When Second Best Is Okay

A couple miles from our house is a good size very shallow lake with weeds, reeds, and wild rice. In the fall before freeze up the ducks, geese and swans use the lake as a stop over in migrating south. This week there is a swan convention.

I spotted the big flock of birds spread out on the end of the lake with open water. Swans everywhere. I vowed to go back with a camera hoping they would get closer in the vast marsh land for a recognizable picture. I’m averse to having photos that evoke responses like “what are those white spots in your nice evening swamp picture?”

As vowed, I get to the lake as the sun is low on the horizon making the browns and blues deep in color. The swans were spread out further from the road than before. Undeterred I set up the tripod and took a few pictures from the road with white blobs in the swamp. I’ll post the best picture here.

Yes, they are all swans, one of the many batches on the lake anyway.

See the high marsh grass in the bottom of the picture? I wanted to get there. I could still stay hidden and get close enough for a good picture. The woods area by the birds is too dense with brush to sneak up on them. I went around the side of the lake and headed into the grass to the waters edge.

Did I mention the lake is surrounded by springs out of the black muck? If you step in one you may sink out of sight. Theories would abound about one’s sudden disappearance. As it was the reeds at the edge were 8 feet high compared to my camera on the tripod at about four and a half. I can see the birds through the reeds but the camera will only get reeds waving around in the breeze. I go for second best as it’s the only solution I can think of that does not include knocking on a neighbors door and asking them if they have a good picture taking drone that I can borrow. See for yourself. Second best turned out okay. This time.

The swans still saw me and dispersed quite a bit. I still got a couple strands of marsh grass in the photo.

My second best idea came to me by knowing my camera features. I have a T3i Canon. I was able to keep the camera on the tripod fully extended and lifted it up overhead to about nine feet, holding the end of the tripod legs above my head while sinking in the mud as it’s getting dark was a unique new experience.

Before taking a picture that would work I had to do 5 things.

(1) set the camera on a 10 second timer so I had 10 seconds after pressing the shoot button to find the swan group closest to me and hopefully frame the shot as the camera went off.

(2) twist the viewfinder screen straight down so I could look straight up and see what the camera was about to shoot. My view finder flips sideways from the back of the camera and can be made to pivot in a circle (up, down, forward, back).

(3) Put the camera on the high speed setting for a 1/1600 speed shot.

(4) Put the lens on Manuel focus and pinpoint a set of swans that would be in focus.   I just had to raise the camera and find the right swans which would be in focus before activating countdown for the shot.

(5) I had to be okay with a narrow band of focus as I was waving the camera around like a flagman on an airport runway. the narrow focus comes with high speed shots.

After10 shots I felt it was the best I could do with what I had. Darkness was coming and all the swamp monsters were honed in on me as soon as I would cross the mine field of underground creature sucking springs. I’m quite sure I heard them.

Sometimes, some days, some jobs, some relatives, some cars, some vacations, some pictures and some circumstances we just need to be okay. Some other time I’ll talk about the best things in life. Come to think of it, that’s probably why I’m okay with most of these side things in life being second best.


PS: do a quick click on David’s haiku, worth the follow. He used one of my photos from unsplash brilliantly

Published by Gary Fultz

Outdoors Man, Hunter, Fisherman, Guide, Writer / Author, Photographer, Public Speaker, Musician, Song Writer, Story Teller, Follower Of Jesus. Love God and family and total strangers

61 thoughts on “When Second Best Is Okay

    1. It can be hard sometimes. I have plenty of stories. I like the kind of shot where other photographers say “how did you get that shot? and most people may look at it and say…”nice” and go on. It’s like writing a good song.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can easily identify with your songwriting analogy, Gary. There are several components to a well crafted tune. If too many of them are missing, a typical listener wonโ€™t like it. They may not be able to tell you why, but will tune out, none the less. It must be the same with good photos.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Hi, Gary. Drones come pretty inexpensively these days, but I wonder if the buzzing would not make the flock rise and ram it!? Might get a couple of good shots before it crashed, though! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought of that and you are right, I think I would approach low from the same angle as me and do a fly-by a couple times before approaching from the other side and maybe push them towards me. seems like cheating, a little

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jim. The ducks were swimming by me in front of the muskrat houses so I caught 22 out of 100 of them for the header picture…I’m still trying to think how I can get some great shots of the swans. it involves my canoe when the wind dies down I think. we will see.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gary, you are amazing! I love your passion, tenacity and grit! While you may think itโ€™s second best, at least you know you did the best you could given the terrain and location of the swans. I assure you, as much as I may want a picture, I wouldnโ€™t trek into 8ft or more of black muck especially with a tripod and wonderfully expensive camera! Seriously, my mom loves to tell me, โ€œMandy, sometimes God tests us to see how much we want something. How far are we willing to go to get what we want.โ€ You remind me here that perseverance and determination matters in our Christian life. God calls us to partner with Him. Sometimes God gives us a holy dissatisfaction so that we will keep seeking, hungering and thirsting for Him. All this is to say that while if you had a drone you could get pictures; however, it is not the same. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ahh Mandy, I love how you drew out a huge application about God’s ways. he does draw us into a Holy dissatisfaction so we hunger and thirst for him. By partnering with God we receive a huge partnership in the body and it even shows up in a simple blog and comments…how fun is that. Also, Your mom is so right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love these pics Gary! Somehow black muck and white swans are often synergistic requirements for great swan photos . . . I’ve been there ๐Ÿ˜Š.

    Hoping our local Trumpeter Swan family, which suddenly disappeared yesterday, are included among these majestic ‘white blobs’ you braved the black muck to photograph and share with everyone.

    PS – I’ve discovered hip boots somewhat alleviate combating black muck when photographing waterfowl. Unfortunately it seems I usually forget to wear them, evoking my wife’s lovingly, stern reprimand when I return home, “You’re not coming in the house with those clothes on!” ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was actually thinking of your swans Fred when I saw the large group. They funnel into here. There is a lot of food in this lake as it’s narrowest point is a mile across. They may stay awhile so more opportunity maybe. I don’t have hip boots or waders so I may try my extra wide canoe and a long stick duct taped to a long pole to stick in the bottom of the lake for a better field of focus. I somehow knew you would have been there done that and probably more to get your amazing shots. My wife has the garden hose hooked up permanently and knows how to use it….It’s now full of ice most mornings.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Guess we’ll have to wait until next Spring to discover if our local Trumpeter Swans show back up from a successful southern departure.

        Your pics got me to a thinkin’ Gary . . . just as God created all swans to look alike, wouldn’t our world be a kinder, gentler one if everyone realized . . . in His sight . . . we all look alike?

        I’m inspired by your creative suggestion for Duct tape . . . better duck pics , and a ‘silver lining’ reminder of frozen garden hoses . . . they thwart spouse induced hypothermia ๐Ÿ˜Š

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good thoughts Fred. I’m hanging the garden hoses in the woods on some low spruce limbs where my wife will not find them.
    There are a lot of signets in the swan flock so most are making the journey. I suspect our lake could freeze within the week so then they will be forced to move on.
    meanwhile I am saving my pennies in case I wreck the camera. The lens is 5x expensive so I might take a cheaper lens along in risky situations. A camera friend of mine uses a belly boat and pours hot water into his insulated waders. He has brush and reds attached so it’s a makeshift blind. He likes to float down rivers for waterfowl shots.


    1. Thanks for the ‘concealed hoses’ suggestion Gary ๐Ÿ˜Š.

      As an amateur photographer, my only camera is a $300 5 year old 20.4 mp35mm SLR Sony Cybershot. It’s 50X zoom takes amazing clear photos, often helping me avoid wading through black muck for shots..

      We need the schedule a trip with your friend with the belly boat brother . . . I’ll bring the waders ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now that would be fun Fred. I wondered how you got the zomed photos (instead of cropping) as they look great.. My 3Ti is an 18 mp and can be bought for $250 on ebay these days. If I move up it will be to the Canon D series.


    1. thanks Linda, The setting and the lighting was magic and the swans each have their own journey story at this oasis on the way. I just had to go through a few hoops to get the camera to frame and record in a reasonable way.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a delight! The only swan pictures I have seen are the single, beautiful, white, sleek, perfect specimens. You would not find them in the marshes. I wonder sometimes if they are genuine. Blessings as you continue to portray real life in what is untouched by man’s ideas of perfection.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You stuck with it (if you’ll pardon the expression considering the marsh) and got rewarded with a great picture!
    Chaya ื—ื™ื” ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tom. I thought it was worthwhile to solve and share. It’s too easy to give up on our dreams in the bigger picture of life, and we lose our perspective in the tall marshes of life as well. One can get bogged down.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Tom. I guess being passion and relational driven has it’s moments. Some of us are destined to buy a bigger stove from cutting the firewood too long. And, I know mixed metaphores get air dropped on the fly.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Gary, You had me totally amazed at the mention of a lake full of swans! What a majestic sight you gave my eyes to see. And to my heart laughter. You are so funny. Always a joy, from a distance or close up, to be a part of your adventures!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Deb
      Every year I think “I should take a bunch of pictures of the swan migration ”
      How hard can it be to take pictures of birds in the water? Now I know.
      They are also very big and with their temperment if I get too close they might beat me up.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for your risky diligence to give us a great picture Gary! It’s a real gift! I grew up on the migration path of the Sandhill Crane (Eastern NM), but have never seen swans like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jon.
      I seem to be gifted with a high degree of risk taking. Not sure how I made it this far.
      sandhills migrating. That would be a sight as well. I hear the swans again so another wave has made it to the lake.
      I’m quite sure they are like people. Procrastinators. Most of the lake is froze and has several inches of snow.
      I hope to get out there again with the camera.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have a sign in my house, on a bookshelf, that says, “The best thing in baseball is winning the World Series. The second best thing in baseball is losing the World Series.” So, yeah. Sometimes “second best” is pretty awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great sign Jeff. I remember my grand daughter as a soccer goalie took her team to 2nd place in state. The team was crushed until they realized what and awesome season it really was and the whole town turned out to throw a party when it was all done.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved the writing here–so fluid and humorous and informative. Your swamp adventure brings back a lot of memories from my days doing nature photography. I understand from personal experience what it takes to get that elusive image, and how satisfying it can be to view the end result of our efforts. Your swan image is wonderful and the story behind it highly insightful and entertaining. Well done, good sir! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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