Based on their reputations alone I knew the keynote speakers at last month’s Summit in Las Vegas were going to be good, but their presentations surpassed my wildest expectations—brought tears to my eyes a couple of times. Of course, that might not be much of an endorsement. My wife, Cathy, says I’m a big crybaby at the best of times, while I maintain I’m just sensitive.
There was a time when I hoped to be good enough to stand on that stage giving a keynote presentation myself. Oh sure, I’ve done my share of Breakout Sessions, but I wanted a keynote. In our early days, as we pursued material that would qualify us for the big stage, Cathy and I found ourselves becoming more and more adventurous. We were constantly trying to photograph subjects that not many nature photographers had pointed a lens at, even going so far as to maroon ourselves on a deserted tropical island. On a couple of occasions, we were shooting the same locations at the same time as some of this Summit’s speakers, and we were cocky enough to think we might be of the same caliber they were. Well, perhaps we were close at one time, but that time has passed. Not only have all of these presenters left us in the dust, I have no desire to make the kind of sacrifices they have made for their craft.
Today I’m content to be a member of the audience, marveling at the images these photographers have captured. In fact, I count myself lucky to have heard their stories and had a chance to vicariously experience just a few of the things they have. Today I’m just thankful for Joel Sartore’s single-minded dedication to documenting disappearing species, for Sue Flood continuing to do the things no one thought she could, for James Balog refusing to quit tilting at the windmill of global warming, for Florian Schulz taking conservation photography to the extreme—and committing his family to it as well, for Clay Bolt showing us the little things and how important they are to us, and for George Lepp always pushing the boundaries of technology. Once again, I left a summit feeling inspired and humbled and fortunate to even be a small part of such an incredible group.