I am a believer that to be a good nature photographer you need to have a love affair with both your subjects, and the act of photography. This has never been a major issue with me. After 40 years of photography, and 26 of mostly nature photography, my love and passion for these endeavors has never weakened. Having said that, I have gone through phases where I tired of photographing the same subjects. At times I wanted to photograph more spectacular places, and rarer animals. I was fortunate and I went to more spectacular places, and found those rarer or more interesting animals.
Eventually we all have to come home.
In 1971 as a newly married teenager, with my first 35mm camera in hand, I made images of a flock of Canada Geese lifting off at Horicon Marsh NWR. It was magic. I was photographing both car races and weddings within 3 months. In 1985 I made my first serious picture of a single wild (Great-blue Heron)bird. The moment I clicked the shutter, I felt the magic flow through my veins. I spent much of the mid to late 1980s driving around and photographing every roadside weed flower I could find. Thistle, clover, Chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace and on an on. To me they were rare and endangered jewels. I was also filling my slide files with the common birds and insects of this area on a weekly basis. As I moved through the 1990s and 2,000s my files filled with more important species of flowers, birds, mammals, insects and locations. I was very happy but I wondered if I could ever get the magic back where every curve in the road, or hill on the trail would become a special moment. Even if I was only 1/2 a mile from home. I missed that.
The primary thing that caused me to remain an engaged and passionate photographer, was simply the ability to look at everything I saw as an already finished photo. It amazes me how many serious photographers can only see a “special” subject as a great photo. I realized that every roadside Chicory blossom, and every sparrow sitting on a tree next to the stop light, was a potentially great image. That preview style vision made me a better photographer when I finally did find those rare subjects.
The pictures below are all rather common subjects that belong in this area of Wisconsin. Originally I was going to show you pictures that were made in the 1980s, but it occurred to me that it was more important to show you shots that have been made during the past six years. These photos were all made long after I created images of endangered birds and insects as well as rare flowers.
I don’t know how many roadside Chicory (top) flowers and thistles I have photographed through the years. The roadside location often allows for some nice clean images. The downside is that every car that passes will produce a moving flower. Roadside photography can be dangerous so please be cautious.
The toughest and smartest birds in the world are members of the crow family. The majority of the world has some sort of resident crow. This is our area’s Common Crow. They are a difficult bird to capture feather detail. Just the right angle of sun will reveal those details. We are talking about being excited about the common subjects we find around home and the “Common Crow” on a power line fits in perfectly. I have driven past many crows in my life, and to be truthful, this picture appeared in my mind a thousand times before I created it. Most great pictures are pre-visualized, rather than a serendipitous moment.
The most common ducks in Wisconsin are the winter visiting, Common Goldeneye and Greater Scaup. Just the same if you asked anyone what kind of duck you see the most often it would be the Mallard. Specifically the male Mallard. Many are year round residents and they frequent city parks looking for handouts. They are one of the most striking birds anywhere. For you stock photographers there are more Mallard pictures published than that of any other duck.
If you live near the shores of Lake Michigan as I do, you can see Ring-billed Gulls on every single day of the year. You just have to look up. They are a great species to get close to and this portrait is of a young bird. The RBGs, like all seabirds are versatile birds that will provide you with an un-countable number of great photos.
Wisconsin’s most common nesting bird is the American Robin. Most of them wisely leave us for warmer spots in the winter, but while they are here you can find them in almost every yard (garden) in North America. Caught this shot of an immature bird a few years ago.
Some of my favorite childhood memories rest on the soulful sound of the Mourning Dove. They have been a special subject to me as a photographer. Depending on the light, they range from soft brown, to gray and almost gold in color.
Of course Doves have close cousins which are called Pigeons. All of these wild birds (in the U.S.) are evolved from domestic Pigeons. They are an obviously easy subject when they are city residents. It is however surprising, just how difficult the more remote “country” birds can be to photograph. Are they not beautifully marked birds?
For many years I was excited over every common insect that I found. I went on to find little critters that were more rare, and even endangered. I finally returned to the point where every little critter that I spotted provided a photographic vision dancing through my mind. Seeing those visions culminate into a finished picture, has always been my driving force. The Widow Dragonfly (top) is a fairly common insect throughout much of the world. The Japanese Beetle is an understandably maligned creature. They are introduced here and they consume many native plants. Just the same they are quite beautiful and a part of the wild world. They also move very slowwww.
If you were in western Arizona you’d likely photograph The Grand Canyon. In Southeastern Wisconsin you might settle for Lake Michigan’s morning surf with a lone gull standing watch. Each has it’s own beauty and purpose.
I would never suggest for any photographer to stop searching for those spectacular or rare animals, plants or places. It is exciting to make those images. I am only saying that photography is about the “vision” that you see in your mind. It is about exercising the artistic and problem solving skills that will bring that vision to fruition. The more you look at the world through the eyes of a visionary, the more excited you will be over every common subject. Those things that you pass by without notice every day will suddenly stand out for the work of art that they are.
Sometimes in life we have to be content with who we are, and where we are. Everybody and every place has their own special value. We each have a gift to give.