Monday, March 29, 2010

Planning, Setup, and Seeing it come together


I've been contemplating this blog a little, my photography and why I post here at all. I think it is not to try to brag or show off but to share and in the process learn some things myself.

Last week I was listening to some new found podcast material (at and someone noted Arty Morris and his put the wind and light at your back to get flight shots of incoming birds. That rang true for me and the luck I had with the Snow Geese at Blackwater. The wind was just like they described, at my back, however for me the light was to the side and somewhat behind the birds, but they did come in to land in to the wind. I had setup in that area and saw it work, and then spent a couple hours as they came and went a few times.

Sometimes I ask myself what makes a better photographer than me better than me? In my heart of hearts I know it is a million things, many of which are un-measureable, or repeatable. Setting up for wildlife is a guessing game, a game of chance, but being able to see and predict things makes for better odds.

On this particular day at Assateague Island I had the wind in my face and the sun at my back. Not quite Arty's perfect setup, but it worked. Here's a diagram of it:

Wind_sun_setup diagram1

I spotted quite a few harriers this day using this setup to glide without much effort...


At the time I was shooting I picked up on the wind and shrubs and what the birds were doing. They will follow a path of least effort for hunting if possible. The shrubs created an updraft and a free ride/lift.

Harrier @ Assateague Island, Maryland

Looking back now I could have easily worked the area more. I shot from my car, drove up and down this section a few times and then moved on. I play the odds and try lots of different approaches.

Had I not had luck later shooting somewhere else (Blackwater Refuge) I might have kicked myself for driving away from this good setup. But as it turned out I got my best ever Harrier shots a few hours later. The snow cover on the ground and clear skies made for a magic up and down light, and it was where I was setup for the Snow Geese. The Harrier just circled overhead a few times. Here's one of the resulting images:

Northern Harrier @ Blackwater Refuge

Because of how much luck plays a part in Wildlife Photography I like to take risks, try things, and often get very mixed results. And that's to be expected, and that's the beautiful part of it. When things come together, when nature shares its magic it fills the tanks and makes me want to risk it again another day, and try something that's never worked, or been tried.

This day was a perfect example of that gamble. I drove on a day trip to Assateague Island (never done that before) and I ALSO went to Blackwater, and I had some great luck at both spots.

One of the things I will try to do with my blog is describe more of the circumstances and process involved in making the successful images. On a podcast I was listening to recently someone said they hit a wall in writing text to accompany their images, until the editor/publisher said 'speak to the images'. I'm going to try to do that more than in the past.

-50- / Jon



Beth said...

I love the shots that you post here. I want to be able to do shots as well as the ones you do. Thanks for the challenge. :D

Mike said...

This is a terrific post, and I'm not just saying that on account of that wicked harrier shot. Clearly, you've got a lot to share with nature photographers looking to improve.