This was fantastic.
My friend and I sat on the ground. Our eyes pressed against our cameras viewfinders. Our cameras were mounted with “big glass”, the leviathans of photo optics known as super telephotos. Each Canon camera body sat on a solid tripod whose legs were splayed out almost horizontally to keep our viewpoint at nearly ground level. Before us were three species of shorebirds; Least Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sanderlings and Lesser Yellowlegs, all bathing, feeding and parading in front of us in feathered splendor. The warm late afternoon sun was softly illuminating the water in front of us. We waited for the perfect head turn, a good focus on the eye, body parallel to the frame, a little breathing room left and right, a full bird reflection or alternately, room at the bottom of the frame for the birds “virtual feet” since each bird was standing in shallow water. And when these and other parameters fell into place, the soft clicking of shutters could be heard, sometimes single clicks and sometimes bursts of 3 to 10.
I had emailed my friend a week earlier asking advice on a few locations that I had wanted to get to earlier this season. They were all basically well past prime time for this season. It seems that the complexities of finding and purchasing a replacement for my Jeep, along with a close friend with an ongoing illness whose health conditions brought new challenges daily, conspired to steal an important month plus of prime shooting time. On this day a week later, he sent around a few killer images that he had recently taken. When I replied to complement him on great shots, he responded with a question “What are you doing today at 5pm? I’m going to a great location.” I jumped at the chance and by 5:15pm our CF cards were gulping down tons of gorgeous data.
Bird photography is about periods of patient waiting interspersed with shorter periods of high activity. Although loud laughter and wild gesticulation aren’t conducive to the approach of wildlife, quiet chatter is a nice way to pass the time and so we did. Of the many things we spoke of, a couple of topics stood out. One had to do with locations.
The finding choice of locations for nature photography is a combination of time, research and luck. The proportions differ from point to point but the bottom line is that each special spot is considered a little gold mine from which the shooter may extract many visual treasures, some of which might even produce income or recognition. Within the community there is a certain amount of camaraderie in which folks may pass on information on their favorite locations to friends and associates with the thought of helping others. Yet as in any give and take situation, there are those who do more “taking” than “giving” and my friend, a teacher, enthusiast and extreme giver was feeling a little worn this day.
Once a great image has been acquired there are a few questions every viewer wants to know. At the top of the list, not surprisingly is “where were you”. Secretly, everyone thinks that if they can only arrive at the “magic location”, point their camera at the scene and press the shutter, then they too can have a photographic masterpiece. As we shot together this day we joked “We should tell everybody what a tough time we had getting to this location and how hard we had to work to get the shot.” And actually, that’s what the public wants to hear. Heroic conquest is inspirational and uplifting hence the success of TV shows like “Survivor”. And yet, the true nature of many a beautiful image is that it may have been taken a short walk from the photographers home on an otherwise unspectacular day and of an often overlooked subject. And on occasion a photographer or two have been known to embellish details of a shot to enhance the perception for the viewer. In point of fact, an excellent location doesn’t have to be an exotic location it just has to be seen with exotic eyes.
You’ve noticed by now that I’ve neither mentioned my shooting companions name nor given any hints as to the location. As my friend has an internet presence, I think divulging his name might subject him to a host of requests for the location I’ve been talking about. I’m also not divulging the location right now so as not to attract a hoard of folks who intentionally or unintentionally might overwhelm this small delicate spot.
I will however give you this. It’s a puddle! That’s right, a puddle! And sometimes it dries up (although there is a good spot right around the corner if you don’t mind getting your feet wet). Alas it is a little seasonal and its prime time is just about over in the next couple of weeks till next spring.
In the mean time, to cheer my friend up, I got him a copy of a very unique bird book that I knew about. Info that I was sure he didn’t have and otherwise wouldn’t know about. It wasn’t a location but it was a giving. “Oh, what was the book about?” Pigeons!
My friend was genuinely touched.