Photographer captures local wildlife from the comfort of home

For many photographers, wildlife photography is about the thrill of the chase, going to far away places to capture scenes of exotic birds and animals, timing everything just right for that perfect shot. For Elaine W. Rifkin, it is still about the thrill of the chase – but for her chase, she doesn’t have to go far.

Rifkin – who has lived in Fenwick Island with her family full-time for 15 years – recently compiled seven years of her wildlife photos, taken either from her back deck on the Little Assawoman Bay or within sight of her property lines. And they are now assembled and available to the public in her debut book, “StayingHome.”

A retired clinical social worker with a passion for photography, Rifkin just recently decided to really pursue her work behind the camera.
“I’d always been the one in the family who took pictures on vacations, but I was never serious,” explained Rifkin this week. “I started to get more interested and developed a wish list of perfect lenses I’d like to have.”

So, one Christmas, she received a journal for Christmas from her husband, Erik, and in it was a check.

“He said, ‘You can do this,’” she recalled.

She purchased a 300-millimeter fixed lens with a 2x telephoto converter – meaning her shots can look as if she was six to 12 times closer to her subject than she really was. Her purchase allows her to see, close up, what’s happening around her, without disturbing the natural order and behavior of her subjects.

In a unique twist, the book is also laid out from sunrise to sunset, over the course of a day. The pictures that she took and the journal entries she wrote were the actual times and entries that she photographed and wrote – albeit over the course of the seven-year period. The 9-by-12-inch “coffee table” book has 50 full-bleed images representing the area.

“When I started, I wasn’t thinking about a book, just learning more about photography,” Rifkin explained. “A couple of years ago, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll put all this together in some kind of whole…’ The first thing I thought about was a title, and I thought, ‘What am I doing here? Staying home! I am staying home and paying attention to what I am seeing, recognizing that certain birds migrate…”

Rifkin said watching her surroundings has been educational. She has learned, for instance, that the osprey leave around Labor Day each year and come back, almost to the day, on St. Patrick’s Day, most of them leaving for places like Brazil.

“I said to myself, ‘I should document this and call it “Staying Home,” and maybe other people will start to look around their environment and see what I see and what we have.’ Once you see them, you love them and feel like you need to protect them. You’d be amazed how diverse and abundant life is.”

Rifkin noted how different her process is from many of her peers who photograph wildlife.

“A lot of wildlife photographers go to faraway places to get shots, but I can’t do that. I can just wait and hope that they come back every year. It gives you a sense of hope about the continuity about the future – that life goes on.”

Rifkin said it was a natural progression to want to support the Center for the Inland Bays with her work. Some of her works already decorate the new Bethany Beach Nature Center building on Route 26 in Bethany Beach, which the center helps operate. Her “Portraits of an Estuary” series lines the “I-wall” at the renovated Addy Cottage that is home to the center’s indoor elements.

Her family has been a supporter of the CIB for years, with an interest in conservation and protecting the Inland Bays, with the Little Assawoman – the one on which they live – being the southernmost of those bays.

Most recently, they also donated a piece of land off Route 26, on Vines Creek, to the CIB, to be planted with natural grasses and used as a natural habitat.

In the forward to “StayingHome,” Ed Lewandowski, executive director for the Center for the Inland Bays, writes, “StayingHome invites you to experience the splendor and beauty of the Inland Bays estuary from a unique perspective. From the confines of her property on the Little Assawoman Bay, Elaine Rifkin has masterfully captured in her photos the natural treasures of this area. It is my hope that Elaine’s gift to all of us inspires you to recognize the rich, natural history of our ‘estuary of national importance’ and act to preserve and protect Delaware’s Inland Bays, unique gems in the Diamond State.”

“StayingHome” costs $34.99 and can be found for sale at the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, Browesabout in Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach Books, The Artful Bean, McCabe’s Gourmet Market and Carolina Street in Fenwick Island.

From the sale of each book, $10 will be donated to the Center for the Inland Bays.

Rifkin will be signing books at the Bethany Beach Nature Center on Route 26 on Sunday, Nov. 15, from 3 to 4:30 p.m.