Personal Perspectives

Patience is a Virtue

Brian Skerry takes an up close photo of a tiger shark on the seafloor.
Brian Skerry photographing a large tiger shark in the Bahamas. (Copyright © Mark Conlin)

As an underwater photographer, time in the field is the most valuable thing I can be given. With time, I can usually overcome challenges and the problems that occur. Time also allows me to learn firsthand about the place in which I am working, what happens at different times of day and how animals behave. But oftentimes the best images are made when something unexpected happens. I love the discoveries that come from taking my time in a place and allowing opportunities to present themselves. Serendipity can only be seized however if I am prepared, so while I might be wandering casually through underwater domains, I am always on my guard.

Wildlife photography is very much about being patient. Patience is required to find my subjects, to wait for good visibility and achieve the perfect light. So many times over the years it would have been easy to quit, to just say “I’ve had enough,” but patience and a refusal to give up is what makes all the difference between failure and success. And perfection is rarely achieved without many attempts. Patience and perfection however, come with a cost. I spend many months each year in the field making pictures, because that’s what it takes. Following my dream of becoming a photographer I knew full well that it required sacrifice. Although that was a deal I was willing to make, there are still elements of this lifestyle that must be lived to fully understand. 

Traveling year round takes a toll and loneliness is a familiar companion on most every trip. I have been lucky to be accompanied by great assistants that were also wonderful friends and this helps a lot. Still the burden of success rests with the photographer alone. Overcoming problems and frustrating conditions simply go with the territory. To some, my work might seem like one long, endless vacation, traveling to exotic locales and living romantic adventures. The reality is far less romantic of course and on those days when nothing is going right and I am in some far away place, my mind starts to wander. I think about all that I have missed at home with my family and muse how life might be had I pursued a more “normal” course.

As I write these very words, I am sitting in a tiny hotel in the Azores, where I have been on assignment for ten days so far and only been out to sea three days, because the weather has been terrible. Frustration goes with the territory too, so I work on what I can when the weather is bad, take deep breaths and remind myself that this is all just part of life in the field.

Any feelings of isolation or frustration fade quickly when I am back at sea in the presence of magnificent wildlife. Producing a single, great image is all it takes to remind me how much I love this work and how privileged I am to do this.

"All things considered, there are only two kinds of men in the world--those that stay at home and those that do not. The second are the most interesting." – Rudyard Kipling

Editor's note: Check out the winning photos, selected by Ocean Portal visitors to be displayed in Brian's February 2013 exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History!

June 2012