I used to think I was a pretty good nature photographer. I had a decent eye for composition, knew the importance of lighting and had a pretty good grasp of the technical concepts. Your aperture, your shutter speed, your depth of field, etc. But now I know better. Now I know that I don't have the main ingredient, the one thing that a really, really good nature photographer needs: patience.
And I mean Patience, italicized and with a capital P. Not garden-variety wait-till-that-cloud-passes-and-the-light-gets-better patience. No, I mean getting up at 4 a.m. and grabbing your hip waders and your 48 pounds of camera gear and driving for a half-hour, then slogging for another half-hour through the marsh on foot, then setting up your gear, and then waiting--quietly, motionlessly and perhaps freezingly--for those first long rays of sunlight to slice through the marsh grass, lighting up the marsh and allowing you to zoom in and get the perfect picture of . . . nothing. Yes, nothing. Because today, for the third day in a row, the bird you're hoping to catch hunting for its breakfast in the marsh has decided to find its breakfast in some other marsh. So you stay for a while, and you hope something comes along to be photographed in this light, this absolutely perfect golden slanting light. Maybe something else does come along; maybe it doesn't. But in either case you eventually pack up your gear and slog back to the truck--this time keeping an eye out for that ankle-twisting hole you've stepped in three days in a row, so you can make a mental note of where it is and avoid stepping in it when you come back . . . tomorrow morning. And, if necessary, the next morning, and the next, and the next.
That kind of patience. The kind that photographer Kevin Fleming must have in spades. Because without it he couldn't possibly have created Wild Delmarva, the stunning coffee-table photo book we feature in this month's issue [see "Dances with Feathers," page 28]. Without it he couldn't have gotten that photo of the red fox kit peering out from beneath a log, so close and perfectly focused that you can see the color striations in its irises; or the close-up of the mallard duckling in the marsh, so crisp against a soft yellow-green backdrop that you can see blades of grass reflected in its eye and tiny beads of water rolling down its downy neck; or the magnificent great egret in mid-takeoff, brilliantly white against a perfect blue sky, wings spread, one foot raised and the other just releasing its grip on a branch; or the breathtaking two-page silhouette of a quintet of great blue herons in a marsh, one on the ground, one perched on a tree branch and the other three taking flight against a streaky blood-red sky.
It's a remarkable book--the second of its kind, in fact, a follow-up to Wild Delaware in 2008, which as the name suggests, was similar but more geographically limited. We congratulate Mr. Fleming and thank him for the privilege of excerpting this latest masterpiece in our pages. I can't help but wonder when his next book will come out. I suppose I'll just have to be patient. But as you know, I'm not very good at that.