One Critical Element In Bird and Wildlife Photography

Hi there ,

After 3 weeks of intense hiking, travel, hot and cold weather, recovering from Shingles, lack of sleep, lots of stress, etc, I was down with a bad cold after coming back home to Los Angeles. I lost my voice, was coughing, with nasal congestion and lack of energy, sleeping over 12 hours a day. Thankfully I am 80% healed. Hope you all stay safe out there.

Imagine hiking for miles in deep snow surrounded by 360 spectacular mountain views and taking a photo of a wild puma like this... Nikon Z9, Z400 2.8, f/4, 1/1600s, ISO 800

While resting at home, I spent a lot of time sitting in my lounge chair watching TV. By the way I highly recommend BBC's Dynasties II chapter one "puma" narrated by Sir David Attenborough. I watched it 3 times.

Anyways, one day I watched "Guardians of Galaxy Volume 3". Highly recommend btw. No worries, no spoilers. I did hear a quote that I had an epiphany and can reflect on my photography. I'm gonna share with you in a bit.

But I want to let you know that I started photography in year 2000. For the first 10 years, I was into photography as much as now, reading photo books, magazines, online forums whenever I have time. And I tried to go out and take pictures as much as I could.
But my photos sucked. They were sharp, well exposed, with good details. But that's about it. Never got published. Never sold any prints. Never won any awards. I thought those famous photographers were just... privileged. They were just famous, talented, and just "had it".

It was frustrating. It's like my voice was never heard. All the time and effort I put in for my... art...

I see the habitat of the wild animals I love being reduced day by day. I see so many places still allow trophy hunting. I see in my own eyes how loving the wildlife are. They are like us. They have feelings. But I felt completely helpless with my photography. I could never touch people with these moments I captured. Why...

Here are some pics I took before 2011.

Not too bad, right? lol. Perfect moments...

After 2011, everything changed. My photos got shared and featured when I posted. People reached out to me wanting to publish them, buy prints. I started to win lots of awards. Suddenly I found my name appeared among some of the most legendary photographers I admired in lists by different organizations. And most recently, I was an invited judge for 3 international photo contests such as Bird Photographer of the year and Nature Photographer of the year.

But these are not the most important. The most rewarding is to see my students improving and taking photos and helping conservation.

For example, recently, I got notified that one of my very talented students, Glenn, made the cover of Seattle Times on the situation of the foxes in Washington State.

Link to Seattle Times Article
I am so happy and proud of Glenn.

Anyways, here are some of the photos I took after 2011.

So what really changed in my photography?

What if I tell you it's just a simple mindset change, and I executed that mindset change by pausing for that millisecond before I clicked my shutter?

Before, anytime I saw a bird or an animal, I tried to nail the shot as quickly as possible. As long as I found a decent background and the light was behind me I was fine.

I was soooooooo wrong. That's why I sucked for ten years.

In Guardians of Galaxy, one character asked about what's music?

Think about it for a second. Think about one of your favorite songs.

Music is about turning what's around us into a song.

"Take the cacophony of sounds around us and turn it into a song."

"Turn something imperfect info something perfect."

Into something that move people into laughters and tears.

In a way, I should not focus on capturing what is in a frame when I aim my camera at and just click on the shutter. I should be thinking about creating music in Nature.

Instead, I should pause for a millisecond and ask myself: What kind of "abstraction" I can use to reduce the distraction in-camera to create "music" within the frame?

What are the elements that will reduce the annoyance of the viewer and cause them to smile and cry?

How to fine tune the composition to create a story in the photo to express my feeling?

If I can't come up with anything, I simply don't click on the shutter.

One of the things I look for these days in judging a photo contest is to find out what's the one creative abstraction (or more) by the photographer to capture the moment.

If there's none, then everyone can take the same shot at the right place at the right time.

I believe that if we pay attention to every single element in our photos, transformation begins.

Hope that helps.

Don't forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel to learn photography. This recent video got over 160k views.

Tin Man
P.S. My links to my courses, gear, etc

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