As The Man in Black so famously said to Inigo during their Epic Sword Fight after he asks him who he really is – “Get Used to Disappointment“. And that’s a lot of what we have to do as photographers. Especially as nature photographers. There is so much we can’t control. Actually, pretty much everything except for showing up and sometimes not even that. We can’t control the light, the weather, the animals, the plants or flowers, the insects, the tides, the wind – absolutely nothing. We just set out and hope. And we shoot. And shoot. And shoot.
The idea for this post came to me when I was listening to Brenda Petrella’s fun and informative Outdoor Photography Podcast. Either she or her guest mused that a lot of nature photography was getting used to being disappointed. She (or the guest) didn’t mean it as a downer, but as a reality check that makes getting the shot even sweeter. And it does.
Here’s my example –
Not to put too fine a point on it or anything.
But Holy Crap, Batman. A bee. In flight. Facing me!! Cleaning her tongue!!!!
For years I’ve been photographing bees. Mostly getting butts sticking out of flowers. Some nice ones facing front or side on, but fewer of those unless I’d rescued her from water or she was already cold from an overnight. But in flight? None.
But I kept trying. Especially when I got my system macro lens that would work with autofocus. But it’s too short a focal length and I ended up scaring the poor girls away rather than taking their pictures.
Enter the Panasonic/Leica 100-400mm. It makes a dandy macro lens because it focuses reasonably closely (3 feet or so) and zooms in super tight. I’ve shot some tiger beetles in my driveway and dragonflies in the backyard this way and got good photos with lots of detail. Heck, even my hummingbird shots could be considered macro in a way since even a small jpeg online shows the birds bigger than life sized!
So when this little worker buzzed around my deck flowers I leaned against the side of the house and gave it a go. And she turned and headed right for me. Not all of the shots in the sequence work since they aren’t as sharp as this, but omg this is a beaut.
Sure I got lucky, but I also persisted. And that’s also known as practice.
Practice is a verb and a noun. Nice, what? And that means not only do I practice my photography, but I have a photography practice. Meaning an activity with specialized knowledge that I pursue to achieve a high level of proficiency or expertise. People who do yoga are known as practitioners. People in the medical field are known as practitioners. Law, too. Why not photographers?
Sure I’m retired now and so I have a lot of time to shoot, but even when I was working I made the time to do something, if not every day, then every week. I needed to keep sharp and I also needed to stay out there and in nature being nosy and discovering all I could. Sometimes that meant an all day excursion to some waterfalls or a cool nature preserve. Sometimes that meant poking around my yard or the vacant land at the end of the road with my macro lens for an hour. I did it all the time. After work. On weekends. Whenever.
So when it came time for the big moments – the vacation, the workshop, the freak storm or bird in the yard, I was ready. I had the equipment and the experience that developed the skills to use it. Without that practice. Without developing a practice, those extraordinary moments might have gone by me entirely or at the least with a maximum dose of disappointment.
I guess what I’m saying is don’t limit your photography practice to only workshops or assignments or vacations. If you love it, give it room in your life for practice. Seat time as my driving instructors called it. I was never going to get faster around the race track without seat time. Same goes for photography. There are a lot of failures behind me and no doubt ahead of me, but they are worth it for the lessons they teach.
And just what lesson did I learn to get my little flying bee up there?
On the technical side – I upped my shutter speed and got less afraid of high ISO. Then I switched up my autofocus to single focus point and Continuous Autofocus. That let me find her and gave the camera the chance to lock onto her. Then I processed using Topaz Sharpen AI to bring out the most of what I caught.
On the artistic side – I showed up. I was present. I decided at the last second to take a chance and give catching a BIF another try. Maybe that was the most important part.