As part of her series Liz asked if we could write about our challenges when finding beauty.
As wildlife/nature photographers our search for beauty takes us to places off the beaten path and often we are the only humans in view. Our ‘studio’ is in the marshes and swamps of the Lowcountry in South Carolina, USA. This is one of the largest and most diverse ecosystems in the United States.
One special challenge for us is to remain aware of our surroundings and always be respectful of the wildlife. Our personal safety is important and we sometimes need to remind each other to take an eye off what we are photographing. Not influencing nature is also important; we have a desire to be spectators only, here to document life that many people never get to see.
The ‘buddy system’ is one method we employ. Two sets of eyes, one shoots while the other watches, especially when we are somewhere new to us. It works well until we get caught up in the excitement of the moment. But we try.
Above you see Ellen and a friend using the buddy system. You can also see a third party right below them and out of their view, hidden by the tall reeds. So it’s not a perfect system.
The biggest challenge we have is ourselves. That’s where our motivating motto comes in: ‘You can’t get the shot if you’re not out there’. Ellen and I repeat this to each other whenever and wherever we need it. And sometimes we do; the back porch has a ceiling fan and big pines for a view. Going out requires backpacks of gear, proper clothing, time in the car and usually a good healthy walk or hike.
The only control you really have in this type of photography is being there. But when you are, you can witness some exciting and beautiful scenes.
Here a Great Egret wanted to take possession of a Great Blue Heron nest. Two young herons fought off an attack for 2 hours. Nature is beautiful, yet seems cruel at times from the human viewpoint. This ended well with an adult heron returning at the last moment. These two chicks survived other crisis, grew up, and learned to fly. All in front of our cameras. But we had to get there.
We have walked into once in a lifetime photo shoots. Alligators, large and larger, everywhere. In one photograph alone I counted over 60 Alligators pushing up against each other. We’ve been to the same spot many times since but never have seen the same scene.
The water was flowing from this old marsh / rice field from an open water gate. As the water streamed out it funneled small fish towards the waiting biggest alligators. We stood right above them, on the dike and top of the water gate, to capture the scene.
Birds, including the newly flying young, congregate in the sea island marshes in summer. Here in a 12,000 acre wildlife area thousands of birds took advantage of low water levels that concentrate the small fish, frogs, and shrimp into easy pickings. There is no way to count how many birds, they were from my far left, to the right, until the water ended.
It was hard to pick a group or single bird to photograph there was so much going on. The best we could do was try to determine if there was a known marsh species that was not there. The only local species we couldn’t identify while we were there or later in our photographs was the American Avocet.
The ‘where and what is beauty’ for us is outside in the nature and wildlife around us. One we would never see unless we went to visit, with a camera of course.
Ellen and Ted Jennings
Photos by Ted Jennings