LUCK & Photography
Ever hear a really great pro say they got lucky? It does happen however more often than not you see a great image and comment on it or ask the photographer about it and they reply I was quite fortunate (or Lucky) to get that image. That’s because with all the planning and research into a location, weather patterns for that time of year etc.. there is always the unexpected. What they fail to mention is that while luck has a bit to do with it, without the meticulous preparation and research they would have never been standing thee with the right gear at the right place at that perfect moment.
I mention this because recently I was on vacation @ St. Marks National Wildlife refuge in Northern Florida and on the last day the sky was overcast and a bit drippy , I almost bagged it. Almost, I gathered up my gear and headed to the ponds and pools where I had seen some beautiful birds earlier in the week to see what I could get. I was looking for a few great shots of American Wigeons, Long Tail Ducks, Northern Shovelers etc… What I actually found was far more meaningful and reminded me of why I love photographing nature and wildlife so much.
Earlier in the week we saw a hawk swooping and cruising low over the grasses of the refuge, this grass is probably 3-4 feet at this time of year and this hawk was at times just hitting the brakes riding the wind and hovering inches above the grass like a helicopter it was amazing. I have seen Red Tailed hawks, Red Shoulder Harks, Eagles, and so on who hunt from above but not like this. So graceful and fluid it was awesome to watch. I tried to get a clean image however could not , I need more panning practice…lol. Anyway I started my morning by the lighthouse and as I was focusing on on a long tailed duck who was paddling apart from the main group of nearly 85-100 assorted ducks, the lot of them all 100 or so took of and flew by with a startling affect. Having been so focused on the lone duck I g=had to look about for the cause, thinking it was a alligator snatching one of the flock or a pedestrian clumsily walking along the waters edge I was surprised to see the Hawk gliding over the water just 4-6 inches from the surface talons empty. He glided over to where I knew the path/trail opened up so I quietly headed that way w/ my camera, 600mm lens and tripod trying not to act like the little boy I felt like at the time. I approached the bend in the trail steadily and stopped dead in my tracks mouth agape. Just 40 yards down the path I mean smack dab in the middle of the path was the hawk.
It was a Northern Harrier, which after reading Sibley’s Bird Guide trying to Id this guy by his tail is what I thought it might be, just sitting there on the ground. I set the tripod down and held my breath. He was staring right at me over his shoulder as his body was facing away from me as if he were walking in the same direction as I. I set up as slowly as a person practicing TiChi controlling my breath as I went praying I wouldn’t spook him. After approximately 5 minutes I inched forward first moving the tripod ahead 2 feet then smoothly placing one foot close to the new position of the tripod and lifting my other leg (which was supporting most of my weight on the knee) and moving that ahead as well. Then, pressed my eye to the viewfinder and ripped off 8-12 frames – checked what I had and repeated these moves again. Every other time I did this he would fly down the path another 50 feet or so and land. This went on for 15-20 minutes. Then I moved up 3 consecutive times and he never moved, he just began preening his feathers. There was a heavy mist the night before and it was still burning off however his feathers were still heavy with dampness and he was working on drying them and was content to allow me tone present and observe. I was truly honored and awed by this Hawk. The patterns in the feathers on the cap of the head and the two spots that resembled knees on the underside of this raptor were stunning.
We danced for 20 minutes I guess then there was this 5-10 minute period where it was like I wasn’t even there, he just preened his feathers from wings to tail feathers. Ruffling all his feathers and getting puffy looking about then right back at preening. He would glance at me from time to time only for an instance and then went about the business of preparing for the day. As he flew away to hunt I had this giddy feeling and a grin you could not have smacked off my face if you had wanted to.
The light was not great nor the weather however if it had been ideal light and weather I probably would not have gotten so close for so long. So I was truly lucky at that moment on that day to not just capture the images but for the experience overall. It was a peaceful moment in time I’ll not soon forget.
So do your homework plan for the best and do not let less than ideal conditions discourage you or dissuade you from going out. You never know what will come your way.