The first shot below of a White-Throated Kingfisher was taken day before yesterday. As I pass through his turf on the narrow road between two open fields, this delightful critter will sometimes fly across at eye level to get my attention, then perch on either a lampost or some equipment nearby. I take a few shots, sometimes thank him with a smile, and continue on my way. As soon as I leave, he flies away.
I can think of no greater honor as a nature photographer than this little friend’s trust.
As I’ve mentioned several times on these pages, critters obviously don’t understand English; but they are keen interpreters of human intent. That’s why I never insult a bird by trying to bribe it or coax it in some way to enable me to make a better photo.
The notion of trying to “trick” a bird, in my world, is equally ludicrous. In addition to generally being among the sharpest-sighted chordates, their intelligence is geared towards survival. Shots like the one below, harsh backlighting aside, are therefore a collaboration between the bird and me.
I shoot alone 99% of the time. I’ve done documentation work with a trusted spotter in the past and know a few people, my better half being one, with whom I’ll take photo walks. But whenever I see an unknown bazook-er approaching in the field, which happens uncomfortably often, I quickly move in a different direction.
While there are many ethical photographers in these parts, what seems to be a much greater number will go to any lengths—documented in various newspaper articles and elsewhere over the years—to get the “perfect” picture, without any concern for the well-being of their intended subjects. I’m not a part of their world and refuse to be seen with any of them.
To my eyes, critters make the best photos when they have total freedom to act according to their nature. As in the case of the kingfisher, this can also occur when interacting with humans, when it’s by the critter’s choice. Pet birds, zoo birds, and feeder birds are of no interest to me as a photographer, although I can understand the value in society of the former two.
Technique for capturing birds, then? None. I don’t camouflage my gear (although I will eventually weather-coat the fresnel ones); I wear loud-colored clothing in the field. Occasionally I’ll wave at a distant perched raptor. I sometimes whistle at my shrike and kingfisher friends, and I often talk softly to bulbuls. Sometimes I even pull my mask down under my chin and smile.
And after taking a picture, I always say thank you. The critters understand.