For quite some time now, I’ve made a real effort to look inward…not just for inspiration, but for truth, for quiet, for clarity. I used to label myself as a landscape photographer and a wildlife photographer. But things have changed. I still get a tremendous satisfaction from doing wildlife and landscape photography, and yes, I will absolutely partake whenever the opportunity presents itself. But what I mean mostly, is that I think I’ve had to step away from myself in order to get closer.
I began to study the masters of photography. I even forced myself to try photographing the street, so I started a book project which I will finish in December of this year. Initially, I can remember not being able to see any value in it. But I kept going. I researched everything I could find out about well-known and well-respected photographers and to my amazement, many of them turned out to shoot in this documentary/photojournalist and street “style” of photography. I amassed a rather large collection of photography books and did my best to learn more about the history of photography. I wanted to learn from these masters. I spent many hours gazing at the photographs of Vivian Meier, Garry Winogrand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Saul Leiter, Eugene Atget, and more contemporary photographers like Peter Turnley and Trent Parke. I suppose in one sense, I was looking for a different way of seeing the world. I no longer wanted to be trapped in a mindset of “pretty” images that were ripe to share on social media.
It was shortly after I began working on my project when I realized that I needed to change. And the change had to take place not in my situation or the setting of my small town, but in me. I needed to declutter. I needed to reprogram the way I interpreted the world. I needed to stop looking for amazing, pretty scenes with vivid colour, and find interest in the ordinary. In fact, I needed to de-program. I kept on, wanting to see this thing through.
What I’ve learned is that there is a beauty in all things. There are possibilities all around us including our own backyards. There is a truth in the mundane. There is a voice in the mute. There is colour in the dull, wisdom in the young, spark in the aged, and joy in the smallest of gestures.
I have learned to trust myself…to believe in what my eyes and my heart are seeing rather than what an extrinsic force wants to see. No longer is my motivation in any way dependent on building a social media platform. It’s a liberation of sorts to realize that the value of my photography is first and foremost for me! I wasn’t put on this earth to entertain anyone. And as an artist I certainly didn’t owe anybody any explanation or slideshow of instant gratification.
I have become a seeker of meaning in the mundane. And thanks to photographers like Harry Callahan and all the others who have come before me who dared to brave a new vision, I now think of myself as an artist. I listen to jazz like I’ve always done since I can remember. I enjoy cinema. I daydream. I enjoy the pause in a conversation. I even sleep in occasionally, and I continue to embrace my natural curiosity for all things. I look for poetry in the prose. But more than that, I think of myself as “just a photographer”.
Part of what makes photography so interesting is the stories behind the images. And sadly, we quite often post images without any real description or detail about the circumstances that led up to the acquisition. So I thought it would be good for me to share a few of my images from yesterday’s photography adventures.
There seems to be a very select group of photographers who enjoy taking images of birds. I think just about everyone has tried it at one time or another, but not very many stick with it. There’s probably a few reasons for that. Perhaps they don’t have a lens with enough reach, maybe they’re just not interested, or maybe they just don’t have the patience required. But there’s another very important quality that bird photographers must possess: a curiosity and willingness to observe their behavior.
I was off work yesterday so I had a little time to grab a few images. I always keep a sharp eye out for what birds seem to be around, and I had spotted these two in particular for a few weeks but just had not had the opportunity to photograph them. At this time of year here, there are only a few hours during the day in which the light is nice. And that’s if it’s not pouring rain. So I got my gear ready, did my homework on identification and sounds, and quietly observed what was going on in the woods.
As usual, there were lots of chickadees, juncos, and I even saw one appearance of a tiny warbler. I heard stellar’s jays squawking in the distance, Canada geese flying overhead, and the odd flap of a raven’s wings. I observed the quick Red-breasted nuthatch only a few times as he darted back and forth. And what I estimate to be about 100 meters distant, I could hear the woodpecker about once per hour.
Trying to predict where a bird will light can be quite difficult, so I had picked out a few spots and throughout the afternoon adjusted my exposure for each as the sun came in and out of the clouds and varied in intensity.
During 4 hours of photography, I only had one opportunity to photograph each of these birds as most of the time, they were either too far away, or in the case of the nuthatch, just wouldn’t stay still. And when I say opportunity, I mean a few short seconds.
Just like in landscape photography, sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t. But with birds, a little knowledge, lots of luck, and even more patience is the name of the game.
Bird photography may not be for everyone, because it’s not easy. But the rewards make it worth it 🙂