What Inspired Me
I’m often asked which photographers have inspired me. Those who know me know I can’t remember a person’s name seconds after being told it. I can name all the critters of North America, but someone I just meet, their name is lost to me. And while I don’t recall names worth a hoot, I can remember all the photographs I’ve seen over the decades. One of the photos I saw when I first got into photography decades ago was of a Red-tailed Tropicbird. The way the light came through the wings, the crazy long, red tail and the “floating in air” look of its flight simply caught my imagination. It’s a photograph I’ve always wanted, a species I’ve wanted to experience. And forty years later, I meet my inspiration!
The photograph I saw all those years ago is pretty much the top photo you see here. It was simply a tropicbird floating by. Getting that shot way back when would have been quite a feat with manual advance camera bodies and manual focus (and just 36 exposures!). Today, it’s actually a slam dunk! I simply put the D5 / 300PF up to my eye, panned and shot. Seriously, with the D5 set to Auto Area AF, Exp Comp 0 and on CH with the speed of the 300PF autofocus and extreme light-weight and sharpness, the only thing to worry about was the sunburn (I got toasted!)! So then getting “the” shot that made me go experience the Red-tailed Tropicbird was a easy peezy. But coming back with more was truly my goal.
Once you’re on Kauai, finding either the White-tailed or Red-tailed Tropicbird is pretty simple. Getting close, really close to these species there is only one place to go, the Kīlauea Point NWR. This is flying bird Shang-gra-la! The tropicbirds nest here (they lay only 1 egg) which instantly means you’ll easily find them. With that challenge met, it’s then the challenge of capturing their story. Being a pelagic species which means they spend their life at sea on the wing making them great fliers. They eat fish specializing in eating flying fish. Then in telling their story, you can see that flight is a big part of that story.
Watching them is what I did at first. Seeing patterns, watching routines and guessing at their meaning was a little time-consuming but important for being in the right place and the right time. For example, a group of 5 or 7 would launch into the sky, fly up and then fly backwards in what appeared to be an aerial courtship display of some sort. They would do this over and over and over again. Then they seemed to pair up and do flights together. All of this would happen in spurts of great activity and then none, craziness and then, snore. They would start their activity below the cliff out of sight and then would skyrocket with the wind up into site and above our heads to perform. It was great fun and a challenge to bring this story home.
Then there was simply capturing their elegance of flight. I can’t emphasize enough the ease the D5 / 300PF brought to this especially when shooting directly overhead or when they screamed past us down the bluff. It was truly rewarding, romantic, fun, bird photography that we did for hours on end. The biggie for me though was to finally, after decades, bring back an image the inspired me so long ago to be a wildlife photographer. That leaves me now with just a few hundred images of others to chase because it is others images that inspire me!