring memories. It’s sensory overload that makes a nature photographer an even more skilled photographer.
I take lots of breaks from my photography. Sometimes it is simply nursing a cup of coffee as I lean against my car and watch the activity at a marsh. Mostly, I’m watching the behavior of the critters I plan to photograph. I can learn something through their movements, whether they are preening, grazing or flying. What I pick up during my breaks frequently helps me to anticipate or chase a future moment.
If nothing else, slowing down can add happiness to your life. So to add more happiness to your photography, slow down and become an observer. I can already sense a big smile across your face.
A past NANPA president, Jim is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer and nature photography instructor for Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son Carson. Jim was also a major contributor to the book, Coal Country. Visit Jim’s website at www.jimclarkphoto.com, blog at www.jimclarkphoto.wordpress.com or visit him on Facebook.