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Journey as a Nature Photographer

Copyrights Ganesh H Shankar, June 2007.

Nature Photography is a facinating hobby ! You casually pick-it up when you go on a nature trek or a bird watching trip or when you visit a game sanctuary or some thing similar. You buy a camera initially to "take" a few "snaps" on your trips. Chances are you may take this as passion or hobby. Here starts your facinating journey as a nature photographer.

Interestingly this journey of trying to express the beautiful nature around us is a very facinating one. Initially we start with appreciation and admiration of nature around us and "taking" a few images of it - particularly landscapes, sunrises, sunsets and some wildlife. If you have not bought an SLR camera, then you soon will end up buying one. Here starts your real nature photography journey - mostly it will be "left brain" photography for a few years to come !! I have been a nature/wildlife photographer for several years now. Looking back I see a clear pattern in my journey. I mostly suspect this is the pattern for most of the nature photographers ! Pardon me if you think I am arrogant here.

I tried to express this journey in a graph below.

First it starts as a right brain activity. You enjoy spending time in nature, love wild life and also capture the moments you spend in nature to cherish them later. Soon you want to make better images. The moment you buy an SLR and take this as a serious weekend hobby in all probability your left brain photography begins !! Partly this is because you have lots of new variables to play with - interchangeable lenses, aperture/shutter speed control, sharpness, depth of field at different apertures, f2.8 lens vs f5.6 lens, different focal lengths and the list goes on and on.

Now you start overly worrying about the "tools" available to create your images. We start debating at length about the tools - VR, IS, sharpness, MTF charts, noise performance at 800iso, 21 frame buffers vs 30, Nikon vs Canon *without* really spending at least equivalent amount of time in making images. Most of the photography is limited to discussions in forums, news groups and with friends about merits of different lenses, physics behind them - isn't it facinating ? Tools are important but we need to do some photography too ! What a useless yet enjoyable stretch of the journey !!

I must admit I went through this stretch of the journey - been there, done that. If you have avoided this stretch, kudos to you. If you are a beginner just be aware there is such a *well known* tempting stretch in your journey - it is your decision whether you want to take this left brain stretch.

Along with active "internet" photography, we also learn some of the science behind taking images - exposure accuracy, shutter speed, aperture control, basics of composition - rule of thirds, not placing subject in the center of the frame, head turn, catch light, shooting at eye level... We buy the best equipements we could aford, try to apply all those techniques that we read about in books, internet or learnt from friends. But every thing revolves around science - right brain is mostly at rest !

After some time you become an expert and can routinely create well exposed beautiful images. But realize though they are generally good there is nothing new or memorable. After seeing some images made by your favourite nature photographer you try to emulate his style. You follow his/her advice on how to approach wildlife, birds - use of blinds, getting frame filling images, stopping action, back ground blurs, head turn, catch light, subject being parallel to the exposure plane and you know what they are. With some difficulty you learn and incorporate all those while taking your images and now you think you are there. But more often than not this ends up as a poor imitation. In a typical internet photography forum you can see hundreds of such images. Frustrating is it not ? Yes it indeed is !! Who said effective nature photography is easy ? In my view this is where the real journey starts.

Now you may expect some tips on how to overcome this. Wish I knew them ! I think I just started on my real journey. But I am confident I will find my way. Some points which might help are - ask yourself how you can express the feeling you are experiencing. How you can translate them to pixels. Forget all the rules of photography. Some where I read about a "definition for wildlife photography". Following them and rest of the photography formulas are sure roads for failure. Photography is not mathematics. Let us "make" images not "take" them. I hate that word "snap". But, be confident - if others can do it we can do it too.

Wishing you a meaning full right brain journey ahead !

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- Ganesh H Shankar

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