I don’t fish. Never have really. Oh, my dad tried. We went “fishing” many times when I was a kid but I never really took to it. I’d fidget. I’d run up and down the beach. I’d dig in the sand. Pretty much everything but fish. If we went out in the boat to fish I couldn’t do that either. I would rock the boat enough to make the hardiest old salt queasy. I’d have to play in the water, or with the paddles, or the seat cushion, or the... You get the idea. Later when I was older I got my own boat. I had all the gear, rods, reels, nets. Still didn’t fish. I was much more interested in skiing or cruising or anything but sitting still waiting on a bite. What’s all this got to do with photography you ask?
I don’t have a decent shot of a Belted Kingfisher. A least not until last week. If you photograph birds you know how elusive these little rascals are. Like me they never sit still for long. I made an early morning trip out to Donnelley WMA and parked out where I usually do, behind the Lodge and just before the first rice dike. I saw her as soon as I parked sitting on a branch about 12 feet off the water much as you see her in the image above. Of course, as you may have guessed, capturing this image took a little more effort. I got out of the van which, to my surprise, didn’t scare her off immediately. Maybe I have a chance! I moved around the other side to get my equipment out and set up using the vehicle as a blind. I peered through the windows periodically to make sure she was still there. Once I was ready I moved to the front of the van for a clear shot. She never moved. Looking through the viewfinder I aimed the camera in her direction and found her, out of focus and not quite where I wanted her, but in the viewfinder none the less. I carefully but deliberately repositioned the camera for composition and squeezed the back button for focus and…
She was gone. GRRROWL. Well not exactly what I said. Maybe she saw a fish or something startled her but by the time I looked up from the camera she was halfway across the pond and heading away. I waited a few moments to see what she would do until I lost her in the background brush. Feeling a little frustrated I picked up camera and tripod and started off down the road to see what else I could “scare away!” Walking ten to fifteen feet on the other side of the van I shot a look back at the branch and she was back! I decide right then that before I left Donnelley that day I would have her!
I moved back to the van and slid open the door on the water side all the while watching her movements. She flew off and came back a few times while I set up the tripod right outside the open door. I climbed into the seat and… No bird. This time I waited. Five minutes, fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes and she was back. This time it was easy. The camera was ready. I had pre-focused on the branch she had been using. My composition very close to what I wanted based on where she had been sitting previously. I took a half step out of the van, one foot in and one foot out, grabbed the camera and fired. Got her! And I continued to shoot as she sat quite still for several minutes. This time when she flew off I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I knew I had exactly what I wanted in the camera.
You see the point of all this is that one essential component of our photography must be patience. We are not often blessed with a great subject that materializes right in front of our camera. Most times we have to go look for it. Sometimes we must wait for it. Sometimes we must wait a long while for it. In my younger days I would have long moved on to something else when the kingfisher first flew away. These days I know better than to be in such a hurry to move on to the next subject. Exercising a little patience will help you capture the image you’re after.