the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



FOR ME, ONE PREDICTABLE TAKEAWAY FROM THE RECENT PLAGUE YEARS has been a forced re-ordering of my priorities and pleasures as a photographer. Quite simply, the conditions imposed by a need for caution and patience have not only made me see differently, they have altered what it is that I look for in the first place. Any time you change the number of places you can go, or reduce the total number of things you can get near enough to photograph, your pictures will automatically be re-shaped.

In my own case, the isolation imposed by The Great Hibernation moved me about three feet forward as a bird watcher.

My wife and I had already been settling into the division of labor seen in many birding couples, in which one partner spots ’em and the other shoots ’em. This is totally logical since I am not even ready for the Rank Amateur Semi-finals when it comes to identification, and makes even more sense since Marian would rather experience the birds in the moment, through binoculars, than worry about “capturing” them. The result is that I learn how to slow down and learn something before I shoot, and she gets the souvenirs at the end of the day. Happiness all around.


A checked box on my wife’s birding “life list”; a flock of Cedar Waxwings convenes in Tempe, Arizona, 2023 

This year afforded us an exercise in patience that, frankly, I might have muffed just a while ago, in that we spent weeks searching for the same avian pot of gold, with lots of frustration and near misses along the way. Colder, wetter winter weather in the higher altitudes of Arizona had created a shortfall of food for several species, forcing them down into the massive deep bowl in which the Phoenix metro sits. This in turn created a surge of one of Marian’s “life list” birds, those special rare sightings that birders truly live for. That bird, the cedar waxwing, was suddenly popping up in massive flocks everywhere, usually in the company of a throng of robins, who are no great shakes in many parts of the country, but are fairly rare around here. The affinity of the two species for each other meant that if you saw a single one of either bird, chances are you were near a major gathering of both. The hunt was on.

I relate this tale to reaffirm that, in The Before Times, I was just peripherally aware of birds, in that they were something I occasionally photographed but seldom had as my primary focus. The intervening years have changed all that, something I realized when, at the point we happened upon a motherlode of waxwings and robins surging into a local pocket park, I not only felt I had accomplished something photographically, but also that I had experienced real, unalloyed joy. My wife and her friends had finally had me in their classroom long enough to get my attention. And while I will probably never have the discipline to become a great wildlife photographer, at least I know, now, what I could be missing. And that’s a gift beyond measure.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s