The Portrait is Only the Starting Point
I’m often asked when photographing wildlife, when do you know you have the shot? This is a question I’ve asked myself for many, many years and the answer is still forming. I do know that the portrait is just the starting point. What does that mean? When you start out in wildlife photography and start out I mean, the first few years or more, the goal is just to get the great portrait. That in itself requires the gear, technical and biological skill to fill the frame with the critter not moving. The critter not moving (which is a portrait) is important because the one thing that has to be sharp is the eye. A moving head makes that very difficult. So the great portrait is where the challenge begins.
And it’s a challenge that presents itself with each new critter you come across. There are over seven hundred bird species in North American so you could reason out, that’s a minimum of 700 portraits to challenge you. That’s a heck of a challenge, that’s something to be celebrated! But once you have that portrait, then what? Capturing that great portrait is doable by all with any gear. It just takes that one critter who is cooperative and you’ve got it! That means you’ve got to find the photographic challenge in another aspect of wildlife photography. I want to give you your next challenge, biology.
Now photographing biology can be done while doing the portrait, so it is a natural morph in challenges. I have three examples here of what I’m talking about. Again shooting from the sand as in, lying on the sand like a beached whale I have the D4s / 800mm on the Panning Plate which is my preferred method of shooting shorebirds. This Marbled Godwit, a bird once very common when I was a kid is getting harder and harder to find. Because of that, I went after the portraits first this morning and then moved onto the biology. So the top shot is the portrait, the slight cock of the head takes the portrait and gives it gesture. The biology then comes into play by taking the portrait and adding behavior to it. The middle shot is the “fluff out” after preening. All it takes is being ready for the fluff out after preening (so you know it comes after preening) and then holdin down the shutter release and listening to the sweet sound of the shutter rippin. Then there is the bottom photo which is gyration birds go through while preening. In spreading the oils on their back, they curl their head around on their backs and rub. When they do this, the bill sky points. It’s real brief so you have to know that biology is coming and be prepared for it to capture it. None of this is ease, not being in the right place or owning the right gear and especially is knowing the biology. And that’s why so few go after it. You though can do it, just remember the portrait is only the starting point!