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Tips and techniques

NATURE’S VIEW: Moments (Part I)

By September 17, 2016March 1st, 2024No Comments

When to anticipate them and when to chase them

Story and photography by Jim Clark


At Sandstone Falls, West Virginia, I waited for a bank of low-lying clouds to enter the scene before I photographed it. © Jim Clark

During my childhood living in the remote mountains of southern West Virginia, nature became my addiction. The only way to satisfy my craving was to spend more time outside. I learned about the importance of waiting, listening and observing. After all, I was, at age ten, a hardcore birder, and by simply doing these three things I was able to add more birds to my life list. The more time I spent in the mountains, the more adept I became at reading the landscape, the seasons and the critters.

When I couldn’t be in nature, I read every book I could find about nature and the men and women who made it their careers. I learned that these individuals—Roger Tory Peterson, Rachel Carson and John Burroughs, to name a few—possessed the same skills I was developing: waiting, listening and observing.

Today, through my life-long passion and career in wildlife conservation combined with 40 years of nature photography, I have developed a mantra that always holds true to form: Know when to anticipate and know when to chase a moment. It has worked well for me both as a wildlife ecologist and as a nature photographer.

Knowing when to wait—anticipate—for just the right time to photograph means having the ability to be patient and the intellectual curiosity to determine ahead of time how a moment might play out. I discovered in my early years that the more patient and observant I am, the more knowledge I gain that can be used to decipher, locate or identify an event in future situations. And, by knowing the species, its behavior and habitats, and by understanding the lay of a landscape, I gain an ability to anticipate a moment.

Just as important as anticipating a moment is knowing when to chase a moment. This requires the ability to act fast and to have the technical knowledge of light, exposure and the operation of our cameras and lenses to quickly and confidently photograph a situation that is unfolding before us. After all, we are nature photographers, not just simply point-and-shooters, right?

In addition to knowledge, chasing a moment means possessing experience and confidence and using our powers of concentration to focus on the composition and capture the defining moment that makes our photography unique.

At Sandstone Falls, West Virginia, I waited for a bank of low-lying clouds to enter the scene before I photographed it. © Jim Clark

A great blue heron throws some shade at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland. While watching this lone heron preening, I knew if I waited long enough it would eventually do this classic wing spread. © Jim Clark

For me, knowing when to anticipate and when to chase are not mutually exclusive. Both depend upon each other to help capture just the right moment. Is it failsafe? No it isn’t. Nature plays by its own rules, and abides by its own time clock. Having the skills to anticipate a moment and to chase a moment, however, gives the nature photographer an extra advantage.

This article is Part I in my series on anticipating/chasing a moment. In Parts II and III, I’ll provide anecdotes that show how knowing when to anticipate and when to chase a moment worked for me.










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.