Looking Back – My 12 Favorite Bird Photographs From The Last Decade
NOTE: Criss Posted at Photofocus.com -
I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection lately. I’ve realized (late in my career) that for me to become an artist I have to get out of my own way. I have to be involved in something that I care about and you have to love my subjects. I also have to look back at what I’ve accomplished and set markers for my career. That way I can know wether or not I achieved what I wanted to.
I decided to select 12 photographs made over the last 10 years that are my personal favorites as part of this process. Note I am not saying that these are my best 12. I’m not saying they are the 12 best sellers. I am saying they are my personal favorites. We have to give ourselves license to enjoy and like our own work and for me, this process of looking back is part of that permission. Since I spent most of the last decade photographing birds, I selected 12 bird photographs. I hope you enjoy them.
In no particular order…
I made this image at Little Estero Lagoon on Fort Myers Beach. I like it because it is calming. The egret sat there patiently for an hour fishing. I sat there with him and enjoyed the moments we spent together. He carefully waited and pounced – waited and pounced. Much like we do as photographers. We wait for a decisive moment and click the shutter. It was one of the most relaxing hours I’ve ever spent. I am grateful to have this memory.
I selected this hummingbird photo because it reminds me of how much work photography can be. I drove to southern Arizona, brought 12 flashes with me, hired two different guides, and sat for hours just hoping to SEE a bird let alone photograph one. But patience and perseverance won out and I got a shot I am proud of, including the tiny Hummingbird’s tiny tongue. These amazing creatures are truly one of nature’s marvels.
Of course I have to have a few eagle shots in this compilation. I love this one because it captures more than a static portrait. It tells a story about how hard eagles have to fight just to stay alive. This rare shot of eagles in battle over food is one of my very favorites. It’s not pretty, but it’s real.
Not all my favorite shots are favorites because they bring back good memories. Some are favorites because they remind me of tragedy and the power of photography to help overcome it. This shot was made in Louisiana in 2010 (BP oil spill) and shows a brown pelican in oil-soaked waters eating a fish. The bird most certainly died along with many others. To make this tragedy worse, the spill was as close as could be to the pelicans’ rookery. Generations of these birds will be lost because of this incident. This photo serves as a reminder of that very high cost.
Back to something calm and peaceful. I love shots of birds reflecting in calm water. This shot was also made at Little Estero Lagoon in Florida. There are four species, five birds here so that’s the title of the image. The very rare reddish egret white phase morph walked into the photo on the right side seconds before I shot it. The reddish egrets are threatened. There are less than 1500 pairs of them left. It was a treat to shoot this guy. In fact, he bonded with me and spent almost three days following me around. Hence the next photo.
This is the very same reddish egret white phase morph shot at night using a flash. I decided to make the photograph black and white to add a sense of the evening darkness to the overall image. It’s absolutely one of my favorites. I took a lot of time thinking about and composing this shot and it came out just the way I wanted it to – which is reason enough to put it on the list.
I photographed at Bosque del Apache more times than I can count. And this image “Cranes in the fire mist” is one of my most successful images from Bosque, but also one I worked very hard to get. If you don’t know the cranes in the fire mist story you can read it here. Suffice it to say I have an extremely emotional attachment to this photograph. It’s one I am very proud of and I’d be happy to hang my entire career on this one shot.
I made this image in China Poot Bay, Alaska. It’s an action shot. Again, not pretty, but an image I prize because not just everyone has a photograph of an eagle with a rabbit in tow. Nuff said.
Another classic favorite of mine is this great egret displaying his feathers in an attempt to attract a mate. It was made at the famous Venice, Florida rookery which sadly, like so many of the great bird photography places, is no longer attractive due to decisions made by the residents in the area to cut down all the trees surrounding the island. These birds almost became extinct in the 30s and 40s since women prized the feathers for their hats.
Back to Bosque del Apache where I was able to capture this lesser sandhill crane flying through the sunset. Bosque was one of the most productive locations during my career. Due to mismanagement by the government, it’s gone through lots of ups and downs, but I’ll always remember the peaceful feeling I got watching the cranes come back to the ponds at night thanks to this image.
Here’s one more eagle shot for the list. The story is obvious. The eagle went for a fish and got it. The capture was a matter of years of practice, the right gear, knowing when and where to be and a little luck. Still, luck or no it’s one of my favorites.
I’ll end with a picture of one of the most wonderful birds I’ve ever photographed. The Harris’s hawk is rare in that it is the only bird I know that regularly works cooperatively to hunt down prey. Flocks of six hawks will circle a rabbit and run it down, sharing in the kill. They are extremely (and I do mean extremely skittish) so getting this full-frame, full wing-span landing on a perch was one of the highlights of my career.
It’s hard for me to judge my own work. Many other photographers share that same frustration. I’d rather turn over the images to a professional photo editor and say, “You do it.” But in this case I don’t mind so much. I’m picking based on my personal favorites. Nobody can say I am wrong about what I like :)
Try this exercise for yourself. I think you’ll find it valuable.