View Full Version : Why do we shoot birds?

Ron Spomer
02-16-2008, 11:38 AM
I don't photograph birds anymore. Well, not much. If you can tolerate a bit of navel gazing, I'll try to tell you why. Thirty years ago bird photography was a passion that grew out of my overall passion for interacting with all things wild in nature. I fished, hunted, backpacked, canoed, gardened and identified wild flowers. The thrill of discovering a new bird -- its shape, color and song -- was indescribable. Like being born again. My life list quickly grew to 300, 400, more than 500. And I wanted to capture each species on film. Ggetting a great bird image was better than seeing a new species. After all, the species were out there and anyone who devoted enough time would eventually see them, but who could capture those birds effectively on film? So the joy of discovery was augmented by the joy of accomplishment. The fact that images could be sold, then displayed for others to admire -- what an ego trip! Soon getting the perfect shot became the new emotional high.
But, as technology improved, competition increased, the $ return dropped and everyone seemed to be a wildlife photographer -- the fun faded. Was it because the challenge diminished? Because big image sales declined? Because technology made it so much easier to capture the perfect image (after Photoshop manipulation, at least?) Or had the joy of discovery worn off? Am I just jaded? My hands used to shake inside my blind at the call of an approaching white-headed woodpecker.
While I lose interest, thousands of baby boomers and some from younger generations seem as enthusiastic as ever. I imagine many boomers are fired up because they finally have the time and finances to pursue what might have been a dream for 30 years whereas I made my living as a writer and photographer. Perhaps turning your love/passion/hobby into work is a bad idea. (But I wouldn't do it differently given a second chance.)
Right now I could be out back capturing light reflecting off juncos and magpies, yet I'd rather read Dostoyevski. What's wrong with me? My thinking is something like this: I should set up a blind, some perches and a neutral background and capture the ultimate magpie shot. But what for? Surely 10,000 outstanding magpie pictures already exist. Do I want to spend hours sorting images on the computer, then storing them? I've got 250,000 old slides slowly fading in file drawers already. Who cares? Will nature benefit if I make another bird picture? Why don't I just take a walk with a Swarovski 8x42 'round my neck?
There's no right or wrong here. I'm just curious. Why do you pursue bird photography?
Ron Spomer

Jim Neiger
02-16-2008, 11:47 AM
I'll give the simple answer, but perhaps also the most compelling answer. I enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, the only other reason I see for doing it is for money.

Jim Neely
02-16-2008, 12:40 PM
Regardless of the improvements in equipment and the availability, along with the ability to finally afford it, there's still the thrill of the chase. Also, just because you have the equipment and time, does not guarantee that what you capture will be acceptable to you or anyone else. (Or salable.)


Doug West
02-16-2008, 01:56 PM
Why do I photograph birds?

1. Its never boring. Every day there's a new challenge.

2. Its hard...plus its teached me patience. Takes alot to be willing
to stay in the same spot for long periods of time, all while getting
getting low and dirty.

3. The people...there's nothing I enjoy more than talking with complete
strangers about bird photography or just birds in general.

4. Travel...Up until a couple of years ago, I've really never been anywhere.
Bird photography has taken me to Bosque, Florida and Texas (this May).
I love staying in a motel for 6 days where all I do is photograph birds.

5. Personal satisfaction...I don't give a hoot if a mallard duck has been
photographed a billion times. All I care about is the one that I took.

6. Networking...Bird photography also makes me want other people see my
my work. Hardly a week goes by where at least one of those days sees me
hitting up the local parks or bird clubs in getting my work shown somehow.

7. Bird photography is also something that I can do by myself or with others.

8. Teach others...I love helping out the true blue bird photographer.

9. Information...even when I'm not actually out in the field, there's magazines,
forums, clubs, etc. that keep me interested in this field and want to get better.

10. Art Morris. When I bought his first book, it was by accident. I've been into
photography in some way for roughly 25 years. This is the ONLY book that I
ever bought and not only read cover to cover as soon as I opened it up, but got
me to change subjects. I've always told Art, every time I take a picture of a bird,
its part his, because its his teachings that made all of this possible. I just execute.
Well...I try :)


02-16-2008, 05:04 PM
Ron, it appears you had a great 30 years in photography, been there & done it all ! Congrats.
If it is no longer fun, for what ever reason, moving on to a new challenge to regain that thrill is certainly what I would chose.

Doug's list pretty much summarizes my motivations, and it can be applied just as well to landscape/nature as well as bird photography. I'll be taking early retirement this year and am looking forward to having photography fill much of my "free" time. Without the new challenge of photography, I would have just kept working.... and left a lot more money for my kids. :D

Yves Matteau
02-16-2008, 06:02 PM
I am a new bird photograph (since 2 years already). Well, i retired 5 years ago and after hard working for several years i did`nt know what to do to pass all my free time. As a long nature lover, i liked being in the wild waiting for something to happen. And then the digital photography happened. Like many people i discovered that it could make sense to translate my passion for mother nature to others. The best way to do that was to show what i liked most with photos.
What did birds photography for me? First, i had to go out and stay a long time in the open waiting for the birds i was wanted to show. Second, it is always a challenge to improve. Third, it put me in contact with others who had the same passion. And now, i know that i must improve every aspect of photography.Doug West resume very well others reasons to be a bird photographer for everybody who like living close to nature.
Now,there is this oportunity to see what others do and how they do it. With "BIRDPHOGRAPHERS.NET" we have chances to received clear and honest counsels on our photos and how to improve.

Robert Hardy
02-16-2008, 06:18 PM
i do it simply for the love of it i dont need to earn money from it so that does not come into it at all,
One thing i do like is to go out onto a Marsh on my own and not have to see or speak to anyone i love been out there alone with nature .
Im happy to chat to anyone about photography / birding should i meet anyone but as far as taking the shots i want to be alone and as far away from people as i can be .

Harold Davis
02-16-2008, 09:58 PM
i photograph birds for the same reason i tried to learn to play guitar. when you practice, practice, practice and you finally play it just right, it gives you a feeling inside like nothing else. when i dump a card onto the computer and find THE ONE, it's the same way. other reasons: i'm usually in a peaceful environment. that's reason enough there. i dearly love the good people i have met in the last year and a half. everyone that has helped me along the way have been great and i love to see and learn from them everytime i'm around them.

Alfred Forns
02-16-2008, 10:46 PM
HI Ron Not sure I understand your reasoning Maybe is just loosing interest

I find it challenging and exciting Photograph best available when going out Never pass a common bird no mater how many images I have With the current equipment and easy information (lots of it like right here) there is still the same separation between photographers Time and dedication make a difference

Can't imagine doing anything else !!!

Gyorgy Szimuly
02-17-2008, 03:22 PM
For me birding and bird photography has been a joy as Jeff also stated earlier. I simply love to be out of the blocks.
Today I turned my photography as the tool of my book project to have a perfect outcome for bird lovers.
But never felt it as a must! I go out anytime I want without stress as I have no constraint to sell more and more. No need to be afraid of higher and higher of competition. Photography will never be my main income resource so this will keep me enjoying it as long as I can carry my big gun :D

George DeCamp
02-17-2008, 08:11 PM
To me after a hard days work and all the stress that goes with it I find it relaxing to grab my gear and head to the local beach to hunt for some birdies. Very often I like to do it alone and get a feeling of accomplishment when I am able to approach a bird and get the image I am after without disturbing it. It is quiet, peaceful and rewarding all at once. Since the variety of birds is so great there are so many different places I can look. That can't be said around here for any other wildlife. I know there are other forms of wildlife here also just not the abundance of subjects, at least not on Long Island.

Note to above : Going out with friends is fun too and I enjoy it, don't get me wrong, but some days I just get lost in it all and concentrate more when I am alone. When traveling to photograph, that is another whole story and meeting people is just fantastic.

Mary Stamper
02-18-2008, 09:26 AM
There's nothing wrong with changing interests throughout one's life. The cycle of growth and maturation leads us to seek out whatever is relevant at that time.

When I started photography in about 1985 or so, I was almost totally a wide-angle shooter. I got to the point (on 35mm film!) where I seldom shot any lens longer than 35mm! My "normal" lens was the old Nikkor 35PC lens. And I wouldn't dream of shooting anything that moved. :D

I shot landscapes,architecture and botanicals mostly. That was over a period of about 8-10 years.

Then I kind of lost interest in photography, possibly because I couldn't get myself to burn entire rolls of film "just practicing". Meanwhile, the digital thing happened, and while it got my attention (I'm a computer programmer), the price of the equipment didn't. But it sure made film seem like such a hassle. And the potential!!!

Finally, 3 years ago, DSLR's got affordable, and I could even use some of my old lenses, so I bought a D70s. The world looked different through the small format sensor, and being the adaptable type, I put on my old 200 F4 lens that I hardly ever touched when I shot film. Things REALLY looked different. I wondered about 300mm....

I was also getting this spooky desire to shoot things that moved. But what??? I detest sports, though I love the movements of classical ballet and figure skating, and am a yoga practitioner myself. I love being outdoors, and I wanted a subject that was plentiful. It's not easy to find opportunities to shoot dance or skating as an amateur. So I decided to
try birds. I bought a 300 mm lens, a copy of Artie's first book and went to it. A year later, I upgraded to the D2x for the auto focus system.

So what's crystalized out of it all?

1) My interest, birdwise, it seems, is in movement and form.

For this reason, I shoot mostly birds-in-motion. I'm not interested in cataloging every bird in the universe, nor am I much interested in portrait-style work. The lowly seagulls, mallards and geese that are EVERYWHERE here, suit me just fine. I could spend days just trying to capture the incredible "intermediate" wing positions of these birds when they are in flight. I'm even thinking of going into the city and shooting pidgeons (now if I just felt safe toting $$$$ worth of equipment around there :( )

2) I'm not by any means a natural at this.

I'm actually a pretty slow responder to things around me, which makes shooting flying birds hard as ****. But that keeps me interested and helps me to develop aspects of myself that could use some improvement!

3) I'm a techie and all this digital stuff suits me just fine

I love the way that I can shoot thousands of shots just to practice a skill and not worry about spending extra money or having space to store the stuff. The camera cost so much money, that it makes me WANT to use it! :p

I was originally trained as a classical musician. Spending hours practicing is something to which I'm no stranger. And birds take plenty of it!

4) I'm getting a chance to develop some art skills.

I've never considered myself talented with a paint brush or pencils, though I've always been told that I had an excellent eye for composition. I was also told by an artist that I'd make a good interior designer. I seem to have a knack for line and color...the abstract stuff.

With the chaotic situations that I encounter shooting gulls, there's always something in the frame that doesn't belong
there. And there are tons of "almost" shots that when viewed as paintings are quite lovely. In the process of learning digital retouching, I'm learning to look with a painter's eye at things. Something I never expected. And digital cropping is a mountain of potential.

So that's why I shoot birds...for now, anyway!

P.S. I've never made a dime from photography!

James Shadle
02-18-2008, 04:10 PM
I photograph birds so I can share the beauty of creation as I see it.

Pat Gerlach
02-18-2008, 06:13 PM
I think everyone is saying they're doing it for pretty much the same reasons you did it.

You raise good points about competition and the state of wildlife photography. 30 years ago I suspect that on any given day only a handful of people on the whole planet were out photographing wildlife with a 500 mm lens. Today there are, what, thousands?

Many (but certainly not all) photographs that were considered exceptional 30 years ago are commonplace today. Competition, aided by the tremendous equipment at our disposal has raised the bar. That is a good thing.

In the course of a year I'll speak with hundreds of photographers. Some have become disenchanted with what photography has become but it seems that many more, particularly those who have embraced the new technology, are more excited than ever by the possibilities.

Ron, it sounds like you had a great run. If it's over, it 's just what you said, neither right nor wrong, it just is.

Maxis Gamez
02-18-2008, 06:48 PM
I photograph birds because they are part of nature and a very challenging subject and I hope one day with my images, people will appreciate what we have.

Mary Stamper
02-19-2008, 07:56 AM

Have you seen this essay by Thom Hogan? He makes some interesting points.


Jody Melanson
02-19-2008, 11:25 AM
I love the challenge of capturing birds in flight. I love being out there enjoying his wondrous creations.

Fabs Forns
02-19-2008, 11:42 AM
As I see it, you had your stage, enjoyed and grew out of it, nothing new, nothing unusual. Unusual would be keeping the same interest for a life time, although there are cases like that. I used to write, play music, paint, I grew out of that. Maybe at another stage in time, I will pick those up again.

We are in a constant process of growth, intellectually, spiritually and physically. I don't think technology has anything to do with it, rather human nature.

To me, photographing birds is a creative process. I don't care if there's a million other images similar to mine. To me, mine is unique and it gave me pleasure doing it. What more rewarding than getting the 1,000,001 Magpie image, if you can make it all new? Imagine the thrill of capturing an old burnt-out subject in a new, different way? That would be enough to motivate me. Again, individual visions is what makes this world so great :)

Happy reading!! :)

Ron Spomer
02-19-2008, 12:32 PM
Great answers. Thanks for philosophizing and sharing. I've felt pretty much everything you've mentioned over the years, and had some incredible highs. And I believe I could get fired up again, pretty easily. I'm really glad that so many folks are discovering the joys and beauties of Nature and significance of birds as canaries in the mine shaft. Hope all your work wins old Ma Nature more converts. The more demand there is for natural areas for any kind of recreation (that doesn't destroy the habitat) the better. And I'm really pleased that digital has done away with most of the pollution associated with film processing, shipping, etc. Pretty carbon intensive stuff. Now if only I could go out and shoot and not have to spend time indoors behind a computer terminal messing with the basic image....That was the great thing about slide film. You either nailed the shot in the raw or didn't. But with digital we're getting images we could only dream of with film. Cool. Keep up the great work and enthusiasm!

Jane Ward
02-20-2008, 01:07 PM
This has been an interesting thread. I enjoyed reading about everyone's reasons for photographing birds. I can understand Ron's perspective, although I am very glad that the digital age has arrived. I would never have been able to learn photography if I had to use film or slides. Too expensive. I know I am not as disciplined as I would be if I had learned through film, but I am learning, and I enjoy learning new things. This forum is great. I just started looking around recently and I have learned so much from the many discussions.

Why do I photograph birds? I feel driven to record what I see on my nature walks. It is a matter of documenting the wildlife in the Illinois River valley. When I get a really good shot I am so pleased! It gives me such a thrill! But I find value in many shots that others might not appreciate simply because of the story they tell.

Bill McCrystyn
02-20-2008, 01:54 PM
I was asked that question once before. Why do you take pictures of birds? What are you going to do with all of them? I answered, for the same reason some old men play golf, I take pictures of birds. I will hang them on my walls to enjoy. Give some to freinds to enjoy. Perhaps, and what might freshen your interest, open a small collabrative gallery. Art sells better framed, up close and personal than with a JP thumbnail on a hard to negotiate web site. Put your years of experience and portfolio to use. You can always sit and read that book at the same time. Maybe write one. Old birders never die - they just run out of seed. :)

Grace Scalzo
02-20-2008, 02:58 PM
When a bird or other creature allows me into his or her world, there is no greater honor.

Brandon Holden
02-20-2008, 06:37 PM
I just feel really good while out birding or taking pictures... I'm not really going to try to make it sound fancy (i've never really had a good answer to the "why do you like birds so much?" question, which I get a lot for being 20yrs old)...

There's always something new to try, even with the most photographed of subjects... I would just do whatever makes you happy, wether its leaving the camera at home for a while and just doing some birding, or maybe trying to learn something new (like butterflies, dragonflies etc)...

I did competitive swimming for 9+ years, in the pool 20-24 hours a week for my first few years in highschool... and eventually I just did not enjoy it anymore. I've hardly been near an indoor pool since I stopped. Sometimes we just need to do something different! Either way, just try to have fun while you're doing anything!