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on Aug 12, 2011 in Wildlife Photography

Food & Time – Key to Wildlife Photography!

More and more Phalaropes started to land out in front of us. They motored around the Tufa and started to come closer as they chased the food source. Here you can see one coming up to a clump of Brine Flies. And while it might seem like they are trying to hide from the flies as they flatten themselves against the water, I think they are avoiding creating a splash from their bill when they strike. Being flat to the water, when they snap at the flies, their bill doesn’t touch the water.

Well, hunger works wonders in a short time, 45min or so, the flies lead the little flock into shore and my waiting lens. Now I had already positioned myself based on light and food source. How did I come up with that place to plant? Angle of incidence equals angle of reflection is how.

I had a hunch that once they came into the shallower water, they might start to bathe after munching a little. Sure enough, they did. Now bathing in water 7x saltier then the ocean really can’t do much for their oils but they did it anyways and with a lot of zeal. They were ignoring me so I took two steps closer, closing the gap two feet. I would have loved to be laying flat on the ground but the grasses were too tall and I saw no alley ways to shoot through so I remained standing.

After a bath comes preening of course. Knowing that, I started to watch for the signs. Because after preening comes…..

the wing stretch! This was a challenge to photograph because of the grass. Now you watch birds enough you will see that second or two second warning that a wing stretch is coming. That warning helps, it permits you to get wider or go vertical (based on body position) to catch the wing stretch. And if you’re thinking, the chance to close the lens down to capture as much DOF as you can. I never got the wing stretch but anything I was getting I felt was a gift from the photo Gods.

You must be asking yourself about the light?! At least I’m hoping you are. If you remember back to yesterday’s blog and one from last week when I bemoaned the horrible light of August on the Eastside, you might be looking at the photo above saying something like, “That doesn’t look so bad.” If you look at the second image, the little group shot and then the one above, you should see in a matter of the 10min I had with this flock, the light changed. The sun rose higher and when it did that, it made the water a reflector. You can see the difference for yourself, it bounced light into the shadow therefore “mellowing” the light a little. Angle of Incidence Equals Angle of Reflection!

And after their food and bath, it was time to head back out into Mono Lake to do whatever it is Phalaropes do to entertain themselves. They also went back to foraging. Mono Lake is their gas station where they fuel up on their migration south. There can be as many as 1 million of these floating cottonballs on Mono Lake within the next month. I still wanted that photo that said Wilson’s Phalarope on Mono Lake. So as the Phalaropes left their little beach I followed them in the viewfinder. The third or fourth one when it left gave me the photo I wanted, and my favorite from the morning.

The moral? I don’t know if there is one other then, photos only happen when you’re behind the camera. I went out to simply stretch the mind, the gear and keep all thinks sharp. After that, once out I just followed the clues to where they led. It would be great to say that’s how it always works but that would be a lie. Most of the time after such an outing, after I check for sharpness, I delete all the images because the light sucks. In this case though, I was rewarded for getting up early and willing to wait to play my hunch. Get out this weekend, exercise your gear and your mind and play the hunch. I hope you are rewarded as well!

Photos captured by D3x, 600VR w/TC-17e on Lexar UDMA digital film