Photographers make pictures for a variety of reasons. After reading a magazine story on the subject recently I asked myself, what are mine?

Some folks simply want to document a moment in time. Others want to share with friends and family. I have hundreds of images of my three and a half year old grandson for instance – very few in sharp focus, though, since he’s not fond of the paparazzi!

Professional photographers take pictures to make prints or to sell to magazines and newspapers or sometimes for corporate use. All the wildlife photographers I know, however, are enchanted by the process of getting close to their subjects, observing and possibly capturing unique behaviour.

This immature bald eagle plucked a piece of fish out of a river and I was fortunate to witness it up close. An enjoyable moment when this eagle ignored my presence and exhibited behaviour I had not witnessed before.

 

When my kids were younger I had a travel assignment which took me (and my family) to the Grand Canyon. We stopped for a night in Santa Fe, New Mexico and while there I visited the editors of Outside Magazine. I had written a couple of stories for them but we had never met in person.

One of them had been a guide at the Grand Canyon before going into journalism full time. She told me the average visitor spent something like 20 minutes looking at the canyon stopping long enough to take a picture of themselves before moving on. Imagine travelling all that way and spending more time at the buffet bar than at one of nature’s most splendid creations.

I recall a visit to Colca Canyon high up in the Peruvian Andes eight years ago one of the best places to photograph the giant Andean Condor. I was writing a magazine travel piece at the time.

We had driven through the night from Arequipa and so I told my guide I needed a few hours to myself. He dropped me off at a spot where perhaps one hundred tourists stood with iPhones and selfie sticks – a new photographic tool at the time – trying to capture an image with themselves in the foreground and the Condors soaring high in the background. Was it for social media?  Sorry but that’s not my thing. The condors are the subject, not me.

While my guide used the time to take a nap, I wandered along the ridge of the canyon several hundred metres searching for a better spot to capture these birds with something other than the sky as a background. There was an ideal spot where every few minutes a condor would briefly appear in the canyon below me. I was able to capture a few satisfying images which appealed to the photo editor.

An adult male Andean Condor rising from Colca Canyon in Peru.

 

A juvenile female Andean Condor passing through Colca Canyon.

Instagram and other social media are popular amongst most of the population. And, if I had been so inclined, no doubt, I would have seen hundreds of images from that day on social media.  

I tried Instagram once but when my daughter’s dog Rilo had more followers than me I concluded this was ridiculous. My kids explained to me ‘dad you have to follow your followers, follow your followers’ followers and comment a lot.’ Sounds like a lot of wasted time to me. I’d much rather spend that time out in the field.

By having wildlife experiences people are more likely to defend wildlife when an opportunity arises. That’s one of the reasons I have this website and enjoy presenting my photos and stories to audiences. The photos you see in my blogs aren’t always ones I would send to an editor. But they are tools to encourage others to get out and enjoy nature.

In any case, there is a misconception that pro photographers come away with fantastic images every time they are out in the field. 

When a National Geographic photographer returns from a two month assignment in a far flung destination he or she must turn over as many as 40,000 images to the photo editor. Amongst those will be thousands of photos that would embarrass them if they were published. So you never see those.

Now I am far from the level of a National Geographic photographer but still I am occasionally surprised which of my pictures a photo editor will choose from those I submit. They must consider which images best illustrate the story and which might contribute to the page layout.

Most professionals are also ethical. If they have taken a photo of a captive animal, for instance, they will say so up front. I bump into people all the time who show me images of bald eagles up close. When I say ‘great picture, where did you shoot it?’ Sometimes the response is ‘oh it was at a bird sanctuary.’ 

One of my favourite images of a juvenile bald eagle. Moments earlier this eagle was released from a cage after spending several months in rehabilitation at The Owl Foundation in Vineland, Ontario. I would never send this photo to an editor without explaining the circumstances.

This is one of the images from that eagle release (earlier in the sequence) which the Toronto Star ran with my 2021 story on wildlife rehabilitation.  

Other times people have sent me photos of images that have assuredly been photoshopped or of birds of prey which have been baited. That is, the owl or eagle has responded to someone who has placed a mouse or other prey nearby in order to attract the raptor to come close for pictures. This is unethical.

Just this morning a guy I know was telling me about a fox that he saw in the brush next to a road. He slowed down and the fox came over to his car. As he tried to drive away the fox followed. My first thought was that this animal had been fed by somebody and had become conditioned to expect food from a human. This is the danger of baiting.

I suppose I take pictures as an excuse to spend time with wildlife. Seeing my images in newspapers and magazines is still a thrill. Getting a cheque with my name on it is icing on the cake. And sharing with audiences both on my website and in a theatre setting are equally exciting. It is the story behind the image which seems to resonate with audiences rather than a technically perfect capture.

The encounters themselves are what keeps me going out regularly. I do hope that everyone is enjoying the warmer weather and experiencing wildlife themselves.

 

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