I spent the pre-dawn hours of April 20, 2008 in an observation blind at Crex Meadows Wildlife Management Area. It was predictably cold, and as daylight approached, I feared that we were in for a tough shoot. A heavy sky blanketed the prairie with gray, and the grouse we hoped to photograph appeared to have all but abandon their lek. Four cloistered hours later, we managed to produce a few “keepers” (see Tip #63), but I was far from satiated.
Expectation is the wildlife photographer’s curse. While there have been occasions that I have happened upon an interesting nature event, most of my good work is the result of research and repetition. Pre-planning a trip and documenting annual ephemeral patterns is the only way I can manage to shoot with some degree of predictability. However, as pessimistic as it sounds, it is important to prepare for the disappointment.
While animal behavior can be defined by statistics, and climate data can suggest a trend, chaos (“the butterfly affect”) influences the patterns we see on any given day.
Preparing for a shoot requires a plan to cope with the unexpected. Just when a pattern becomes evident, you’ll find that predictable events of the past may not be easily predicted in the future. Unlike a studio shoot where light can be controlled and a model can be posed, ecological systems dictate nature’s events. One perturbation to life’s chaotic web often results in an unintended consequences. It is the unpredictability that draws me to this craft. If it were easy, I’d be bored and the pursuit of my art would relegated to someone else.
So it was with my prior experience in the blinds at Crex Meadows and the recognition that there is no “sure thing,” that I embarked on my weekend adventure. A rain/sleet mix accompanied me as I traveled towards the northwest. Arriving near sunset, I had enough time to check-in at the lodge, but lost the opportunity to check-out the blind. I set my alarm for 3:45 a.m., and laughed in the face of chaos theory.
Watch the blog for future posts about the ecology of the Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) and discussions about the making the images.
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