The Great Journey in Photography

Pole Position and the Tale of the Gay Ducks

Pintail Ducks

420mm f9 250iso 1/640sec.

Last time I went out to La Jolla Cove I recall having a less than pleasant moment. After a long drive and still well before Sunrise I pulled up to the site and a little out of the ordinary there were a handful of photographers already in position with their tripods firmly standing at the seemingly required five foot seven inches tall in a neat line. I noted that they were way too far back, circling around to cross in front of them because there was no option behind. One of the would be photogs let me know that I needed to pull back for fear of disturbing the birds. I knew he was wrong. A thousand or so hours of photographing pelicans told me otherwise. Sure, had I walked up closer and set up like the others it may have been a problem but that was not my plan. I was circling around so the rising sun would be at my back (kind of important thing) and even better, I moved forward to a crevasse in the cliffs where I climbed in barely visible to neither bird or man. I did the most polite thing I could think of in the pre-dawn hour, I ignored the well-meaning camera operator. I took the position that day, I took the best position because it was there for the taking. In the end I also made some of my best Pelican photos that day too.

Fast forward to last week. Much the same situation. It was after Sunrise on the Bosque, after the Cranes flew off to feed for the day, around mid morning. The light was not great but it was diffused some with a light overcast and some clouds. The goal was to photograph some ducks. We happened upon a small pool close to the main pond, not the greatest location but at least the sun was at our backs. Smart money said it is essential to photograph ducks from the waterline. I would have preferred to have gone further down the road to a beautiful shaded pond that I knew about, but smart money also said there were no ducks there. Smart money was right. At the not so good pond I set out to do my best. The water’s edge was about six or eight feet below the roadway. Another photographer started to make his way to the water’s edge at the best angle to the sun when a photographer who had set up on the roadway chided him, “don’t go there, you will scare the ducks”. The frustrated bird shooter wandered off in another direction. I however, circled around went to the pond’s edge and worked my way around to the prime angle. It wasn’t really special in the first place but I made my shots from about two feet above the waterline. I slowly stood up and began pulling back when timed perfectly to my footstep all the ducks flew off. I looked back and in not too much of a surprise three photographers behind were giving me the look, you know, the looks that kill. Each one of them about twelve feet above the water and way to far away to make meaningful duck pictures. Now, no one really knows what makes a group of birds fly off but clearly they blamed me. I was not so sure, I had been there for a while and I was pulling back but even at that I am willing to take the hit on this one.

All that leads me to pose the questions. When is it a hinderance to be polite? Is polite always right even at the expense of making your shot? Interesting. I think in general the answer is opposite my actions, but for real I wasn’t breaking any rules, I was simply taking action to make the shot that others were not willing to do, I took the best position and I am willing to bet, made the best images. I also know that none of them were anywhere near polite to me after the birds flew. My recommendation is to let your conscience be your guide, have conviction in your actions but be sure to think about your actions and how they affect others. Having a win at all cost attitude is never the right thing.

I made the photo above in that session. One of the goals on the trip was to make duck photos and one of my goals in general is to capture bird behavior. I will say that my entire intention was to portray affection in this photo but in reality it was a bit of a tussle that ended with this affectionate looking pose. I honestly don’t know what it really was but I went with the affection angle. I had made one fatal mistake though, something I never thought about.  It was a symptom of not knowing enough about the subject, the fatal disease in wildlife photography, and I took some good-natured ribbing because of it too.
Those are two male Pintail ducks!
Not that there is any thing wrong with that.

More from Bosque next time. Till then Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.


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