NATURE’S VIEW; Moments (Part II)

Anticipating the moment

Story and photography by Jim Clark

In Part I, I described the two important personal skills I recommend a nature photographer possess: knowing when to anticipate a moment and knowing when to chase a moment. In this month’s column, I will share an experience that shows how knowing when to anticipate a moment paid dividends for me.

This past spring, my last nature photography workshop of the season took place along the eastern shore of Virginia. The students and I had a great day photographing birds, coastal landscapes and historical fishing villages. It was one of those days when you feel as though, “Life doesn’t get any better than this.” Yet, as I soon found out, it can.

At the end of the shoot, we drove back to a restaurant on Chincoteague Island’s east side. While the group was still eating and celebrating a delightful day of photography, I stepped outside and witnessed a massive bank of storm clouds from the west heading our way. The clouds were dark, foreboding and wonderful, and the front was moving fast, heading directly toward Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. If I was right, the clouds were headed to a location that had great landscape photography potential.

I convened the group of hardy and dedicated photographers and showed them what was unfolding. They were keen to follow the storm. We piled back into our vans and made our way to the refuge and to that special location: Black Duck Marsh and Black Duck Pool on the refuge’s Beach Road.

Black Duck Marsh is located on the west side of the road, while Black Duck Pool is on the east side. If I was right, both locations would be prime for photography within an hour or less.

Sunset at Black Duck Pool, located on the east side of Beach Road at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark

Sunset at Black Duck Pool, located on the east side of Beach Road at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark

 When we arrived, the skies were still clear and blue, but we could see the clouds moving our way. As the sun was making its descent toward the western horizon, the low-angled light it created was nothing short of extraordinary.

We set up our tripods, attached our lenses of choice and waited. Before long, the clouds entered our compositions. A light breeze was strong enough to keep the mosquitos at bay, but not enough to create havoc with the marsh vegetation.

As I had hoped and expected, no matter what angle or direction we photographed, the light was phenomenal and the clouds added drama to our compositions.

The group kept busy photographing on the east side of the road, then switching to the west side of the road. Prior to the sun setting, we were even treated with a small rainbow framed against the dark clouds to the east.

Sunset at Black Duck Marsh located on the west side of Beach Road at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark

Sunset at Black Duck Marsh located on the west side of Beach Road at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark

I worked all angles of the scene as well, opting to use my 24-70mm wide angle and then switching to a 70-200mm medium range telephoto to isolate on a small tidal channel of water reflecting the clouds and the colors of the setting sun.

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Sunset reflections in tidal channel along Beach Road at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. (c) Jim Clark

As darkness moved in, the group continued photographing until the last remaining lumens of sunlight disappeared.

In Part III, I’ll give an example of how chasing a moment can work to your advantage.


A past NANPA president and former contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer, Jim 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 is www.jimclarkphoto.com; www.jimclarkphoto.wordpress.com is his blog; and you can visit him on Facebook.