Capturing The Moment

Posted on April 24, 2012

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“Wildlife photography consists of a series of repeated

attempts by a crazed individual to obtain impossible

photos of unpredictable subjects performing unlikely

                                                            behaviors under outrageous circumstances.”

                                                                                                                                             – Mike Biggs

As hunters we have all experienced that rush of adrenaline when finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a magnificent antlered buck appears on the horizon of our vision. All of the preparations, the watchful waiting, and the eager anticipation come down to those few precious seconds when the animal fills the sights. Once the trigger is squeezed or the arrow released, the moment hastily vanishes and the experience is relinquished to a memory etched in the mind for future recall.

 

That same exhilaration is felt each time I snap the shutter release from behind the lens of a camera. It is a rush unlike any experience I have ever encountered. To consciously set out in an attempt to capture a whitetail on film within its natural surroundings, exhibiting behavior in ways seldom seen by the human eye due to the animal’s secretive nature is a challenge of the highest order.

You may inquire, and rightfully so why an individual would want to devote long, lonely hours, expend a tremendous amount of energy, place themselves in a variety of uncomfortable positions and fight the elements to capture a certain moment to preserve and look upon? I believe it is for the same reason why someone would want to climb Mount Everest and is best explained by Chip Brown, “ You can seek out mountains all your life and strive for summits and all the time not know what you want or why you do it. Beyond the bald explanations of the challenge or the need for some dimly understood sense of renewal. So few things ever said about mountains seem equal to the intensity of being in them.”

 

That quote became resoundingly clear to me on a trip to the Alberta Rockies. It was here that I climbed to the top of the world for the chance to photograph big horn sheep. The assent up the steep incline was intense to say the least, each breath became a chore at that altitude, but the journey was unforgettable. There, nestled atop a rugged rocky outcrop, back dropped by a cobalt sky, was a full curled ram leisurely chewing his cud.

Reflections

King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” As a photographer I have become astutely aware of even the most insignificant transformations that occur in nature. In fact, I can say without reservation, I have learned far more about whitetail behavior from behind the lens than I ever have with a weapon in my hand. This education has certainly aided me in my hunting forays and unlocked some of the many mysteries about deer that had eluded me for years.

For instance, had I not been photographing a particular buck feeding under two different colored apple trees it would never have occurred to me to experiment on what colors, if any the animal can detect. Setting up on a bedded deer for several hours provided me with the approximate number of chews per swallow is taken while he masticates. Clicking off images of pregnant does has revealed to me all of the symptoms relevant to a female deer about to deliver her fawn. I’ve witnessed up close through a long lens the instinctual ability she possesses to know exactly what to do throughout the whole delivery process including, consuming the entire afterbirth. Prior to seriously photographing I had no idea that a fawn, in its first three days of life, could be easily approached and viewed without it feeling alarmed.

It is amazing how a man made piece of equipment called a camera can literally change the way a person views the world around him. Colors, be it the full bloom of early spring flowers or the autumns dramatic vibrancy of stunning reds and gold’s have become much more significant and meaningful. Crimson sunrises over the water, the amber afterglow of a late summer sunset reflecting off distant clouds and early morning fog burning off through the aspens are all special moments that bring each of us feelings of tranquility. These magical times are always a bit different with no two of them being the same. I’ve learned to recognize these differences by the way the light cascades across what ever my subject matter may be. Each day and moment brings a fresh new perspective from which to view the setting or animal I’m about to photograph.

Getting the shot

Chasing rainbows may very well be an apt analogy when it comes to getting the shot. Seldom is it  the case when you can just point and shoot. A lot of forethought goes into obtaining images that are destined to become stunners. Calculations such as, what will be the best angle? Where is the appropriate light hitting? How will the composition look in relation to the foreground and background? The late Ansel Adams once wrote with regards to the art of photographing, “A photograph is not an accident, it is a concept. It exists at, or before, the moment of exposure of the negative. From that moment on to the final print, the process is chiefly of craft.”

There have been times when I’ve had to race to get ahead of a group of cow elk, set the tripod, focus and prepare for the herd bull, which is taking up the rear. My hope is that he will stop, tilt his head back and let out a spine tingling bugle in front of the camera. By observing where a whitetail doe has stopped to urinate has many times facilitated me the opportunity to photograph the oncoming buck as he ingests the fluid and lip curls in front of the lens.

 

One of the biggest keys to success is being able to anticipate the action that is about to take place. The photographer can only accomplish this by having a thorough knowledge and understanding of the animal’s behavioral characteristics. Sound familiar? It should, as this is the same tried and true method required to be consistently successful as a deer hunter.

Conclusion

Martha Hill writes, “The camera enables us to see and do things creatively that are beyond the capability of the human eye. It expands our range of seeing and gives us new options.” The camera has, and continues even today to redefine my career as both a hunter and behaviorist. The click of the camera shutter captures a slice of reality, plucking a moment from God’s creation and suspends it to enjoy and reflect upon. And in my quest to capture those unimaginable images, I am driven to seek out the glory of my vision – whatever is most wild and free.

All images on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

    © 2012 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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