Photographs are moments in time captured on film or digital medium. The viewer sees only the image itself, generally representing a mere fraction of a second in time. The photographer experienced the whole photographic event: all the time and effort involved, any previous unsuccessful attempts, and the beauty, splendor, excitement and anticipation involved in the activity up until that moment of exposure. The result: an image that can trigger memories for the photographer that can’t be conveyed to the viewer. This immersion in the whole experience is one reason why it may be hard for a photographer to be totally objective about his work. It is also the reason why a photographer’s favorite images are sometimes not necessarily his best ones.
A perfect example is the image of the wood duck accompanying this post. I have better images of wood ducks, but this one remains my favorite. To understand why, you have to know the story behind the image.
The story starts with a fascination for wood ducks that began with my first photograph of one in 2005. Over the next five years, a quest to photograph wood ducks led me to different regions of North Carolina as well as on two trips to North Chagrin Park near Cleveland, Ohio—one of the country’s best places to photograph wood ducks.
During this same period my wife and I were planning our “retirement” home, to move to once our youngest son finished high school. My wife wanted to build our dream house. I wanted land to manage for attracting wildlife. Twenty-five acres of land were purchased in 2005. A one-acre pond was excavated in 2006, effectively adding another type of habitat that would lead to more nature photo opportunities. I did not really expect that wood ducks would come to the pond, but I did put up a wood duck box in 2008. Surprisingly, I found two wood duck eggs in the box on 21 May 2010 and nine wood ducklings fledged on 27 June.
The house was built during 2010 and we moved into our new home in August of that year. Once we moved in I began to toss out corn periodically into the shallow waters of the pond. I began to see occasional mallards and wood ducks on the pond.
Nature Journal Entry: 4 April 2011
I almost didn’t get out of bed this morning. I’d set up my blind and tripod by the pond yesterday evening. All I had to do was get dressed, grab my camera and small backpack, and hike the 150 yards down to the blind. Yet I seemed to be looking for excuses to go back to bed. I hit the snooze button a couple of times, then finally got up at 6:00 am and walked to kitchen to check the outside temperature. Yesterday it had been 37 degrees. If it was that cold this morning I was going back to bed. But no, the temperature was 57 degrees, so I quickly dressed, grabbed my gear, added a soda and a pack of nabs, and headed out. An unexpected stiff breeze hit me as I rounded the corner of the house. I stopped in my tracks and stood there at least a minute debating what to do. With that stiff a breeze, the water on the pond would be pretty choppy, not particularly good for photography. However, since the wind was coming from the west, the trees on the far side of the pond might shelter the pond somewhat. Since I was already up and ready, I decided to give it a try. I was in my blind by 6:15. Sunrise was 6:55. The trees were indeed blocking the wind and, as I waited for light, I heard and saw several pairs of ducks fly into and leave the pond. They all stayed at the far end, behind the small island in the center of the pond. This was my third morning of photographing on my pond and the ducks seemed to be aware of my presence. I’d only managed a couple of distant mallard shots to show for my previous efforts.
At about 7:15, I held my breath as I saw a pair of wood ducks begin to slowly swim down to my end of the pond. They fed briefly on the corn I had tossed out and then turned and slowly swam back to the far end. I snapped a number of images, kept only three. My favorite is shown. They stayed on my end of the pond for about fifteen minutes total. The wood ducks flew off at 8:00. The mallards lingered a while longer. I was back at the house by 9:00.
Too excited and pumped up to go back to bed, I accidently woke my wife. I excitedly told her that I’d captured my first wood duck photo on our pond. Still half asleep, she said, “The first of many.” My reply, “I sure hope so”.