I woke up to freezing drizzle, glaze ice on the driveway, and a dog that was clearly unhappy about the current weather in Minnesota. Sequoia (the dog) and I pretty much agreed that the day was shot, and I wouldn't be doing any photography on this Sunday morning. We shared a quick breakfast, and I settled into a podcast, The Digital Photo Experience, and immersed myself in some photo-minutiae. I like to hear what other photographers are doing and try to understand how some small subset of the photo-universe have figured out how to earn a living by doing what they love most. Needless to say, I'm envious of the travel/nature photographers who have learned how to market themselves and become fixtures in the photo-making industry. Anyway, towards the end of their Q&A section of the podcast, Rick Sammon and Juan Pons began to interview renowned bird photography Chris Klapheke. And here is where my blog about average bird photography collides with excellence.
Chris Klapheke laid it all out during his brief fifteen minute interview...
- The Great Ones (let's call them G.O.'s) mortgage their homes to buy an $8,000 to $10,000 lens like the Nikon 600mm f4.0 VRII or Canon 800mm f5.6 IS.
- The G.O.'s manipulate their environment to attract birds. The manipulation can be as subtle as clearing brush around a potential perch or as invasive as constructing artificial perches, clearing habitat, and creating feeding stations. This form of manipulation stimulates both repetitive and predictable behaviors.
- The G.O.'s wear the camo, carry a hide, or often create a permanent blind to maximize their photographic opportunities.
- Finally, the G.O.'s have a passion that feeds their need to be patient. This passion for bird photography transcends their lives and provides the incentive to sit for hours in a blind and wait for weeks to establish a patterned behavior.
Let's compare my strategy for making slightly better than mediocre images to the techniques describe above.
- There is no way that I will ever be able to justify the expense of a 600mm or 800mm lens. I use a 300mm f2.8IS lens with converters and often feel as if I broke the bank buying this luxury item. While it isn't as well suited for bird photography as the latter super-teles, it is relatively compact and wonderfully sharp.
- I don't believe in environmental manipulation. I love to capture the essence of a behavior and thrive on the serendipity of the moment. I don't want to alter an animal's behavior, I want to be ecologically invisible.
- I hate camo, and I've spent more days in a blind than I care to remember. Anyone who has sat for 60 hours in an elevated blind on the rocky coast of the Bering Sea would understand why I'm not wild about these unstable little boxes.
- I love birds, but not as much as the G.O.'s. I like to walk and I like variety... the great bird photographers have a single-minded approach to their craft. They are artists in their own right and have a passion for birds that exceeds my own.
Image #1: Snowy Egret. Back Bay, CA
Image #2: Resplendent Quetzal. Savegre River, Costa Rica
Image #3: Pied-billed Grebe. Bolsa Chica, CA Snowy Egret. Back Bay, CA
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