I spent yesterday afternoon with three fellow nature lovers counting birds for the 2018 Christmas Bird Count. We walked over five miles and chalked up a total of 38 species and close to 400 individual birds. The #CBC is one of the longest running and largest citizen science projects in the world. Each year between Dec 14 and Jan 5 groups of birders fan out across the country to survey the bird population within defined areas called circles. Each circle is counted the same day every year to add scientific rigor to the data collected. If you enjoy birding and have not participated in a CBC, I encourage you to do so. You will meet great people and spend half a day outside in a natural setting.
So why am I writing about birding on a photography blog you might ask. Well, yesterday was a lousy day for birding. We had fog combined with on and off misty rain. Birds are less active and IDing the birds you do encounter can be quite challenging. Visibility is limited and birds are dark subjects against the bright background of fog. I would have preferred to have spent the afternoon photographing foggy landscapes. The conditions were perfect. As I have noted before, the fog cleans up cluttered backgrounds and helps isolate your subjects.
But we had a job to do. The birds needed to be counted, so I left my camera at home and came armed with just my binoculars. As I pasted potential composition after potential composition, rather than complaining, I took note of these locations and I know right where I will go on the next foggy day.
So, back to the subject of the post, Landscape Photography and Multi-Tasking Do Not Mix. If I had brought my camera and tried to make a few images as we walked along, two things would have happened. First, my companions would have quickly gotten frustrated with me constantly falling behind and not focusing on the task at hand. Second, the images I would have brought home would undoubtedly have disappointed me. I would have rushed. The compositions would be off, the backgrounds and edges of the frames would have unwanted distractions, and overall image quality would have been sub par.
The same thing happens if I try to shoot while on a family hike or other adventure. I have never come home with a keeper when out with non-photographers. Even when they say that it is “OK“ and they understand I will travel at a different pace and stop for extended periods of time. I don’t allow myself to completely focus on the moment and the image I want to make. I think this is why most landscape photographers tend to work alone.
I am often encouraged by friends and family to bring my camera along on outings. After early frustration with the experience and lack of results noted above, I stopped taking my camera on such outings. Upon reflection on yesterday’s experience, I think will I approach outings with friends and family a little different. I will treat them as opportunistic scouting trips. If I see a potential composition, snap a quick cell phone pick and note the location (turn your location services on before taking the pick and it will geo tag it). Now, I can return to the location with the sole intent of creating images and not worry about anyone else.