I borrowed a giant super telephoto lens from Canon Professional Services again this year. I waited for what I thought would be the best time, like it was this time last year. I was very excited. I have been enjoying the way that photography has been letting me see so much more about animals. I wanted to see the looks on their faces and find things about them that I didn’t even know.
I went to the fish hatchery. If you saw my blog last year, you’ll remember there were eagles, and ducks and heron and turtles. But, this time? Nothing. It was like an abandoned city. It was like there had been a war. I went the next day. There was one heron in one pond. There were none in the trees where they always wait, sometimes by the dozen. I finally went to Patchaug and found a few turtles.
Then I went to the island, hoping for great white egrets and swans. But it was hot on the mainland and the island was socked in with fog…fog so thick I could stand on the beach and not see the ocean. Fog like I’ve never seen. Fog for four days, and still counting. I went out again and again at all different times and all over the island, hoping to catch moments where I could see something. I got an occasional shot, but it wasn’t what I had hoped for.
I had to send the lens back yesterday. I never got the pictures I had imagined. And because of the way the program works – the loans are actually equipment evaluation loans, you only get to try each piece of equipment one time - I’ll never be able to borrow that particular lens again.
That lens was so tightly, smoothly made. It could focus so fast and reach to such a distance. It was made with a fluorite lens element (made out of super expensive man-made crystal) and other high tech "ultra low dispersion optical glass". That means that light didn’t break apart into its prismatic colors when it passed through. That means there was no distortion. That lens was a wonder. My father, an engineer who worked in the aircraft industry, would have gone crazy over that lens.
But there is a balance to strike between the power of your equipment and what it takes to use it. If a bird suddenly flies for example, you’ve got to lift your camera. When you’re using extreme magnification, there’s a lot of space in which to find one bird. You’ve got to get that bird in the view-finder and track it as it flies and keep it in focus. You can do it, but it’s not easy.
Sometimes it’s good to not to try so hard. You can get good pictures that way too, because it's unpredictable anyway, and when your chance comes, you'll have your lens with you, the one that you can realistically carry where ever you go.
Getting close is wonderful. Wonderful. I’m going to keep on striving to get the look in those eyes, or perfect wings of birds in flight, to the best of my ability, with the best tools I can afford. But equipment isn't everything. The picture is also about the whole situation, the whole context. It’s even about you, the one behind the camera, being out there in it, because it’s where you meet the world and it meets you. It’s about what you choose from all the myriad things in your field of vision, it's what the picture makes you feel and understand in that very moment.
I was at the fish hatchery, having not gotten all my amazing bird pictures, and the dogs and I went deeper into the forest. We sat by the bank of a stream. The spring-swollen current was hitting a log, pushing under, coming up and boiling the surface. There was something that I couldn't see happening under the water, maybe stones on the bottom and smaller branches that vibrated in the current, because the water was coming up all complicated to where it looked like sound vibrations. And that thrumming surface was reflecting the new green leaves and many naked branches and the old blue sky above. Something about it connected, told me about all the things that are always happening all together all the time, and I felt that they would always keep on happening. That current is still running, for example. That water is dancing. Now.
I want to make sure I tell you that I didn't see all of this detail at the time. I didn't know it looked like a map of a landscape, a range of mountains, the trunk of a tree. I couldn't take particular delight as I do now, in the way that nature seems to repeat the same patterns from different materials, over and over. I simply couldn't process fast enough an image I took at 1/1000th of a second. (I had to show it to you the long way to make it big enough for you to see. You might want to hold it sideways, to see how the river was flowing left to right.)
I just saw the boiling, roiling water, the colors more merged together, but I did feel something about it. For a second, I felt like I was part of it, or that it was part of me. I think that is something I will remember from now on. So photography can be like that, the chance to bounce off the surface of that, to notice that, stay with that, take a picture of that, learn from that, and then to see it after, in ways the human eye can't normally see, to see it new, to take a moment, to feel what is actually going on in this world.
So much of photography is for me, about being available for what ever happens. I couldn’t change the weather and couldn’t make the birds come, not even to their regular places. I was upset about the fog, but then I had to laugh at myself for holding on so tightly to what was out of my control. Maybe a good thing is not so hard to find. Maybe I don't always need special birds or special weather or special equipment. Maybe it’s under my nose. It is. I think so. At the end of it all, I had some pictures that were new and unexpected and I learned and now I am very pleased.
PS. At 7:15 this morning, the National Weather Service cancelled their dense fog advisory. At 7:16 they put it back in place.
PPS. The more I work with wildlife, the more I feel I should leave them alone. Their lives are hard enough. It's one thing to take pictures of birds whose natural habitat includes people. It's another when they are nesting or forced out of their natural range, like snowy owls. If you chase them around, you could actually help them starve to death. I had some great white egrets in sight yesterday, and I took a few pictures, but they flew to another spot and I knew it was because of me. So I stopped. I just have to wait for my moments. A lens with big reach will help, and I'm looking into cheaper alternatives now.
PPPS. No offense to myself, but I got a little dizzy looking at that river picture, especially up and down like that. I had to rest my eyes on the last picture.
PPPPS. I did see blue heron in some of the other ponds and rivers. I saw them in pairs at the far ends of hidden places. So they are not gone, just moving out. Maybe they have to be more careful now, because of the eagles. I saw one, flying at speed, staying low, threading it's way through the narrow spaces above a small stream, twisting and turning like those big birds in the movie, "Avatar". A wonderful sight. Impossible to get a picture with that big lens.