I did those too.
Things weren't good. Sometimes I wondered if I could just find one thing in life I didn't suck at.
- Every evening, I would stroll to the Photography section at my local Barnes and Nobles to pick out the same two books. (i) The Art of Bird Photography by Arthur Morris and (ii) The Guide to Wildlife Photography by Moose Peterson. The two classics, and the only two books about Nature Photography on the shelve. Before I found a table, I would also grab ALL the current issues of photography magazines, especially the one with Tim Fitzharris's column.
- With a Grande Caramel Macchiato in one hand (at times also a slice of the Cheesecake Factory New York Cheesecake… wondered how I gained all these weight), I flipped through each page in Oohs and Aahs, indulging myself vicariously as if I was in Artie's and Moose's magnificent world of wildlife, while listening to the music the bookstore played repeatedly, “Yellow” and “By your side”. I would also read the Exif data (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, camera and lens model) of each photo like gospel, recite them at times like chanting mantras. I never got tired of it.
- After 6 months of living purely on instant ramen, I finally sold my Hasselblad 503CW. Fancy cameras and poor graduate student just didn't go well together. I kept asking myself the biggest question in photography history, “Canon or Nikon?” I would stay up till dawn in consecutive nights reading photography forums trying to find the answer. I would also browse through all the discussions about whether I should shell out an obscene amount of $6,000 for a 500mm F4 lens. I thought only people who were insane would pay that kind of money.
It only took me 10 years to finally take the plunge, to join insanity.
Then something strange happened. It's really not a decision I made. Nor did anyone tell me to. I had no clue what drove me.
All of a sudden I picked up my camera bag and found myself in the wilderness.
Really in the wilderness:
- Bitten by hundreds and hundreds of mosquitoes and other bugs in some nice warm Alaska evenings that took me months to heal.
- On the verge of hypothermia deeply submerged in the frigid Glacier water while face to face with some of the biggest brown bears slamming at my direction.
- Running too fast in high altitude in the Colorado mountains and almost had a heart attack with my heart felt like jumping out from my throat.
- Walking in knee deep mud that I almost got sucked in completely while a bear was walking towards me.
- Stuck in a broken-down snow coach for hours in the middle of nowhere as the night falls. -20F.
- Charged by a bison to within 5 feet that I was sure I was gonna die.
- Approached by brown bear mom and cubs within… 0 feet that I was sure I was gonna die.
- Neck injury that immobilized me for weeks.
- Back injury that immobilized me for months.
And that was FREAKING AWESOME.
Along the way I have met some incredible teachers and friends for life. I gained experience I never dreamed of. I encountered many of my favorite animals in their natural habitat, no longer vicariously:
- Polar bears in the Arctic? Muskox in the Brooks Range? Gray Fox? San Joaquin Kit Fox? Red fox jumping for voles in the snow? Dall sheep in front of a rainbow?
- Bull moose in mating season sleeping in front of me? Long-tailed Weasel with gopher? White-tailed kite with gopher? Barn owls with gopher?
- A mother bison risking her life to protect her injured calf for 3 days?
- Spectacular northern light display that I was so happy I was dancing and hugging with my good friend that we forgot to take picture?
I must be dreaming. I didn't even know some of those species existed. No words can express my gratefulness for these experience.
Then, finally, with this photo– the favorite photo of my life:
I found myself at the podium giving a speech at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, just a few days ago.
Looking back, I have a shocking discovery:
It's that the way I do things has been pretty much the same as before.
All my bad habits still remains, unfortunately.
To name just a few: I am too laid back, slow, too sensitive, too obsessive, too emotional, and I linger. I would choose to keep waiting for a long long time and enjoying myself even if there was absolutely no chance, and that one should have moved on long ago. I don't take things seriously. I like to be alone yet I also like to talk and laugh hysterically about anything including nonsense with friends.
I am pretty bad at a lot of things with this way of handling stuff.
I guess people don't change.
The only thing that has changed was the task– wildlife photography.
Anyways, in the next 30 days, I am going to do some self reflection, jot down some memorable experience and interesting discoveries, and share my photography techniques, if you are thinking about starting wildlife photography or crazy about it just like me.
You might say, but I am tired, I am super busy, I have a job…
Did I mention that I managed to still have a full time job in Biotech IT that I enjoy?
So, without further ado…