My favourite question to ask fellow photographers is whether their photography is an addiction or an obsession? I usually get a sheepish smile back, affirming that the answer is closer to the later than to the former. The question though is 'Why?'. Why is nature photography so darn addictive? If I look at my own life, I spend every waking minute thinking about photography or pursuing that single rare fleeting frame of fabulousness. Ok, its not literally every single minute of the day, so I am not a hopeless addict, just an addict, OK! I do stop to drink coffee and spend time with my wife and dog. In the earlier part of my career I spent all my salary on photography without batting an eyelid. Hek, I once sold a car just to buy film and filters! If photography were a white powdery substance, my family would have had to stage an intervention.
So what is it about nature photographer that attracts people from all walks of life, people with different personalities, people with different interests and passions. People who swear by Canon or Nikon, people who use Lightroom or Photoshop (or worse, they use both). People who live in Poffadder and Los Angeles. People who drive Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rovers. People who like blue cheese but hate mushy peas. Its safe to say that people of all ages and from all walks of life are drawn to nature photography like moths to a flame. Undoubtedly it is the beauty, intricacy, complexity, mystery and power of nature that fascinates the human creature, boggling our minds and filling our memory cards. But what makes a camera, specifically, such an addictive way to relish nature?
The origins, I believe, go as far back as the invention of the word 'serendipity' back in 1974, when Horace Walpole coined it for the first time. Serendipity means to make a discovery by chance in a happy or beneficial sort of way. This word I believe lies at the heart of why wildlife photography is so addictive. Take the above image for example, we were on a safari drive on one of my predator workshops in Botswana and we had seen nothing for what seemed like hours (although in Africa the word 'nothing' can never be used as we are blessed with an incredible diversity of life). Ok, so let's just say 'nothing' big and hairy had been seen for quite some time. I was growing impatient when we rounded a corner and suddenly there before us was a Martial Eagle killing a bird called a guineafowl (or was it perhaps a guineafool?) The three photographers I was with (I always only have three photographers on these workshops) plus myself, all began frantically fumbling for long lenses and converters. The eagle flew to a nearby perch and then alighted again. Swinging my Nikon 600mm lens in the general direction of the bird I let my shutter quite literally flutter and gazing down at my LCD I could not believe my eyes. Almost as surprised as the guineafowl was of the unsuspecting eagle, I was surprised to have a neat little frame depicting the action.
Driving back to camp I felt the familiar excitement and adrenaline of having captured a moment so brief in time that it only lasted 1/8000th of a second. Driving out of camp earlier that day I could never have imagined capturing a photograph like this. I could never have even dreamt up a moment so splendiferous. In nature, truth is stranger, more bizarre and wonderful even, than fiction! As photographers we just never know where (or when) our next big shot will come from, so we stay out there as much as we can and we buy cameras and lenses that we cannot even afford; we obsess about post production software and we debate all sorts of things as we wait patiently for nature to toss us the proverbial bone. And this my dear friends is what makes wildlife photography so utterly addictive; a great wildlife photographic opportunity is fleeting, its totally out of our hands. We are trying to predict the unpredictable. We are trying to use a combination of ISO, shutter speed and apertures to control the uncontrollable. These moments are rare, intoxicatingly so, and they are fleeting, yet to arrest such a moment, to suspend it in mid-air, to record it for all to see, is... well, let's just say, its utterly addictive.
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