Whilst preparing a few old images for an upcoming magazine piece, I was thinking about the comment that I most often hear about my wildlife images; ‘You must have a lot of patience’. In truth, rather than wait around for the right moment, I prefer stuff to happen quickly. Of course, it is true, patience is necessary on occasions, you can’t rush nature. However, a strong determination is more likely the mindset that dominates many good wildlife photographers. This image of a little grebe feeding her chick is a good example. The chance of these birds coming close to the water’s edge at the right time in the right light and be at the right angle is so small that you could wait a lifetime and it never happen. Rather than patiently wait around you’ve got to create the circumstances that increase the likelihood of opportunities arising to capture this sort of image.
To photograph these grebes, I made a small floating platform and built a hide/ blind on it. I was then able to get into the water wearing chest-high waders and disguise myself and my camera equipment under the odd-looking contraption. This enabled me to move around in the water, and, as long as I stayed in shallower water I could move slowly around the lake to wherever the birds were. Many wetland birds will soon become accustomed to the shape of the hide edging its way over the water surface, caution is necessary and any signs of stress or disturbance would be unacceptable and I would have to leave. My best images are secured when I manoeuvre the hide into a good position and allow the activity to unfold around me. I can make small adjustments to my position or point of view without causing any alarm. The image appears to convey a quiet, serene, and tender moment between mother and young, in reality, the boisterous chick was calling with an annoying relentlessness, pausing only for the second or two it took to swallow the morsel it was fed. Sometimes the parent would emerge from a dive in front of my hide, at other times she would emerge behind me. In this instance, she surfaced against the light. Being mobile inside a floating hide enabled me to turn and capture the two birds in silhouette. It would have been impossible from a land-based or fixed position. Is it worth it? You decide.
Unlike the hard-slog that went into filming the grebes, the grouse image was taken from the comfort of my car. It is tempting to think one only has to drive up onto upland moors to photograph them, but photographing them well requires a similar mindset to the grebes. It isn’t necessary to have a lot of patience, only to be determined to do the right things. For these images, I knew the birds would be active at dawn, and after checking the weather forecast I knew the light would be good. Fortunately, upland roads are free of any traffic at 5am in August. In the right habitat, red grouse will be quite easy to see at the roadside, and a careful approach will usually produce some good photo opportunities.
Beautiful light like this is rare and fleeting, so early rising and setting up in murky pre-dawn conditions are among the challenges the determined photographer has to adapt to. Interestingly, this image was taken on an old Canon DSLR camera with just a 6-megapixel sensor. Bird photography is much less about patience and much more about the determination of the photographer. Determining when the light will be right, what the best perspective will be and how to anticipate the movements and whereabouts of an animal. Fortunately for wildlife photographers, those things can’t be bought. Which reminds me of my second most often heard comment; ‘You must have a good camera’! I’ll talk about that another time. 😉