Writing articles for The Lincoln County News is both a rewarding and a difficult task. You might think that crafting perfect sentences and constructing flowing prose can’t be all that difficult. Everyone knows how to talk, and writing is just “talking” presented in hard copy, right?
Well, not so fast … writing is a craft, and as with most crafts, practitioners have different skill levels. I judge my personal skill level as competent but needing tons of polishing. I like to think I’m improving through practice and constructive coaching (thank you Bobsey!). One of the most difficult tasks for me is coming up with an idea that seems worthy of writing about and worthy of reading! Once I have the idea, it’s off to the races. However, coming up with the idea is either really hard or it just falls into your lap.
The other day an idea appeared out nowhere. A car pulled into my driveway, and as the driver rolled down the window, I recognized my neighbor and friend Duane. He flashed a wide grin and said, “Hey, in your last article you referred to sea gulls! There is no such thing as a sea gull. There are herring gulls and great black-backed gulls and just plain gulls!” And I thought, “Oh boy, I bet he’s right. He knows these birds!” How did he know this … well, here’s how.
Duane is a photographer, an excellent photographer. Without exaggeration, he knows his craft extremely well. Photography, like writing, is a difficult craft to be really good at. In our digital times, we are all photographers. We see a cute kitten, pull out our iPhone or Android device and take far more pictures than we ever would have before of this kitten. These types of photographs are commonly called “snapshots.” We all do it so you know what I mean.
Another type of photography is done with very fancy cameras that require the equivalent of a Ph.D. to operate. Duane’s camera is one of these babies. With it, he can rapidly switch from a wide-angle to a telephoto lens, which he needs to capture an eagle dive-bombing an osprey. As the eagle rolls over underneath the osprey, it tries to grab the alewife the osprey is carrying. The osprey takes evasive action and drops its hard-earned fish in mid-air. At that moment, Duane releases the shutter and shoots a burst of nine huge images, each having 45 million pixels. One of these images is the “money shot.”
Now that he’s got the candidates, he must figure out how to present the chosen image to maximize its impact. This phase of the process involves even more complex choices, cropping it just so, tweaking it for contrast and maybe other variables that he can manipulate. Adjusting all these variables requires expert knowledge of the photographic process. Once the changes are made to his critical standards, he prints the image and mounts it for display, another exacting process. All to make an extraordinary event he witnessed come to life in a breathtaking image that portrays the lives and interactions between these wild creatures.
To create these images, Duane has gone as far afield as Antarctica and as close to home as the fish ladder in Damariscotta Mills. His knowledge of the habits and interactions of the wildlife he photographs is encyclopedic. He also employs all the habits of a successful photographer: show up, spend the time, put in hours and hours, day after day, early mornings and late evenings. Creating great images requires putting in the time and doing the work.
What makes Duane special? Well, he has all these attributes and a huge helping of enthusiasm and willingness to share his knowledge with friends and curious strangers. In Damariscotta Mills, at this time of year, he is working among crowds of onlookers at the height of the alewife run. When not actively shooting a photo, he’s sharing his knowledge and stories with anyone who will listen. While he’s engaged with folks, he may suddenly look up, see an eagle or osprey, run across the road to get a better angle, and shoot those bursts of photographs. Maybe he gets the money shot and maybe he doesn’t. But, man, does he have a good time trying.
And so many other folks have a good time trying to capture for themselves the beauty of these natural spectacles all around us. They too prowl the bridge on Mills Road looking for an image they can bring home to remember the experience and share it with friends. With whatever camera they may have, they engage in the same process of trying to bring home their version of the money shot.
So when you come down to the Mills to watch some alewives, look for a guy wearing a reflective jacket and carrying a camera that sports a lens as long as your forearm. Give him a friendly smile and chat him up for some local knowledge of alewives, eagles, ospreys, and herring gulls. And whatever you do, don’t call them sea gulls!