Looking Beyond My Agenda

This is one of my favorite birds... a Mourning Dove, also called a Rain Dove. 

I want to tell you about the equipment I borrowed through Canon Professional Services.  If I were to buy this equipment, the Canon EF 600 mm / 4.0L I.S. II USM lens would cost almost $13,000 and the Canon Digital EOS 1DX camera, would cost almost $7,000.  They were due back in Virginia this past Monday.  Canon is not kidding about this deadline because they often have other people waiting. 

The problem was we were having a blizzard.  The boats were cancelled for most of Thursday and Friday and there was no FedEx service on the weekend.  I called and was graciously given a two-day extension. On Monday, I woke in the wee hours, listening to the unexpected wind.  I was sure the boat would cancel again.  At that point, I would have done an over-night shipment, to the tune of $500, or I would have gotten in the car as soon as the boats were running, and driven to Virginia myself.  

Mercifully, the wind was from the south, which gave some shelter in the lee of the island, and the boat was able to run.   I tell you this so that you will know that having this equipment was both wondrous and terrifying. 

The camera and lens were due today.  I have been tracking them all morning.  They were delivered five minutes ago.  Phew.

Just a little fellow, pecking for seeds.  Note the narrow depth of field.  That's because this is such a huge telephoto lens and I'm taking the pictures at close range.

Having gone all around the Island with Josh and Emily and having gotten many seal pictures, I was ready for phase two.  I set up a bird blind in my kitchen, opened the window, shielded it with pillows and black plastic and set myself to the task of taking pictures of songbirds.


I especially wanted to catch birds in flight but they move very fast and very unexpectedly.  A bigger bird like an egret or a heron will think about it.  You’ll see a subtle motion.  They’ll stretch or fidget, make a start, and then fly.   Not these little creatures.  They are here and if you blink, they’re gone.   


I took scores of pictures, waiting for this cardinal to fly.

I took scores of pictures, waiting for this cardinal to fly.

So I picked a bird and starting shooting continuously, hoping to already be in process of taking a picture when he made his move.  I sat there for two days like an addict at a slot machine, feeding in quarters, or in this case hitting the shutter button, hoping for a lucky strike.

I took two thousand pictures. That is a testament to the endless opportunity afforded in a digital environment, to the obstinate side of my personality, and also to the fact that I knew I would not have the chance to use this equipment again, any time soon. 





And he did!

Here is a series on a female cardinal, leaping before she opens her wings.

My friend Marybeth Jarrosak came over yesterday.  I showed her my pictures.  She said, “What would happen if you zoomed in on your pictures… looked a little closer?”  We did, and this is what we saw.

Just when you think you know what to expect with photography, something new can come.  It's fine to have an agenda but it's also good to look beyond it.  In this case, I was so committed to birds in flight that I didn’t see the thing right under my nose - the capacity the big lens afforded to get in close and record the details on these birds. 

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It was a good thing I had Marybeth to keep me from locking in too soon.  If she had not come over yesterday, I might have gone to my grave with the pictures already in front of me, but never looking as closely, never knowing how cool it is to see the detail and color on a female cardinal's chest, or the small grey ferns under her beak, or her very nice hairdo, or her tiny tongue. 

(I want you to see Marybeth’s websites. She has an affinity and care for every living thing.   I have seen bees and dogs and gardens relax and flourish the minute she comes into their neighborhood.  She is a wonderful photographer.  You can see her images here (at http://marybethjarrosak.wordpress.com) and can see and read more about her gardens and many other things here (at http://hammerandhoe.wordpress.com)).

Photography has enabled me to look in a lot of places and see in a lot of ways.  It has enabled me to look in a sense, at how the world is constructed. 

There has never been a single thing where I've said, "God, that's surprisingly ugly."  It has always been the other way around.  Most things have been more beautiful than I could have imagined.  There have also been things that were difficult to see, but they have had their beauty also.  I mean, because they mattered.  That's how I feel.