Monday, February 7, 2011

"If You're Not Getting Dirty..."

Sri Lanka Junglefowl
I have written before about this bird, a wild relative of the domestic chicken that I photographed in the Sinharaja rain forest in Sri Lanka last month. (I'll say it again : if it didn't look so much like a chicken, it would be considered a pretty splashy bird.)  I spent quite a bit of time with this fellow, taking advantage of his curiosity to get some shots with a sense of personality. My motto in situations like this?  "If you're not getting dirty, you're not getting the picture." Animal portraits are invariably improved by getting down to your subject's level, even if means getting your clothes dirty or (as in this case) being feasted on by leeches.  So there I was, lying on the ground, plucking leeches off my neck, and trying to shoot sideways at a bird that never stopped moving, all the while trying to keep my autofocus on his eyes - which are off-center. 
It is essential for a wildlife image that the subject's eyes be sharp, since that is the first thing we look at, just as we do with portraits of people. If the eyes are unsharp, the entire picture seems out-of-focus, even if every feather is sharp as a tack.  And with this fellow zigzagging all over the place, I was having a devil of a time getting anything at all.  In the end, I took over a hundred frames, of which approximately 90% had to be thrown away: the eyes were soft.  But happily, there was one or two where I managed to get what I wanted - and you know what?  One is all you need. 
Packing up my gear, and picking off the last of the leeches, I apologized to me guide, Saman, for all the foul language that came out of my mouth that day. "No problem," Saman said. "Wildlife photographers always talk that way when they're shooting!"  Who knew?

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens


  1. LOL! OK, it's really good to know that a) 'language' always happens, and that b) even somebody as experienced as you, takes 100 photos and throws away 99 sometimes! :)

  2. Chandira - Yeah, well...I'm not always proud of my language in the field - but this can be hard work! And it doesn't matter how many shots you take, as long as you get something in the end. I shot nearly 10,000 pictures for my NatGeo dolphin story - and they ran a dozen... That's 1 in a 1000!

  3. :-) Yeah, but months later, and I can remember that dolphin photo!! That was the one that sent me to your blog. Worth the 9999.