You know how it is… you’re a mad keen bird photographer. Almost to the point of it becoming obsessive as you seek to improve as fast as you can. Always striving for the best shots. Always looking to present the shot that tells a story about the bird and its’ behaviour, habitat et al. But, and here’s the reality… you have a full time job as well. How to balance these two things? Especially if, work wise, you also are mad keen about what you do and are just as obsessive in trying to always be the best that you can be at work, as well as at play.
I’m kinda lucky. I have a global role – and that means I regularly have webex’s and conference calls at stupid hours. Like middle of the night hours, when North America are in the wide awake club and here in SIngapore I’m in the “jeez I want to sleep club”. But I don’t mind – it’s what I do, and I love what I do. I guess few people can really say that and mean it. So yes, I’m very fortunate! These very regular ‘out of hours’ work activities mean that at times I can, if I choose, sneak off for a little while to do something else. I usually do not do this. In fact I almost NEVER do this. But this morning I got up early and prepared to go shoot a bird I had heard was nesting in Singapore – the beautiful Blue Throated Bee-Eater.
I’d shot this bird before and was fully apprised about how stunningly pretty it is. But my shots were ALWAYS at long distance. USUALLY against a “sky background” with the bird perched on high. And predictably the shots were not great.
Very average in fact, as you can see (left). In fact, kind of lousy if I am honest.
But today I had very high hopes. Maybe at last I can get decent shots of this gorgeous bird? After all, I’d heard it was perching against green backgrounds. I’d seen shots others had taken, so knew this was true. Excitement reigned supreme.
Off I went, with camera and long lens in tow. I reached there full of excitement and it was before the working day had begun. Set up my gear to shoot this magnificent specimen. But couldn’t focus. The camera could, but I couldn’t, mentally. I couldn’t concentrate. Couldn’t remove from my thoughts that I have deadlines that absolutely positively have to be met this week. And so quite honestly, within a short time of having arrived, I wanted to leave. And I wanted to stay the whole day too.
I decided to try and get a few decent shots of the bird and then leave within a short period of time, thus allowing me to get back and carry on with meeting my work deadlines. The bird was already in front of me, maybe too early. I got excited and was still preoccupied by my work deadlines. I couldn’t get my head around what strategies I needed to use to get the best shots. The bird was THERE… so “SHOOT it”, I thought. My mind was awash with thoughts that were totally unconnected and not ‘in the moment’. This was about as helpful as seeing someone drowning and then describing the water.
But the bird was RIGHT THERE! Get the shot! Hurry! And hurry I did.
Didn’t have or take enough time to really watch the bird, and THEN shoot…
There were so many considerations I’d normally go though… but today my preoccupation was not helping and necessary thoughts about shooting strategies went out of the window. .. Where did it fly to perches from? At what height? Approaches to the perch will be in which direction(s)? At what distance(s) will it be slowing down to reach the perch yet still have wings fully open? Where’s the sun and how harsh is it? What will I need to do to expose images correctly? Shall I try and get good, detailed perched shots first and then try BIF (bird In Flight)? The other way around? And so on…
I KNOW these need to be thought though, yet all I had in my mind was that I had to be fast and didn’t have time. SO knowing and doing never quite came together.
I tried BIF type setups and manually prefocused on certain spots.
This was VERY hit and miss. I had no real clue what the bird was going to do.
So everything was a major league bout of guesswork.
I looked at the LCD screen to review images only briefly, using my Hoodloupe to help view the images more clearly. But did I really take the time to review them?
Nope. I was too busy scanning the sky to see if the bird was returning. I didn’t have enough time to do otherwise and couldn’t afford to miss a chance to shoot the returning bird. So I was clicking at breakneck speed.
My remote cable release was almost smoking from exhaustion. I had some FABULOUS shots of a bare perch. Tremendously detailed shots of grassland backdrops with no birds in them. LOL. Oops.
But I got the odd shot here and there that I’d consider as “record shots”…
Far from perfect, far from very good, but much better than what I’d previously achieved when shooting against a sky background.
So was the visit a complete disappointment?
I’d spent a little over an hour seeing a bird so, so beautiful, and one which I had been waiting to observe for a long, long time.
I got to watch this bird engaged in much activity and it was kind to me and the fellow bird photographers there, as it made very regular appearances indeed. That in itself was pretty joyous to be honest.
When I got home I raced to the computer to begin uploading the images. Did I have any AWESOME shots? Any real standouts?
Well, I looked at the images on the screen and I was a little disappointed. As in VERY disappointed. The kind of disappointment you’d have if you were an 8 year old boy, who’d been naughty the previous year, and on Christmas morning had just woken up with a letter of apology from Santa.
The bird on my screen filled the screen beautifully – after i had cropped the heck out of the images. Oops. Not exactly maximum detail on these images. And no-one is going to use one of these images to lull themselves to sleep at night by “counting feathers”. What feathers? LOL. Oh well…
So will I try and improve on these images?… hmm… let me think… Like DUH! Of course I will.
But next time I’ll be a little more prepared to shoot the subject I’m going to shoot.
I will have a 2x teleconverter with me to bring me closer to the image. I’ll take a Canon 1D Mk iv to gain a 1 series capability with a 1.3x crop factor. I have a better idea now of the birds’ flight paths and can prepare accordingly. Build strategies for better shots, before I even get there. That would seem to be a good idea.
But it was still really nice to see this beautiful bird early this morning. What was also nice, was seeing a few fellow “bird photography fanatics” that I’d met before but hadn’t seen for a while. It was nice to see them and say ‘hello’. Additionally, I met two really nice guys that were visually unknown to me previously, yet I had communicated with them online in the past. So to put a face to the names was also really nice. And nice fellows, too, which is better yet :).
Anyhow, that’s all for now as my lunch break is over and it’s time to get back to ‘all things corporate’ and the realities of working life.
So for those of you that will be out shooting this week, Happy Birding, and for all others, just remember to have,
Happy Days 🙂