Art, // November 22, 2013

Pelicans in Pink, a lesson in Creativity

Pelican-in-Pink-1-WEB---1When I first became a nature photographer about six years ago, I went to seminars–lots of them–given by established pros whose work I admired. And I’d hear them talk about how important it was to shoot during the “magic hour”–the hour straddling sunrise when the light is just emerging and low in the sky, and wildlife is most active. So I heard– and obeyed–much in the manner of the character in the movie “Karate Kid,” who waxed the master’s car repeatedly even though he  didn’t understand the reasoning. Initially, my “grasshoppah” approach to analyzing the light was left-brained and analytical: I could see it was beautiful, sure; but I struggled with exposure, muddy-looking shadows, and unsharp images. Many times, there didn’t seem to be even enough light to see my camera controls, let alone compose an image. There were times, I know, when I intentionally slept in a little late so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I don’t know when, or how, my approach shifted. But earlier this week I found myself at a favorite beach in Florida, one I’d visited over a hundred times since I began shooting nature. The sun rose slowly through a long, low cloud bank, bathing the bay waters with pink light. The sky was hazy, diffusing the light and softening the shadows; the lee sides of each ripple and shadow were bathed in blue-green reflections. The palette was magical. And then, Brown Pelicans arrived to swim and plunge-dive in the shallow waters for their morning catch, as they always do. Instinctively, I moved so that the wind and light came from slightly behind me, knowing without thinking that the birds would move into the wind, and thus into the light.Pelican-in-Pink-2-WEB---1 The camera had long since been set for optimum exposure for the light at hand, but I have no conscious recollection of the settings I used or how often I checked the images in my playback screen. I knew only that they would be on the money. I made only 40 or so images in that brief period of time before the sun  crested the cloud bank and the light was lost. But no matter. The scene, as I experienced it, was locked in memory. Later, as I edited my own “morning catch,” the best half-dozen images literally lept off the computer monitor. It was joyful work to hone and print them. And when I was done I realized, just like the generations of “grasshoppahs” who have come before me, that the most satisfying art comes when the  artist, without knowing quite how or when or why, masters the process and tools of the craft…and then releases it, in pursuit of a vision that is all their own.


Geoff Coe is a Florida-based wildlife photographer, writer, and workshop leader.
Visit his website at