One more drink
The Shot you want
Things have been slow with the local wildlife these last few weeks. I have spent a lot of this time trying to catch up on my backlog of images, and August was busy with my show. So now here we are in September, and it’s time to start working on finding new wildlife, and landscape to shoot. Here is some insight into how I go about finding new locations, and critters to photograph.
I have found over the years that wildlife in general has a pulse so to speak. Every day is different, but there is always something going on. You just have to figure out what that something is. Nature is full of patterns something I often refer to while doing talks about wildlife photography. Animals have a habit of returning over, and over again to the same spot. They have their territories or even invisible freeways that they trust, and use daily. The key to good wildlife photography is patience, and observation over hours or sometimes days . Watching for these patterns is the key to putting yourself into position to catch the shot you want.
An example of this is a few days ago I was walking through one of my favorite local parks. While out walking I went through a manicured garden full of flowering plants. Walking through the garden I noticed a few Monarch butterflies tending to the flowers on one particular plant. This was one of the first times I had seen Monarchs this summer so I stopped, and set up to get some shots. Soon after I was set up I noticed Hummingbirds also visiting the same plant. Now here is where this gets interesting. I noticed that the sprigs of flowers that the monarchs were on were the same ones the Hummingbirds would visit when making their rounds. It dawned on me that the Monarchs, and the Hummingbirds were after the same thing “nectar“. Now anyone who has ever photographed Hummingbirds knows that they move about quickly, and don’t linger long in one place. However Monarchs tend to take their time moving over the flowers not nearly in as much of a hurry. Hummingbirds have to visit hundreds of flowers a day to keep up with their ferocious appetites. So now that I had made my observations and had some idea of what to expect at this spot the time came to set up my shot. I began to watch one particular bunch of flowers hanging off to the bottom of the bush. There was enough distance between the flowers and the background to get a very clear bokeh and isolate the subject. I also had pretty good light still at this time for an adequate shutter speed at a reasonable ISO. This bunch of flowers had also been very heavily trafficked by the Monarchs as well. I pre focused on the area, and got my settings ready. I knew if the Hummingbird came in to this spot I would only have a few seconds before it would be gone. Now comes the part of wildlife photography that is the toughest part the waiting!
After about an hour of pretty much waiting and watching this one branch. I finally saw a single Hummingbird moving it’s way to the bush. I got ready to take the shot if the bird went for the branch I was watching. Sure enough it did I had already placed my hands on the camera, and lens and moved so close to the eyepiece that I could quickly acquire the subject in the prism. The pre focusing paid off and my focus point was right were I wanted it to be. I fired of a burst of shots while it moved from flower to flower, but making sure that I kept refocusing on it’s eye as it moved about. After a few seconds the Hummingbird flew off, and I was left to wonder did I get the shot I wanted. A few years ago a photographer said to me if you saw it you missed it. This statement is based on how a dslr works as the mirror is blocking he viewfinder when the image is being captured. So often subtle differences are not noticed in images until they are reviewed. However after a quick review of the shots I took I knew I had gotten the shot I wanted. I know this is just a quick overview of many factors but I hope that these little clues and tricks help you with your images as well. Always look for the patterns to help you get the shot you want.
In pursuit of the perfet image
This image has been getting lots of attention lately, and I wanted to discuss some of the story behind it, and my approach to getting a shot like this. Last fall I was given a tip about a local Screech owl by a friend after seeing a shot he had gotten I quickly ran to the location. To my surprise when I arrived the Gray screech was sitting out in it's little roost enjoying the evening sun. Screech owls are one of the most common owls in Ohio, but finding a good one to photograph is like finding a needle in a haystack. I spent the evening with the owl shooting until the sun was completely gone that first day. After spending about four hours the first day I realized the Owl met a few of my criteria for further commitment of time.
My first criteria for any wildlife subject I photograph is does my presence bother the subject. In this case I felt pretty confident that Owl was not bothered by my presence. The second criteria I often think about as well is will my presence bring unwanted attention to the subject. This is often a tough one as sometimes the very presence of a person with a camera can draw too much attention to a location. Often times if this is the case I will pass on the spot or limit my time there to times when people would not be in the area. Often times very early in the morning or evening. The third criteria I have is does the location yield good angles and shot possibility. This is also a pretty important criteria sometimes the locations these animals pick to live are just not that great for appealing photos. Now here is the thing about these criteria they are all fluid to me which means that if at any time i feel one of those criteria is not being met I will leave the location. So if one day I feel the subject is bothered by my presence I will leave, or if I feel I am drawing unwanted attention to an area. These are just examples of my thought process, but ultimately I try to put the subject first over my photos. So after thinking about all the risks and merit I decided to commit as much time as possible to the location. Which ended up being around 25 hours in the next four days. I captured this shot on the second day at the roost. It was a windy day and the owl was much more alert because of the extra noise in the forest that day. Throughout the day the Owl would pop out for a few hours here and there. Other birds or sometimes a wind gust would send it back into it's hole. I captured this image in just a split second of time as the owl was looking into a wind gust. the next few days I was able to capture many more images of this little guy, but this was the best shot I have taken of a screech Owl to date.
In closing you can see my approach is pretty simple, and that is to find the right animal. The right location, and spend as much time as I can capturing images of that subject without causing it undo stress or harm. As always the other common theme in my wildlife photography is tons of patience. Spending hours, days, weeks, months, and years trying to capture a moment in time that may be a fraction of a second.