The True Value of Your Photography

Story and photography by Jim Clark

Pencils in Mason Jar (c) Jim Clark_01

Two pencils © Jim Clark

A few years ago I was invited by the Wood County Reading Association in West Virginia to speak at several elementary and middle-schools in the county. I jumped at the opportunity to speak to these young folks, especially since I’m a native son of West Virginia.

From the moment I arrived, I was treated like royalty, even being chauffeured from school to school. I visited eight schools, spoke to more than 1,000 kids, and although the facilities varied from school to school, we made it work each time. I also gave a program to the local community on my first night. While that was fun and well-attended, my time at the schools touched my heart. Continue reading

The Cutest Animal in Yellowstone

Story and photography by Jim Clark

Nature photographers heading to Yellowstone National Park would have to be a little crazy not to think about the potential for photographing the park’s herds of bison and elk, the striking mountain vistas and waterfalls, and the extraordinary thermal features of geysers, fumaroles and mudpots.

I’m no different. I especially love to photograph Yellowstone’s charismatic megafauna. In fact, my favorite is bison as they roam Lamar and Hayden Valleys. But I also seek out the little critters as well.

Of the 67 mammal species documented in the park, the majority are the smaller ones, including such personal favorites as golden-mantled and Uinta ground squirrels, least chipmunk and yellow-bellied marmot. But the one mammal I absolutely love to watch and photograph is the pika—undoubtedly the most charming and photogenic mammal in Yellowstone.

Pika Calling 2 - Yellowstone National Park WY (c) Jim Clark

American pika, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. © Jim Clark

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THIS BIRDING LIFE: Black Skimmers- My Enigma Bird

Story and Photos by Budd Titlow

A colony of black skimmers holds tight against a gusty wind on a beach in Florida’s Fort De Soto Municipal Park. © Budd Titlow

A colony of black skimmers holds tight against a gusty wind on a beach in Florida’s Fort De Soto Municipal Park. © Budd Titlow

Black skimmers are my enigma bird. Just when I think they couldn’t possibly be around, they show up in droves. Then when I think it’s a perfect day to see some, they’re nowhere to be found. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW: My Seven-year-old Encounters a Bruin

Story and photographs by Jim Clark ©

On the eve of my first trip to Churchill, Manitoba, to photograph polar bears and other arctic wildlife, I’m reminded of my son’s first encounter with a bruin. Carson was only seven, and his reaction to the experience serves as a lesson for all nature photographers. After all, it’s not the age from whence wisdom comes, but instead, it’s the true value of the wisdom that matters. But I digress.

Carson

Carson at age seven explores a trail near Cranberry Glades of West Virginia. © Jim Clark

For several summers, Carson and I would take a week-long trip to explore our favorite places in West Virginia. This became a time for father and son to have fun, discover new things, eat pizza nonstop (Don’t tell his mother!), and spend time as best buddies. Oh yeah, we photographed a bit, too.

One June, we visited the usual locations: Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls state parks, Beartown Natural Area, Falls of Hills Creek, and Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. Carson’s love for nature photography (especially wildlife) had just begun, so he was hoping to find something special to photograph at one of the locations.

While walking on the boardwalk at Cranberry Glades, I showed Carson recent signs of a black bear—scat on the boardwalk, broken alder branches and partially eaten skunk cabbage. Well, that got him excited. So, with camera in hand, he decided we should walk the boardwalk several times that morning to see if we would actually see the bear.

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NATURE’S VIEW: The Chattering Songbird of the Salt Marsh

Story and photographs by Jim Clark

In an earlier column I gave praise to the seaside sparrow, a species common to the salt marshes of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but rarely sought after by nature photographers. This column is on one of my all-time favorite songsters: Cistothorus plaustris, the marsh wren, a denizen of freshwater and tidal brackish marshes with robust stands of bulrush, cattail and cordgrass.

The marsh wren is every bit as inconspicuous as the seaside sparrow, but two qualities make it stand out. It is curious as all get-out, and it loves to sing.

Marsh wrens have to figure you out, and they will approach as near as arm’s length to do so. Even when you can’t see them, they are likely watching you; sometimes closer than you think.

Jim Songbird

The domain of the marsh wren, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland. © Jim Clark

The other giveaway is its song. Once you hear the marsh wren’s bubbling repertoire of chattering melodies, you will have little trouble recognizing it on future ventures into its wetland domain. A marsh is not a marsh without the wren’s enthusiastic and rapid chatter resonating throughout the tidal landscape. And this little feathered ball of dynamism not only sings during the day, but also at all hours of the night. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW: The Seaside Sparrow

Story and Photography by Jim Clark

© Jim Clark

© Jim Clark

One facet of nature photography that has always fascinated me is the natural history of what I’m photographing. Maybe it comes from my love for nature or maybe just because I’m a curious guy. I’d like to think it is in my DNA. Regardless of its origin or catalyst, the natural world has always been a critical component of my fabric of life.

So on occasion I will offer tidbits of natural history of select creatures I have photographed. Some may be high-profile, charismatic megafauna, but more often than not, I will offer insights on lesser known but equally fascinating creatures and landscapes. To start off, here’s a little natural history about one of my favorite marsh critters: the seaside sparrow. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW – A visit with the eloquent denizen of the cypress swamp, Story and photographs by Jim Clark

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

The charm of its haunts and the beauty of its plumage combine to render the prothonotary warbler among the most attractive members of the family.—Frank Chapman, ornithologist, 1907

Many nature photographers have locations or subjects that have been a desire or challenge to photograph. It may take years—sometimes, a lifetime—for a photographer to achieve a certain photographic goal. Indeed, it may never happen. The charm is that the photographer never gives up.

For years I wanted to photograph the prothonotary warbler, a beautiful yellow and orange warbler of the bottomland wetlands and cypress swamps. In the spring of 2013, that goal became a reality. It was a matter of being a naturalist first and photographer second. Knowing about the subject and using my skills at anticipating a moment and chasing one all played a part. Steadfast determination and persistence had something to do with it as well. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW: Capturing a sense of place – Story and photographs by Jim Clark

re-Berwind-Lake-Wildlife-Management-Area-McDowell-County-Jim-Clark_01

Part I: The elusive “it” factor in nature photography

On a recent photo shoot in West Virginia I was reminded of how, as nature photographers, we strive to seek that elusive characteristic in our landscape photography: a sense of place. After all, it is the “it” factor in landscape photography to have our viewers feel the moment of the scene we photograph. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW – Isolated Scenics

Story and photograph by Jim Clark

Isolated Scenics

…or, how I learned to stop worrying and love telephoto zooms for landscape photography

Trees in meadow @ sunrise - Canaan Valley NWR WV (c) Jim Clark

Trees in meadow @ sunrise – Canaan Valley NWR WV (c) Jim Clark

Ever look at those images you captured with a wide-angle lens and feel like something was missing? The scene was magnificent and you feel stymied as to why the grandeur did not translate in your final image? It might be because you included too much of the scene in the composition. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW: The Lowdown on the Slowdown by Jim Clark

With neutral density filter (c) Jim Clark

With neutral density filter (c) Jim Clark

Variable Neutral Density Filters Expand Horizons for Landscape Photography

Story and photographs by Jim Clark

For years I was a devoted citizen of the basic rules of landscape photography. Images were sharp and focused throughout, and I photographed only during early morning, late afternoon or during days with overcast skies. I wouldn’t have dared to photograph during the mid-day hours when there were clear skies. I did not step outside this zone of comfort fearing somewhere in some international doctrine of nature photography I would be prosecuted to the fullest extent. Yet, I wanted to add a bit more spark to my images. Continue reading