There are times when you just need to stand your ground – for no particular reason – you just know in your gut that you need to. You’re not mad or sad or even happy… you just are… and you just need to continue to be – right where you are and how you are. Maybe you just need the world to stop for a moment and let you be.
I am pretty sure this was one of those days for the bravest little turtle I’ve ever met.
My family and I loaded up the kayaks and headed off to one of the local lakes. It’s close by and, despite its reasonably small footprint, contains several different and distinct areas for whatever type of exploration (translate as ‘photography’) we’re looking.
I typically head straight for a little swoop in the shoreline landscape that has a bit of seclusion. I enjoy that particular section of the lake because insects, frogs, turtles, and birds (great photo opportunities) tend to hang out there.
As I crossed under the bridge that marks approximately the half-way mark on my route on the way to my favorite little spot, I saw a group of teenagers enjoying the nice day and a few fishermen, but really not much else in the way of human activity on the lake. This was a good sign – very little recreational activity on the lake meant likely no one had disturbed the wildlife.
As I approached my target location, I gently brought the kayak to a smooth glide along the shoreline and just sat quietly – looking… listening.
I didn’t reach for my camera.
I just waited… dead silence… perfectly still…
That’s what I heard… That’s what I saw…
But I just kept waiting… sitting… quietly…
And the kayak kept drifting… soooooo slowly…
I waited for the world to come in to focus.
First I heard it… the sounds of tiny rustling, ripples too small to see lapping against my hull, the tiniest little scrape of wild prairie grass brushing the paddle.
They, the sounds and the life, had always been there, but I had just arrived. Not when I paddled in… that was my kayak’s arrival.
Now “I” was arriving.
Next I saw it… first the tiniest little flying life and then the little water skimming life…
Finally, I had arrived.
That’s when I saw him.
The tiniest little turtle sitting atop a mass of floating algae… not 12 inches from the hull of my kayak.
Considering how skittish turtles are, I was pretty startled to see him sitting there so calmly with my hull so close to him and my paddle effectively hovering over him.
Now I reached for my camera.
I always bring my 55-300 when I kayak. It’s amazing how small some lake and river wildlife is and how far it is from the end of your lens to the little bugger. I mean, you’re sitting IN the water, right? But you’re usually still a good three feet or more from something the size of your palm – or smaller.
To my surprise, I was too close! I couldn’t get him in focus.
This little turtle, who would have fit in the palm of my hand, was sitting, calmly, just inches from a 10’ long bright blue kayak… with a paddle hanging out over his nose… and me moving about in the kayak trying to get my shot set up.
I tried leeeeeeaning back to create some distance.
No luck. He was just too close.
At this point I had decided I was going to lose this shot. There was no way I was going to be able to maneuver myself to where I needed to be without scaring this little guy off.
I gently rocked the kayak – trying, hoping, to avoid putting the paddle in the water.
No good. Not enough ‘umph’.
I dipped one end of the paddle in the water as far from him as I could.
His entire flotilla of ‘goo’ rippled.
I was again startled – this time by two larger turtles (well, in relation – they are maybe as big as my whole hand) plop into the safety of the water.
But my brave little turtle… rock solid.
I pushed off just enough that I could achieve focus…
I had to push the lens all the way to 300mm (450mm equivalent on my APS-C Pentax K3) to get the composition I wanted.
He turned – just his head … very slightly – to look at me.
Another plop from a few feet away.
Bravest little turtle sat rock solid.
For that instant he was a 1,000 pound lion resting in the heat of the noon sun… he was now observing me… letting me know that my 10’ long bright blue presence was inconsequential.
And the kayak kept drifting… soooooo slowly…
As I drifted down the shoreline, I realized that no other shot I would get that day would compare to capturing that bravest little turtle standing living that moment with more self-confidence than most gown men can muster on any given day. Even if it did not turn out to be technically perfect, the memory of how that shot came to be would always give that image immense power in my mind.
I think that is why I love photography. There is nothing more rewarding, to me, than finding that one shot that is so full of memory and emotion that needing more post or not becomes irrelevant. Of course I love capturing the perfect shot – exposure, focus, composition. It’s amazing to come home and see a shot that needs no real post beyond basics along the lines of white balance. But the emotional connection to a moment can be so much more emotionally powerful than any technical success.
Yes, it needs to be a “good” shot… but its “greatness” is in the moment that it transports me back to.
That moment when I was truly present.
That moment when the world truly came into focus for me – and, I like to think, that I briefly came into focus for the world.
I saw the Bravest Little Turtle.
The Bravest Little Turtle saw me.
We shared that moment – truly… fully.
Then we left that moment – went on with our lives… perhaps no better or worse for our having had it, but each ever so slightly changed.
First shot – my favorite by far of the two. He was so small that was just far enough away that I could focus my 55-300 but still had to crop this 300mm shot to get this final image.
Second shot – I like this shot because it shows his confidence… even more so if you understand just how small he was and just how close I was to him.
OTHER SHOTS FROM THAT DAY