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Tips and techniques

NATURE’S VIEW: Moments (Part III)

By November 13, 2016No Comments

Chasing the Moment

Story and photography by Jim Clark

Knowing when to anticipate a moment can pay dividends in photographing nature, as shown in my column in Part II in the November issue. This article provides an example that illustrates how knowing when to chase a moment can also pay off.

After the conclusion of my final spring workshop along Virginia’s eastern shore, I spent the afternoon exploring the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. While on the refuge’s Wildlife Drive, I saw several flocks of white and glossy ibis flying into Snow Goose Pool. As soon as one flock landed, another flock winged over the pines and landed in the same wetland.


White ibis flying into Snow Goose Pool at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark

Before long, several hundred wading birds had gathered in the wetland. With so much avian activity, I decided to stay and photograph this amazing natural event. Only a few hours of daylight remained, so I had to be ready to chase the moment. Now wasn’t a time to fiddle with camera controls, as precious moments could be lost.

I quickly positioned myself to allow for the best angle of ambient light on the birds flying into and feeding in the wetland. For me, that was having the low-angled sun directly behind me. The light washed over the birds, showcasing the details and color in their plumage. I used a continuous high rate of 9 to 11 frames per second to capture the action of birds flying and interacting with each other. For exposure I used both manual and aperture priority settings. For manual, I took a spot reading off the ibis and set my exposure accordingly — as long as the birds were in the same light, the exposure would be correct. For aperture priority, I simply adjusted exposure with the camera’s exposure compensation dial. If I needed more speed, I increased the ISO setting. With a quick look at the histogram on my camera’s LCD monitor, I could make adjustments as needed.


Juvenile white ibis feeding in wetland at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark

My lenses of choice were an 600mm with and without a 1.4x extender on a tripod and an 80-400mm telephoto zoom, handheld to capture the flocks as they flew to the wetland. With my 80-400mm telephoto, I could zoom in on individual birds or action and then zoom out quickly to capture a wider view of the flocks of ibis. My 600mm stayed firm on a sturdy tripod with a Wimberley WH-200 gimbal head, which provided quick and easy follow-throughs when photographing the birds in flight.

Except for the occasional sip of a diet cherry cola, my attention stayed focused solely on the drama playing out in front of me. The activity in the wetland became nonstop. Something was happening no matter where I looked — flocks flying in, birds competing for position, birds chasing other birds to get a prized catch, or just birds standing and waiting their turn for an opportunity.


Two immature white ibis fighting at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark

I needed to keep my attention on the action and not worry about my settings. The critical part of knowing when to chase a moment is having the confidence in your understanding of exposure and camera settings so you can concentrate on capturing the shot at the right moment in time. So before you head back into nature, be sure to bring your skills at anticipation and chase with you. You’ll be glad you did.

What Drew Them In?

Are you wondering why the ibis and other wading birds were congregating in such large numbers in these wetlands? Well, water in the freshwater pools is carefully managed by refuge staff to provide optimum feeding habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds.

In spring, water levels are reduced to create exposed mudflats that attract migrating shorebirds. The lower water level also creates isolated pools of water that concentrate fish for wading birds to feed upon. This is what I was witnessing — a literal feeding frenzy of herons, egrets and ibis. Later, as summer progresses, the exposed mudflats become thick with native vegetation that migrating waterfowl favor for food. As winter approaches, the water control structures are closed to retain rainwater, which creates higher water levels preferred by waterfowl that winter on the refuge. The more you know…


A past NANPA president and former contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer, Jim Clark is currently the 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 can be found at, blog at, or visit him on Facebook.