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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

World Bird Wednesday XXXIX

Taking the Long View

American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)

   Those superbly detailed close-ups we enjoy week after week on WBW are the nature photographer's sexy new lover. Brand new cameras overstuffed with mega-pixels and lightening fast auto-focus lenses produce mind boggling results. On top of that comes the guilty pleasure of post processing, upping the ante even further as we sharpen, crop, and saturate to our hearts content. Those glistening eye highlights and finely sharpened feather textures will stop even a non-nature lover in their tracks.
   "Did you take that?" They gasp in astonishment.
   Little do they know of our dirty little secret. It's the technology, stupid!
   Only recently have these magical powers been bestowed on photographers by the fast advance of digital photography. Have you seen the dragonfly and hummingbird pictures out there? When but now has that been possible?

   I remember sitting in front of the TV in 1964 when The Beatles took the stage on The Ed Sullivan Show. The girls went mad with an emotional upheaval that was louder than the rock and roll they came to enjoy. Every TV connected kid made up their mind in that moment to become a musician. I could think of nothing else, it pierced me like eagle talons. That madness was to grip me again 47 years later when I happened upon an epic picture of a Great egret flipping a frog into the air before munching it down. The perfectly focused close-up of the frogs flight was frozen in super natural clarity. I was agog that such a spine tingling picture was possible without the financial backing of The National Geographic Society. I went stupid with desire to take a picture like that. Just like 1964, I researched and fretted over the purchase of equipment I did not know how to use. Patiently I rehearsed the skills that were described in the articles and slowly, every now and then, I would take a picture that showed I was getting closer to the kind of results I yearned for. 
   I admit it, I was smitten with a child like desire to be the guy who gives the world those pictures.

   It occurred to me last week that this overwhelming desire to take closer and more finely detailed pictures could be an artistic dead end, a trap. Not to say the difficult skills involved in applying the latest technology toward producing those crowd pleasing portraits are not worthy of our passion, far from it. The shear emotional appeal of tracking down and locking lens onto birds at close quarters is impossible not to strive for. All the big shooters are running in this race, it takes loads of time and a sizable financial commitment but the chances of having the Happy Accident of taking a truly remarkable picture have never been better. The possibility of crossing a diamond with a pearl; in this case an interesting pose matched with the technical revelations of today's digital breakthroughs, demands our attention. We are seeing pictures never before thought possible. It is so now.
  These new macro pictures are, however, not necessarily the most satisfying pictures ever taken. The temptation to get closer can overwhelm other artistic considerations. Context is often lost!

You could hypothetically fill an entire frame with nothing more than the eye of a bug but it's shock value would come more from it's appeal as a science project than an artistic achievement.
  "Back up a little!" The thought came into my head with the force of a gong. Why do I so rarely photograph birds in the context of their environment?
   Think: Does the limb this bug is perched on belong to a tree or a bush? Is the bush in a forest or a swamp? Is it spring or summer in the swamp?  You can't get that information from staring into an eyeball.  
 On the surface, putting a thing in it's place sounds easy enough to achieve, it should happen often enough just by accident, but as I started rummaging through files looking for pictorial examples I realised to my horror how rigidly focused my concentration on the reckless pursuit of super detailed close-ups is. Where in the name of heaven were all the pictures that reveal birds as an intrinsic part of the natural world?

The Rule of Three!

   There is a rule that I have perhaps followed to blindly, a facet of the universal rule of threes that states: A birds image should take up 1/3 of the total frame to be seen properly. While it's still a good rule, overdoing it tends to make every picture look like it was taken for a field guide.
  The rules of three are broken at your own risk. Even the Beatles spoke of their musical ramifications. Notice how the last phrase in the lyrics of Beatle songs repeats three times at the end of their myriad three minute hits. Start with "She Loves You" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and continue right on through "Strawberry Fields Forever." It works.

In photography the rock solid rule of thirds reveals the secrets of a well composed picture too.  Slicing our pictures equally from top to bottom and from side to side, like a tic-tac-toe board, will show the lines overlapping in four places, at the perfect thirds. Ordinarily one of those points is where the focus of a well composed picture will be. When a illustration has a little more air in it, and the subject takes only a small percentage of the full frame, this rule becomes paramount. Following it inexplicably helps to focus the power of a composition. It is heady stuff.
   This important facet of the rule of thirds is explained in depth by clicking HERE!

Lascaux, France we have been hooked on pictures. From charcoal and blood to the electronic blips of digital photography we have developed increasingly exacting ways to reinvent the artistic endeavours of our ancestors. Technologies advances are well documented in the demanding speciality of bird photography. As we look deeper into today's hypnotic macro realms don't forget the challenge of taking a step back and showing your subject as part of a larger picture.

Why the superpowers never sent a poet into space I'll never know, but they did send cameras. Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders achieved one of the greatest pictures ever taken with his Earth Rise image. He took the long view and changed the way thinking people regard our planetary home forever. As photographers we owe much to the Techies. They provide new ways for the creative mind to snatch relevance from the chaos. As it never has before, technology makes it possible to capture the wonder of planet Earth in wonderful clarity.

It's our planet, lets go take its picture!
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!

                                                                                                                                   Credit: NASA
Now it's time for World Bird Wednesday!

This is the home of World Bird Wednesday. A place for bird photographers from around the world to gather and share their photographs and experiences as they pursue Natures most beautiful treasurers, the birds.
World Bird Wednesday will be open for posting at 12 noon Tuesday EST North America through midnight on Wednesday.


#1. Simply copy the above picture onto your W.B.W. blog entry. It contains a link for your readers to share in WBW. Or you can copy this link on to your blog page to share W.B.W.
#2. Come to The Pine River Review on Tuesday Noon EST North America through Wednesday midnight and submit your blog entry with Linky.
#3. Check back in during the course of the next day and explore these excellent photoblogs!
The idea of a meme is that you will visit each others blogs and perhaps leave a comment to incourage your compadres!
Come on it's your turn!


  1. lovely post, springman. always enjoy your prose. just as much as your pix. :)

  2. awesome stuff here! Love that third shot, and lucky! to get the Bittern photo - they're so hard to get pics of. Great ones!

  3. Great post that provides a lot to think about. Hopefully some of it will stick with me.

  4. Springman, Great shots in this post! Also like the header shot.
    You certainly give one something to think about. Thanks for that. Why are we doing this? My simple answer would be that it's that it's just so much damn fun! I used to hunt birds with a gun. Those days are long gone. I prefer what I get these days. Don't think I miss as many with the camera!
    I'm absolutely hooked on you blog! Thanks!

  5. A wonderful read Springman and beautiful images.
    Thanks for the link (r of t's)

  6. Fantastic selection of gorgeous shots. The new header is just outstanding! What a great timing, Springman.

  7. Beautiful photography and thoughts to consider. My husband and I are opposite ends of that spectrum. I like birds in context, he like details. If we both were to process the same photo, his would be cropped much closer in! I do like the context, but I also like the detail. I think the problem is when we stay focused on one or the other. We need to look wide and we need to see small. The whole point is to actually see it, or see it in a new way. Thanks for making me think.

    I have my post all ready to go but am getting an internal server error so I don't know if I will get it up in time. I will come back and link up if I do. Until then, keep on posting For The Birds!

  8. interesting topic you bring up today. There is something called the golden rule. It could apply to almost everything when it comes to artistic expression. I have seen that you often share a good photo, not only a good portrait of the birds. I like that. And that is what I try to do. But I really have no other rules but what my mind tells me. If I like it, it is good. :) Great stuff, and I love the swan shot. :)

  9. Holy Cowbirds, Springman, you have bowled me over with this intensely modern post, yet one senses an underlying longing for something deeper... imagine perhaps a native american lying at the edge of a river bank in perfect silence and stillness, watching the birds long before the white man came ?

    The most modern technology is not everything though, just look at what Eliot Porter was able to do with film way back when, and he created his own printing and color process to boot, thus creating some of the most beautiful bird photos ever taken... some of the magic still remains in the eye and heart of the artist, technology can support, but cannot replace the soul you put into your photos... without that heart and soul a photo is a lifeless thing... imho.

    Thank you good sir for all this fine food for thought, and methinks ye have travelled already far along the road to enlightenment...

  10. Your photos are simply awesome - the one with the swans in mist is a dream!

  11. A really interesting post! I understand what you mean about context, and thought as I was reading that this was the perfect Wednesday for me to have something to share.

    I love the sunset gulls!

  12. Great photos and a very interesting post. Hmm! Now I need to go back and see how many times I have posted birds without a recognizable background or habitat!

  13. Interesting and thought provoking post.
    And the swan shot is a masterpiece.

  14. I love the Bittern capture. All your photos are wonderful, the sunset is also a favorite. Thanks for all the tips and the great post.

  15. Wonderful photos, all of them!! I am really new in birdphotography and have been trying to get as close as "I" can. Many are those photos that I have erased, because I thought they were to far away...but now I learned that it can be very interesting to see the nature around the birds too. So from now on I will think a little different :) Have a nice day!

  16. And still we want more :)

    I love the gulls in the sunset.

  17. Great and thoughtful post. I guess yes looking at bird guide books all the time (for the pictures) would get boring. I've never thought about your closeups like that though. I know about the rule of three but (I hope you will still welcome strictly amateur photos. I feel like my digital helps me to SEE and appreciate nature more -- as I could never afford to take so many pictures with a film camera. I really look at things harder, but I don't translate them as well as you do.

  18. Welcome to WBWXXXIX!
    I have had a busy day on the road and haven't had the laptop on since this AM. It sent a long shiver up my back to read through your divine comments! Thank you for taking the time to read so carefully and comment so insightfully!
    I think I will be a Wednesday commenter for the most part. The blog gallery looks tremendous doesn't it?! I can't wait to dive in and start chatting!
    See you soon. Dave

  19. Another fantastic post Dave. I find myself trying to get closer and closer to birds to get that detailed photo also and I think your advice is very good. Step back. Take another look. Being able to see the habitat of the creature is just as important or maybe more so than seeing the detail.

    Great capture of the American Bittern. I have been trying to get an in-flight shot of one of those for quite some time.

  20. Great post Springman. Love your photos and your words!

  21. Springman,You are a very good writer,photographer and teacher. My guess is you are also an honored Fireman.

    Your photos and message/advice are excellent and should weather the march of time. Thanks for being you.

  22. Excellent points there.
    Well, until I get that really LONG lens, I won't have the 'problem' of getting hooked to close ups. Plenty of room 'around' my shots to work with :P
    I love macros though. But not only and solely.
    It's good to step back every once in a while and just look for new angles.
    That's what makes us grow.
    You are heading the right way :)!
    (And gorgeous photos - as usual :) I love that sunset!)

  23. Ah the golden mean and those wonderful Lascaux caves.I like your idea of stepping back a little. I so often wonder at people wanting a plant identified by a macro of the flower, no leaves no whole plant . . .
    I just wonder . . .

  24. Interesting, thought-provoking post! I love seeing the birds in context but it's also nice to have a peek at all the little features of an individual bird. How marvelous it is that we can enjoy our craft both ways!
    Love your images this week!

  25. She Loves You YEAH YEAH YEAH

  26. quite ironic that you should write this particular post, this week, for I had just been thinking the same exact thing yesterday as I was shooting my little cardinal. as much as I loved getting close to it, the photo of it from a distance with its surroundings was as much a pleasure to view as was the close-up.

  27. hihi, I thought you would like my shots today. :)

  28. I hope it is OK to use an older post for my photo!? I don't have a huge number of birdlife pics, but I hope to change that as time goes. I absolutely love birding, but only have a Nikon S8100 Cool Pix and birds are hard to capture with it. Thanks for allowing me to link up! BTW, the bluebird isn't a stellar shot. It was taken 25' away through triple glazing :) Sorry!

  29. Hi there - great post - I think we can to wrapped up in the "if your pictures aren't good enough, you aren’t close enough" school of thought. (The quote is by Robert Capa - who was a war photographer, so it may not really apply to birds anyway!)

    But one thing that plays on my mind is the balancing act of seeing a great bird - or a common bird in a great setting - and just being able to enjoy it as it is, without the "worry" of trying to get "the shot". I was having real problems a few weeks ago with some kingfisher and I realised I was getting frustrated - wrong lens, flash gun still back at home, shooting into the sun. So I stopped and just watched the birds - and I really enjoyed it. Could have struggled on and still not get a decent shot - but I did get wonderful views and that seems like a better idea some times.

    Cheers SM

  30. You are so on target, Springman! I got to a point where I was seeing birds just as beautiful objects, purely mechanistic and instinct driven, without a purpose of their own. There had to be more to it than just perfect pictures, of which there are already countless numbers. That's when I started trying to change the focus of my posts, and I am still working on it - although I am still striving to get that perfect shot. Thanks for your stimulating article. A great post!!

  31. I think its easy to get tangled up in the tech stuff and loose the moment--after all we are out there to ENJOY it and bring it back for further study...It has to be fun or its NO FUN--
    The long shot can be just as amazing because you see that there is so much more to life than the bird in the right composition, we see the Whole Enchilada--Awesome photos and post Springman!!

  32. A wonderful post and some stunning images. Beautiful work, Springman.

    A nice weekend to you.

  33. I couldn't agree more with you :) I've seen a lot of nice close-ups where you can see every detail, great shots and all, but the photos that really stops me in my tracks are usually some well composed "Long view" shots. Shots that tells a story, showing the environment where the bird lives, or a bird in a beautiful landscape. Something different, with a feeling to it, an atmosphere, something special :) Just like your shot of the swan, swimming away into the fog. The other birds in the background creates the depth of the photo, tells me where the swan is going. Peaceful and silent, I can almost feel the fog on my skin ;) Great work! Keep it up, my friend, we're heading down the same road :)