I was struck hard by my time in the field today. Something happened. Something clicked inside me. It wasn't like I got the shot of a lifetime, or that I saw some exotic animal that I had never seen before. But something became very clear to me. Something that really symbolizes why I chose this profession, who I am as a person, and what kind of photographer I want to be.
I got 4 hours of sleep last night. A 17-month old can cause that once in a while. My wife tagged me out around 9am and told me I should go get some rest. So I did. I grabbed my camera and headed out to the park. That is where I feel most at peace. That is where I regain my energy. That is where I am most rested.
I headed to a place I see bobcats often. After 3 years of studying their movements, their behaviors, and their patterns, I feel lucky to have a reasonable chance of seeing a bobcat on any given day. I was prepared to just sit, wait and watch. To my delight, I immediately spotted a bobcat in a patch of grass several hundred yards in front of me. It saw my car from this fair distance and bolted to a thick patch of brush. I stopped my car immediately. I waited. 20 minutes passed and I knew the cat was still watching me. So I continued to wait. It finally emerged from the brush and began prowling the open field in search of food.
This is lesson one to all who want to photograph a bobcat in the wild. Our instinct when we see our subject is to jump out and get our shot before the moment is gone. I can relate. I did it with my first bobcat too. But years of experience now tell me differently. And this leads me to the moment of clarity I had this morning.
After the bobcat emerged from the bushes, for some reason, I did not have the urge to get my camera out. I just wanted to watch it. I wanted to learn more about it. I wanted to see it move in its natural environment, undisturbed by me. I wanted it to be free from any influence. It was magical. I watched it hunt. I watched its muscles twitch with anticipation as it decided when to pounce on a gopher. I watched it miss a meal and its reaction to doing so. I did it all without snapping a single frame.
It disappeared over a small ridge and I decided to take my camera out and see if I could see it on the other side. As I peeked over the ridge line, it came into view. It was patrolling the side of a hill. It was chest deep in the grass. It would disappear for brief moments, then reappear as rose up to scan its surroundings. I snapped a few images as it meandered this hillside. It still hadn't seen me.
It continued through the thick brush. I was able to get glimpses of it as it passed open windows. I saw it was heading in the direction of some open space. I decided to wrap well around its direction and sit on the other side of the field in hopes it would walk toward me. 10 minutes later I was rewarded. It came into view and wandered to within 50 feet of where I had laid down in the grass. It still hadn't seen me.
It fixated on a dirt mound being pushed up by a gopher. Unfortunately, it couldn't have been in a worse position for shooting it. It was behind a huge clump of grass. But luck was on my side. When it pounced on the gopher hole, it leaped into the open and into a clear window where I could shoot. I snapped away.
This was the first time it saw me, 30 minutes after I had first seen it. I was THRILLED to have captured this image of the bobcat. My heart was racing. But I couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt. I felt I had disrupted a pure moment in nature. I felt a tad bit selfish.
I am not trying to paint me some extraordinary person. I am not perfect. Far from it. I have gotten too close to more than one bobcat. I've caused birds to fly from their perches. If I wanted to be perfect, I would never even get my camera out of its bag or leave my car.
But I do pride myself on my ethics. Many photographers use live bait to lure animals in to photograph them. They use means that trick and manipulate animals to perform unnaturally for their selfish gains. An example of this is photographers buying mice from pet stores, locating owls, throwing the mice into the open field, and taking pictures of the owl flying from its perch to grab the bait. Film crews drag fake, rubber sea lions behind boats to film great white sharks breaching thinking they are grabbing a meal. The list goes on and on. It highlights the selfish nature of photographers who are just 'Getting the Shot'. The unsuspecting audience ohhs and ahhs over the images, having no idea the manipulation and poor ethics behind the images.
To me, wildlife photography is about capturing a moment in nature as it unfolds as if I wasn't there. It is more the story behind the image than the actual image itself. It is about respect for the subject you are shooting. And it is about sharing that moment, that NATURAL moment in nature, with others who may not be able to see such an event themselves.
That is why I do this. That is what nature photography is to me. That is the photographer I want to be.
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