Brian Lackey

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Wildlife Photography and the Art of Slowing Down

Wildlife photography, for me at least, isn’t really about the images I come home with. More and more, my favorite parts are the quiet in-between moments in nature while out on these trips.

After an entire day outside and away from screens, my mind begins to unwind. Bit by bit, I notice small details in the world around me. A flock of blackbirds flies overhead and I hear their wings flapping together in concert. It’s a quiet sound, but there if you listen. I catch a glimpse of a small movement through the trees and find a well-camouflaged herd of deer across the nearby creek.

There’s a large dead tree that’s fallen out over the water a ways, so I crawl up on its trunk to sit for a while, just observing. It makes for a remarkably comfortable chair and I’m not in any hurry to move on.

After 10 minutes, the deer seem to realize I’m not much of a threat and go back to doing normal deer things. Nothing terribly exciting happens—no bucks get in a brawl, no fawns are born, and none of them fend off attacking coyotes—but it’s calming just to watch and internalize the pace of nature. I take a few photos, but that’s starting to become secondary at this point. Perhaps an hour goes by (though who knows), and they meander off into the tall grass. I pick up my things and continue wandering.

I used to say that good wildlife photography requires a lot of patience, but I’m not so sure that’s the right word for it. Surely, it requires a lot of time, and many slow in-between periods, but to me, patience represents enduring through tough times to get to the good moments. I’m realizing, however, that there’s nothing negative about the slow in-between periods. More often than not, they’re the best part.

If you haven’t come across Morten Hilmer yet, his behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube portray this feeling better than any others I’ve seen. The guy brims with excitement after the smallest interaction with nature—a herd of deer at the edge of the forest or a couple magpies fluttering around—and it’s contagious. I highly recommend diving in, paired with a cozy blanket and a hot cup of coffee. This is a good one to start with, but they’re all worth watching.

All images from an aimless wander last night around Colorado’s Barr Lake State Park. Click on any of them to view full-screen.