Article by Daniel Mîrlea, Nature First Ambassador. Learn more about Daniel here.
My entire childhood was, one way or other, connected to water. I grew up with a river in the backyard, and all of my short explorations through the forest led to wild springs where I was eager to drink the cold water. I didn’t know much then, and I can only remember the joy of spending time on the river’s shore, fishing, watching birds, and trying to understand the ecosystem.
As time passed, I grew up and moved to another city for studies, where I stayed for 10 years. With the pandemic, my wife and I decided to move back to my hometown; basically, we changed to a crowded city with one where we have two national parks in less than an hour, a river in the backyard, clean air, and a quieter city.
In the last years, I tried to guide my work with this question: “How can you protect something that you don’t know exists or’s threatened?”. With this idea, I started a project called “Vâlcea Naturală”, where I will photograph the entire county from a natural point of view. Vâlcea County is one of the most diverse counties in the country when it comes to nature. Still, very few people are aware of the natural diversity and why it is mandatory to keep these places as they are, wild and with a minimum human impact.
After a couple of months of exploring natural places, I realized that water would be one of my subjects in the project. From springs to rivers, glacier lakes or wetlands, the number of subjects is so dense that I think I could easily make a book only with them.
One of the benefits of photographing water is that you will better understand why it’s so important and how the ecosystem works. In a year and a half since I started the project, I have had so many unforgettable moments that I feel I worked for a least a decade in the area.
Due to habitat destruction and degradation, light pollution, and pesticides, fireflies are now endangered. When I was a child, I could enjoy fireflies even in my yard or on the river’s shore, but now they are so rare that many people think you can’t find them anymore. But, far away from the cities, deep in the forest, and close to wild rivers in the mountains, where there is no forest.
What if I tell you that there is a place where nature it’s thriving, thousands of wild birds are now nesting, but a decade ago, were almost none of them? Working on my project, I discovered places among the river where dams were built, and gravel exploitation on the river negatively impacted that time. But now, these places recovered spectacularly, more and more animals arrived here, and now there is home to hundreds of birds. I don’t say that dams and gravel exploitation or light pollution, the fireflies found a healthy habitat where they can live in a healthy population. If you haven’t seen fireflies yet on a summer night, try to go to a place to see them. They are like the Christmas lights spread into the forest.
Exploitation are good, but in this scenario, they created a habitat that wasn’t before, and without this human intervention, we wouldn’t have this wetland oasis. At the rate that we are losing wetlands, it is crucial to keep these places as they are and to make people aware of what habitats they have now next to their homes.
I enjoy photographing water, but there is a particular scene where I’m fascinated. Wherever I reach a spectacular gorge where the water dug for thousands and thousands of years in the limestone walls, I take at least half of hour or maybe more to explore and analyze the work of the water. I like to touch the rocks, to feel the smooth texture, I even put my bare feet in the cold water to connect with nature. After all this, I start photographing and finding different compositions.
I could write pages about this subject, it had a significant impact on my photographic style but also on my perspective of this vital resource. In just a year and a half, I had so many experiences that I feel I worked on this project for over a decade. I can only say that I feel so privileged to spend most of my time in the wilderness, that nature it’s my field of work, and I couldn’t dream more of it.
I am sure that I will never lose my enthusiasm for photographing water. There is a fantastic world; from each experience, you will become more connected with nature and feel at home, and everything will make more sense, from wetlands ecosystems to rivers and lakes, birds and mammals, plants and insects.
In the end, I realized that as a nature photographer, it is in your job description to be the voice of those who can’t speak, to sensitize those around and find our way back to nature, our home. So, I encourage each of you to work closely with local communities and NGOs and get the awareness of the habitats close to your home. At the same time, I firmly believe that we should have ethical principles when we are in the wilderness and prioritize the well-being of a place or a wild animal over a photo.