Patience is a (photographic) virtue

What’s the most important skill needed to be a wildlife photographer? Is it having a telephoto lens? Certainly, being able to get as close as you can without scaring away critters is right up there but not the most crucial.

Having the knowledge of the habits of the various animals is also significant. Predicting when and where they will be nesting, feeding or other behavioral patterns can be of great help in getting your shot, but perhaps not the most critical.

These things are maybe within the top five skills in wildlife photography, but patience is the most important skill. People often believe that good pictures just happen. They think that a photographer can just walk up to an assignment or situation take a few pictures and be done within minutes. But great photos, especially wildlife photos, can take a long time, requiring a lot of patience. National Geographic photographers can spend weeks, sometimes months, just to get the right shot.

Last week, I saw a large flock of thousands of snow geese as they roosted in the buffer lands of the Stone Lake National Wildlife Refuge southwest of Elk Grove. They were probably there fattening up before their long journey back north to Canada and Alaska.

I was hoping for a shot of the flock as they lifted off to take to the sky. I climbed up a berm separating a suburban neighborhood with the refuge. As I got to the top of the berm the geese had already taken off, but I was at least 150 yards away. Even though my camera was equipped with a 300mm lens they birds were still too far away.

By the time I got to a place where I could get a clear shot of the geese they had landed about a quarter mile away. They were still within the refuge, but too far away to get a good shot. A chain link fence separated the refuge from any trespassers. However, hope springs eternal.

I decided to wait to see if they would fly back. It was a long shot. They could fly off in any direction or just stay put well out of range of my telephoto lens. So I just stood there, waited and hoped. After about an hour or so I noticed that rather than looking like little white specks in the distance, they appeared to be slightly larger specks.

The flock was slowly making its way back toward me as they foraged through the rolling pasture and vernal pools of the refuge. After about another 90 minutes, they finally had gotten close enough for me to get a good shot. There were a couple of false alarms where they began to take off and actually rose about 5 to 10 feet, but they quickly landed again. Then, in unison with a whoosh of fluttering wings, they all launched themselves skyward in a visual grouping that filled the frame of my camera.

I could have easily given up and gone home. But with a little patience I was able to get the shot I was hoping for.

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