Gather your rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
I’m not a betting man. I admit I have laid down a few friendly bucks with friends over a football game or two, but I never laid out huge amounts to try and triple or quadruple my wager. I apply the same principle when I go out to make wildlife and/or scenic images either in the Serengeti or in one of our national parks. I tend to play it safe and take the sure thing. Why gamble if the potential is guaranteed? Why roll the dice if I know I have a great subject in great light? What’s around the corner? Could it be better? That would be amazing…maybe I’ll chuck what I have and see. If it’s better, that would be fantastic, but I already have something great. What if it isn’t—now I have nothing? I just threw away gold! I kind of adore gold. Are you willing to gamble?
How many of you skimmed over the introductory lines of poetry at the beginning of this article? How many of you ignored them because you wanted to get into the meat of this week’s tip? How many read them but just “looked” at the words and didn’t digest them? How many of you actually took the time to contemplate their meaning? There’s no right or wrong as to how they were absorbed, but for those of you who did read them and found a connection with them, Bravo! They’re quoted from a 17th century poem but are probably more well-known from their use in one of my all-time favorite movies, “Dead Poets Society.”
For me, they have a huge impact on how I approach my photography regardless of the conditions, what camera and lens I have in my hand or any other factor that may impact my RAW file. The essence of the words is to take advantage of life before “your flower will be dying.” In other words, Carpe Diem: Seize the Day! Make the most of what you have before it wilts. Take advantage of the hand you’re dealt. Grab every opportunity you’re bestowed. You get the idea. If you have a sure thing, use it to your advantage and put your best foot forward.
Photographically, here’s the connection. I get a hot tip that a momma cheetah with three young cubs have frequented the area of the Gol Kopjes in the Serengeti. We leave camp salivating over the fact we’ll add cheetah cub files to our memory cards. During the 30-minute drive, it’s all we talk about. On the way, clouds roll in, a hole to the west opens up and a rainbow begins to form to the east. As much as we yearn to make the cheetah cub pics, how do we pass up a gorgeous opportunity? What’s the guarantee we’ll even find the cheetah? We give in and start to make scenics of a rainbow forming over the kopjes. A minute goes by and the rainbow goes full. Next thing we know, a double rainbow begins to form and two giraffes emerge from behind the kopje and pose for us under the rainbow! Good thing we took the sure thing! Will it always pan out like that? Of course not, but in lieu of not knowing if we’d even find the cheetah, a photo fantasy was fulfilled.
I have many slogans I share with all my safari participants throughout the two weeks we are together. I have a new favorite I started to use just recently. Before we head out on any session, I ask the guide and my participants, “What will we be given today?” After all, it’s nature photography and there are no guarantees.
What about scenics? I love the red rock country of Utah. While it’s a very safe bet Delicate Arch will be there in the morning, will the light be dramatic? Will tourists who arrived earlier than you and want to enjoy sunrise under the arch refuse to move? Will other tour groups arrive earlier and get the prime photo location and frame the mountains in the distance? You get the idea.
Learn to read light so you can make the most educated guess as to how clouds may create drama. Study the behaviors of the animals on which you want to concentrate to stay a step ahead of their movement. Check the internet for constant updates regarding wildflower displays and peak fall color. Head out a bit earlier and stay out a bit later to not miss any dramatic light. To miss spectacular displays by three minutes is very frustrating. Listen to weather reports for impending or receding storms. Armed with all these strategies, decide how much you’re willing to gamble if you have a sure thing—the bottom line is it’s up to you. What will we be given today? Don’t be greedy. A great shot of a mongoose family perched on a termite mound makes a far better photo than the regal male lion you anticipated photographing but never showed up.
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.