In rediscovering my love of photography, I found myself developing a new habit: grabbing the camera and heading outdoors to start capturing the beauty of my favourite season, fall. Little did I know that photographing trees and leaves would quickly progress into something else.
Before you could say “Squirrel!” I was distracted by the abundant wildlife going about its business in the crisp autumn air. I soon found myself following around the wildlife with my camera with the same intensity as Elmer Fudd hunting for “wabbits”.
I admit, the thrill of the hunt for the perfect photo was a little addicting, to the point that I started to forget about the original goal of taking pictures of the leaves and the trees.
It was in that transition that it occurred to me how nature photography is really a unique genre onto itself.
In the studio, when working with an inanimate object, I can stage it, style it, move it around, shoot it, adjust it, and reshoot it 50 times from different angles to get that one perfect shot.
In nature photography, when the moment presents itself, there is little time to think about it. The perfect moment is fleeting and the perfect picture is elusive. And when the subject flees, it is time to look for another subject. The creative challenge it presents is most fascinating to me.
Nature photography is a whole different ball game that requires time, patience, a good eye and the intuition to set up a shot that may (or may not) happen.
For example, as much as I would like to, I cannot tell a chipmunk to “hold still”, “smile”, “a little to the left”, “not so much”, “tilt your head down”, “turn around and try an over the shoulder shot”. Even though they work for peanuts, they are not the most cooperative of subjects.
It is a similar situation with birds. They move so darn quickly, it is as if the photographer needs to forecast where the bird will be going next, to have the camera shot already set and the camera in focus to capture the image before our flighty subject leaves the set.
To a certain extent, it is the same when trying to shoot fall colours. If the photographer is out a week too early, things are still green. If the photographer is out a week too late, the leaves may have all fallen by then. Also from year to year, the fall colours don’t necessarily change on exactly the same schedule as previous years.
Even trying to take pictures of menacing dark clouds, an amazing sunset of pink skies, or just trying to get a perfect sunny day for ideal lighting conditions is completely out of the control of the photographer. A few minutes can make the difference between a good shot and a “wow” shot.
It is a question of making the best of the situation and using the conditions to get the best picture possible. One never knows when a drizzly, misty evening could add an ethereal feel to an otherwise ho-hum shot.
When it comes to nature photography overall, my first experiences tell me that timing is everything, but to not wait for perfect conditions. I need to go out and make the conditions perfect.
For these reasons, I have a huge appreciation, respect and esteem for nature photographers. When they are able to capture the close-up image of a specific species, in a perfect position, with a great background and under seemingly perfect light conditions, it really is a tour de force!
I am still new at it but I realize it will take much practice for the intuition to kick in, and for all the factors contributing to a perfect photo to become second nature, so to speak.
At the same time, nature photography is a reminder of how, much like the changing of the seasons, life is ever changing and evolving. It also reminds us that life offers us a series of “picture-perfect” moments, however temporary they may be, and in not letting those fleeting moments pass us by.
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