As wildlife photographers, we usually go through phases. Sometimes we're active, hitting the woods, fields, and swamps at every opportunity. Sometimes we're passive, waiting for reports from a mailing list or forum before grabbing our gear and heading out. Sometimes we're armchair photographers, enjoying the pictures others have taken from the comfort of our own homes (in my current case with a coffee at my side and an occasional yawn breaking the tap-tap of the computer keys). There's nothing wrong with any of these phases. They're only natural. Only the most driven of people can sustain fevered activity full-time. As the old saw says: “There's a time for everything.” That time comes when you're ready to enjoy it.
As I type this, it's raining. That doesn't really mean anything. Yes, there is a certain challenge in shooting in the rain (mainly keeping yourself and your gear dry, and getting high enough shutter speeds), but that doesn't mean there aren't any shooting opportunities. There can be plenty. I should probably grab my gear and go. But I'm not going to. I'm going to finish this article, both because I told Ray I would, and so we can ponder the laws of wildlife photography – the Four P's. If that sounds like an excuse for being in an armchair phase, well maybe it is!
“Persistence, Patience, and proper Positioning increase Probability..”
Catchy, isn't it? I should probably add a Wikipedia entry for it as “Brierley's Law of Wildlife Photography!”
It's really quite simple in concept: Let's say you want to see a Swamp Sparrow. If you never leave your home, your chances of seeing one are pretty slim (persistence). If you go somewhere, but are in constant frantic motion (perhaps due to being on a tight timescale), your chances of seeing one are pretty slim (patience). If you're looking for a Swamp Sparrow in a field, your chances are pretty slim (proper Positioning). Field Sparrows are cute little guys, though – you might want to go for one of them while you're there.. Combine all three? If you never leave your home, and are always bouncing around the backyard while you're there, your chance of seeing a Swamp Sparrow are pretty much nonexistent. “Common sense”, you say. “True”, I say. But at times, we've all done it!
Now let's flip it: Let's figure out the formula for finding a Swamp Sparrow.
Unless we get lucky, we're not likely to find it the first time we go somewhere, so we need to be prepared to go places frequently. That's persistence. Even if one is around, we're unlikely to find it immediately when we arrive, so we must be prepared to spent time there looking. That's patience. We need to know where to look. It will do us no good to go look in the woods. That's proper Positioning. So we go to a swamp, we go frequently, and we spent lots of time looking. It is gambling. Just like in a casino there are things we can do to increase our odds, but there is no guarantee – the deck is stacked in favour of the house. But sometimes (those wonderful, infrequent, times), it seems like we can't lose. Other times (those depressingly frequent times), it seems like there isn't a bird in the world. But when you hit a good time? Oh, boy, is it amazing! That's what keeps us coming back.
None of this is new to anyone, really. So why write about it? Because we all forget it from time to time, particularly the “positioning” aspect. We all have our favourite locations. When they dry up, we say “There's nothing around.” Sometimes we need to be reminded that the truth is that there's nothing around there. Try somewhere else! There are undoubtedly trails galore around your home that you've probably not spent much time on. You won't find a Marsh Wren in a backyard. Go find a swamp or a marsh or a pond or a lake.. You might be surprised at what you find!
A sharp reader might be thinking “You could have just called this article 'Photography takes a lot of time.'”. Ok, you're right – but it isn't nearly as catchy! I make no apologies for going for a pithy phrase!
Happy shooting everyone. Here's wishing you good light and a constant rotation of subjects to shoot!
Jon Brierley Natures Best Creations