Dawn breaks at the Merced Refuge. The Geese see it before you do, and the sound of the morning chorus echoes through the fog. The sun vainly tries to lighten the sky, but for a while the tule fog beats it back, leaving it a faint cold smudge. Then the geese roar to life and leap to the sky, flying out for a day’s work of whatever it is geese do.

Dawn at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge

In many ways, this image is the perfect representative of what it means to be a Nature Photographer. You get up at 4AM. You drive two hours. It’s dark, when you arrive, the location is fogged in and you have no idea you’ll see anything, much less find a photo to shoot. You’re cold, it’s damp, and you’re wondering at your sanity.

And then slowly the light arrives, and you hear the area around you wake up and prepare for the day. The noise builds, with the Sandhill Cranes and Geese making more and more noise until suddenly, everyone is in the air and on the move.

20 minutes later, the morning show is over and the refuge settles down into the morning routine. Four hours of preparation and waiting leading up to a short burst of crazy splendor, noise and the joyful emergence of a new day.

And one perfect shot.

That’s what being a nature photographer is.