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The Importance Of Patience In Natural Photography

It’s now a cliché that our society is super fast paced. There’s no time to relax. There’s no time for reading an article longer than 1000 words (this one is 737, don’t worry). Things need to be distilled into sound bites for easy ingestion.

This attitude of go, go, go will not serve you well in landscape, nature or wildlife photography. While there are times you may need to bolt out of bed and hit the trail running before the sun rises, shooting natural scenes requires patience. It is something the young or inexperienced often lack and it is lesson most of us typically learn on our own. I’m hoping to cut down that learning curve for some of you getting started.

Patience is important in natural photography (I’m grouping landscape and wildlife in with nature here to make for reading ease) because you are likely not in control of the scene. You have a say in where you stand and point your camera, but often the scene is unfolding at its own pace, which is different than yours. This difference is what causes impatience in most of us; wanting something to be where we want it, but it’s not, yet (and maybe never will be).

The value of patience is seen over time as the lesson, repeated, becomes evident to the photographer. That value is in knowing you might have a particular photo in mind for, let’s say, a sunset. That moment is upon you and <click>, you get your shot. Hooray! You pack up your gear and head back to the car and glance over your shoulder as an osprey glides through your previous scene and snatches a salmon from the still golden waters. Your jaw drops and a sinking feeling hits your stomach. (Or you elate at how beautiful the moment was, but that’s a different article.)

Another example for you to consider:

This first shot was one I had in mind when I realized the sunset was not likely going to be a stunner. Clouds were forming where the sun was to go and it looked to be a pale, Puget Sound sunset. So I shot for the muted patterns of the Olympic Mountains before they dip into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The Importance Of Patience In Natural Photography

Mission Accomplished. Or so I thought. I was ready to head home as the wind was blowing and tears were rolling down my face. But I stuck it out a bit longer with the students who were with me, because I know things can change. 12 minutes later, I panned slightly to the right as the sun decided to pop out from under some clouds for a minute or two.

The Importance Of Patience In Natural Photography

Great color on the horizon and surely a keeper. Ok, time to go? Nope, not yet. Stick it out and see what happens one minute and thirteen seconds later when the mist in the foreground is lit on fire.

The Importance Of Patience In Natural Photography

You don’t need to go through that moment to understand the lesson. If you are wise. Some people need the experience but I’m hoping some of you can see the value and take it to heart before hitting your forehead a few seconds after putting away your camera.

What can you do about increasing patience for natural photography? It takes the effort to introduce patience into your life in general to have it available for shooting photos. There’s no quick cure other than slowing down a bit, getting used to the quiet times in your life when the TV isn’t on and you’re not madly clicking from link to link on the internet, looking to be entertained. Meditation helps some people while others like breathing exercises. Reading at least 20 pages of a good book is also good exercise as it trains your brain to stay on one topic for an extended period of time.

I’m not saying multi-tasking is not good or advantageous. There are certainly times when it is precisely what is needed. But when it comes to standing in the cold for 20 minutes waiting for a bull elk to cross a stream while the light is starting to fade from the sky, the second most important item to make sure you packed that day is patience. Wishing the elk would hurry up will never, ever help.

What about you? What have you found helps you when you are waiting for a shot, or to stick around after and see what transpires?

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Peter West Carey

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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