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Tips and techniques

NATURE’S VIEW: Fading Light and the Fern

By August 13, 2016No Comments

Story and photography by Jim Clark

Along the fabled eastern shore near the state line between Maryland and Virginia, is one of my most favorite places to take workshop students: The Pocomoke River State Park. Bordering the Pocomoke River and Corker’s Creek, this Maryland state park protects one of the last remaining bald cypress swamps on the eastern shore. In fact, the cypress reaches its northernmost limit of distribution on the eastern shore.

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Bald cypress swamp, Pocomoke River State Park, Maryland. © Jim Clark

Prior to an early spring workshop, I spent a morning scouting the park. Hiking along a trail in the swamp, I kept noticing the play of light on newly emerged and unfurling ferns. And there was one particular fern ablaze in the backlit illumination of the morning sun that really grabbed my attention. Sure wished I had my camera. You see, this was one of those times I scouted without my gear. Gosh darn it!

After my hike, I drove back to the island of Chincoteague—about 35 miles away—to have lunch with a dear friend. But the fern and that great light stayed with me.

Throughout the afternoon I kept visualizing what the fern might look like in the evening’s fading, low-angled light. My mind was going from asking what I could do to what I should do. And finally my brain cells hit me with another question, “Why not do it?” The deal was sealed. I drove back to the park and hiked into the swamp to meet up with that one very small unfurled fern in the fading light. This time I had my camera, macro lens and tripod with me.

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Backlit netted chain fern, Pocomoke River State Park, Maryland. © Jim Clark

The low-angled light was doing exactly what I had previsualized. Once I found the fern, I set up low to the ground and spent the last remaining moments of ambient light photographing the backlit fern. Nailed it! Or so I thought.

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Netted chain fern, Pocomoke River State Park, Maryland. © Jim Clark

Hiking out of the swamp, I saw another beautiful fern in the fast fading light. This fern, however, was half-backlit on one side, while the other side stayed in deep shadow. As the sun neared its final descent below the horizon, I got down once more and worked the moment until darkness prevailed. This was the image I was hoping to capture.

Success at capturing a moment involves a fabric of previsualization, skills, concepts and imagination. Musician Herb Alpert once said how he could visualize the music he was composing; that he could feel it. The questions to ask as you venture into nature are: Can you visualize what the composition will be? Can you feel the moment? All it takes is to see, feel and trust. And yeah, bring your camera, lens and tripod with you.


A past NANPA president and contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer, Jim is also a nature photography instructor for the 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. Jim’s website is; is his blog; and you can visit him on Facebook.