I stopped to take pictures on a Friday a few weeks ago on my way home from work. There is a pull-off behind the local mall complex and beside a large stream — trout waters, according to a sign hung on a tree streamside. It may as well have been a different world from the one I left behind at work: silent, still, tranquil, and relaxed.
A flock of mallards patrolled the waters until my intrusion startled them into flight. I captured the takeoff, only to discover I had the shutter speed impossibly slow. Their exodus looked more like a mallard-colored grease smear than a flock of ducks. Lesson one: check your camera settings before you leave the car.
Later, a kingfisher swooped by in a brilliant flash of blue, intent on spearing lunch. There was no time to snap a shot or even lift the camera to my eye, only time enough to see its run. Later I spied it off in the distance, perched among the treetops. Lesson two: some things can’t be photographed, only experienced in the moment.
As I scanned the treetops for another chance at the kingfisher, I turned back towards the car ... and stepped into a muskrat hole I never saw. Fortunately, only my heel entered the hole and not my toe. Somehow I managed to stay upright and hang on to my camera. Had I fallen, I could have found myself covered in snow with a broken camera, or worse, a broken leg. Lesson three: maintain awareness of your surroundings, not just your target.
A covered bridge spans the stream, built on stone foundations. Covered bridges are picturesque, but I think they tend to be overdone. I found my eye drawn not to the bridge, but to a beautiful graffiti work of art. A primal, almost tribal fish in blues and reds rose to strike a stylized spray-paint tag. Had I simply dismissed the bridge as overdone, I would have missed the fish. Lesson four: everything is worth a second look from a new angle.
Motion caught my eye from across the water, a flash of grey among the grasses on the far bank. I studied the area carefully, first with my naked eye, then with my telephoto "monster lens," but saw nothing. I took the shot anyway. Later, at home, I zoomed in on the photo to discover a bold little sparrow, his head cocked to the side as if to say, “What are you looking at?” Lesson five: take the shot.
More movement and rustling drew my attention to another sparrow scratching for his supper among the fallen leaves on my side of the stream. He hopped and scratched vigorously, shifting constantly as I snapped a dozen or so pictures. The angle wasn’t always ideal, but the session yielded one shot mid-scratch and another mid-stretch, his wings at half-mast. Lesson six: keep shooting.
By this point my fingers were numb, and my camera’s battery was flashing empty. While I had another battery in my pocket, I was ready for some warmth and a coffee. Six lessons were enough for one day. I’ll be back, maybe when the weather turns warmer and things green up a bit.