When One Door Closes, Another Opens

When One Door Closes, Another Opens (or substitute your own cliché here)

Have you ever planned a shoot only to have things go wrong or fall apart? It happened to me – twice – on what has become my own annual two-day dragonfly fest near Las Vegas. Funny thing, though, the turn of events stretched me in ways I had not anticipated and resulted in shooting opportunities and images I could not have imagined or hoped for.

The first “door” shut practically right out of the gate, day one, 6:00 AM, eagerness overflowing on the drive over to the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve where exotic dragonflies awaited me. I rounded the last bend in the road and there on the fence was a “CLOSED” sign. A recent rain deluge had flooded the ponds and damaged the preserve. I said some bad words and thought about a call to Alaska Airlines to arrange an early return, but instead headed to another refuge where I had had little luck last year, the Clark County Wetlands Park.

This time, however, I soon discovered pockets of accessible dragonflies with beautifully patterned wings and multi-colored bodies, the likes of which I had never seen even at my first-choice refuge last year. Despite some gusty winds it turned out pretty nice.

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On day two, however, the “door” shut again when I arrived again only to find that the dragonflies I had seen so many of the day before had virtually vanished for no apparent reason. So, instead of looking up for dragonflies, I began looking down for damselflies, which I thought I had had my fill of through the spring and early summer. But with plenty of natural light behind me I resurrected my 500D Closeup Filter, Canon’s “magnifying glass” that screws onto the end of my 100-400mm lens. That, coupled with the 20mm extension tube at the back end of the lens allowed me to get within a few inches of the subjects and fill a frame with eyes and a face no more than one quarter of an inch wide.

Believe me, it is not easy controlling such a big lens even with the added stability of a Siuri monopod to hold it against (no time or space for a tripod here). I also encountered swarms of ants right where I needed to stand, or kneel, or lay down to get the shot. With a fraction of a millimeter making the difference as to whether or not I had a sharp focus on the damselfly’s eyes and the ever-present micro-blur that can happen with barely any movement of the lens or by the subject, I tried to take at least 20-30 shots of each pose hoping one would turn out well. It was 100 degrees out and this type of shooting is taxing both mentally and physically, not to mention the real and imagined feeling of ants crawling up my legs. That said, the difficulties encountered enhanced the satisfaction I felt when I later determined on my computer that I had nailed an image.

I can’t finish this without mentioning that letting go of dragonflies for the day also “opened the door” to noticing other goings-on. Most memorable was seeing how these yellow and orange bees (wasps?) landed and floated on the pond and apparently drank the water for several seconds before taking off. This happened over and over again. In somewhat shaded ponds the high sun reflected bright stars off the indentations made by the bee’s feet. Pretty cool.

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Call it what you want – going with the flow, rolling with the punches, making lemonade out of lemons, or the door analogy – I suspect it is something we’ve all experienced to one degree or another and a necessary skill to nurture and develop as a photographer. This is especially true for nature photographers because when all is said and done, Mother Nature is in the driver’s seat, not us.