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From the December 2013 Conservationist

A bouldery coastline and lighthouse in winter with a light coat of snow

Capturing Long Island

--through the photography of Clifford Dayton

Photography has always been a passion of mine, helping to clear my mind of everyday stresses. My interest in the hobby was initially sparked in my early teens when my grandfather passed down his 35mm SLR, along with a variety of lenses. Being self-taught, my photography skills primarily came from reading about the topic and applying what I had read to the field. I learn from trial and error, and I continue to hone my skills during each outing. As time and technology progressed, I upgraded several times, and eventually entered the world of digital photography.

As a native Long Islander who connected with nature at an early age, I grew up loving the area's well-known beaches that provide ample opportunities for landscape photography. If one knows when and where to look, Long Island is also rich in wildlife possibilities.

I think to be a successful wildlife photographer, one must have a great deal of patience, timing, creativity and, in many cases, luck. Achieving the "perfect" shot not only requires experimentation using various types of equipment and techniques, it includes understanding the wildlife you are pursuing.

A doe standing in a snow-covered woods

Icy Montauk (photo at top)
Montauk is my favorite place on Long Island, so I try to visit often and during all weather conditions. Every time I go, I end up with something different. The sun was rising on this cold January morning. The single-digit temps helped create the ice and frozen rocks seen in the foreground. Driving out to the point took me nearly two hours since the roads were unplowed. What's more, I only shot for about 20 minutes before I was freezing and had to stop.

Deer in Fresh Snow
My favorite time to go afield is immediately after a snowstorm. The woods are freshly covered, and wildlife is coming out to resume daily habits. While walking along a hiking trail on the east end of Long Island, I happened to walk up on this young deer. It totally caught me off-guard, and it took me a few seconds to change some settings and position myself for the shot.

An Icy Jetty

An ice-covered jetty sticks out into a sound

Sometimes you have to take a risk to get that special shot, and this was the case on this very cold winter morning. While carefully crawling out on the jetty, I remember praying that I would not slip and damage my expensive equipment.

"My Dock" on a Calm Morning

View down a dock in very calm water

I have photographed this dock using numerous techniques, at various times of the day throughout the year. I spend so much time at this dock that my friend jokes that I should call it "my dock." It is located in such a serene place that it is very special to me. During December, the sun sets directly at the end, making for some beautiful captures. As long as it remains standing, I will continue to return to this magical place.

Ice and snow capped boulders in shallow water

Icy Rocks in Montauk
The South Fork of Long Island has some of the most beautiful beaches on the east coast. For this photo, I used a longer exposure. The moving water creates the milky effect. A tripod is also a must for photos like these. I personally like the frozen rocks sticking out of the water.

A snowy owl sitting on a dune

Snowy Owl
Infrequent visitors to Long Island, snowy owls are highly sought after by wildlife photographers. For me, the opportunity to photograph the elusive snowy owl was an amazing experience. I spotted this one sitting in the dunes, far-off in the distance. I spent nearly an hour crawling on my belly to get this rare shot.

A partially snow covered paved road surrounded by snow-coated trees

Snowy Back Road
To me, a benefit of living in a small town is that it takes a while for the snowplows to fully clear the roads after a snowstorm. While looking for winter photographic opportunities, I noticed the yellow center road lines peeking through the slushy mix. Sometimes a common, everyday scene like this tells a different story when looking at it from a new perspective.

A short-eared owl sitting on top of a post

Short-eared Owl on Post
Some people ask, "How long does it take you to get that perfect shot?" As a wildlife photographer, I always imagine that "perfect" shot in my head, but it may take years, or even a lifetime, to capture. I was photographing this short-eared owl all winter-on the ground, in the brush, flying, and even perched in trees-but I still wanted that one shot that said "wow." Finally, I was able to sneak up while in my pickup truck, and took this from my driver's seat. I personally love the clean background, and that this owl's eyes are fully open.

A man looks through a camera on a tripod

Clifford Dayton was born and raised in Manorville, Long Island. Visit his website at www.cliffcaptures.com and follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cliffcaptures