With photography, often you feel the pressure or expectation to label yourself. You need to stake a claim as a landscape, nature, adventure, travel, wildlife, or some other photographer. This has always troubled me. When forced to box myself into a category, I still ramble on by saying I’m a nature, landscape, and travel photographer. The truth is I’m just a photographer who likes to explore this world with a camera as my sidekick. Though, bird photography wasn’t something I ever thought I would claim.
With that said, I try to stay open to all sorts of experiences and like to let my camera tag along. At the start of the pandemic, I found myself a little lost. There was no adventure, no travel, and very little in terms of landscape options. In addition, the start of the pandemic is when I needed photography more than ever to escape from the stress, uncertainty, and anxiety that was building with each passing day. To put it in perspective, this was when we were still “washing” our groceries and mail.
To start, I decided I could photograph the spring blooms and that kept me occupied for a week or two until I had photographed every single flower in my yard. Then, like most folks, I spent a lot of time looking out my windows. The busy highway near us essentially turned into a backroad with very little traffic. From there, the deer appeared. Then we saw a fox and her kits making guest appearances. To our thrill and worry, we even saw a coyote a few times, clearly eyeing up the kits.
Then, I got the crazy idea that maybe I could shoot some wildlife from my house. What the hell – I could at least try. My longest lens was a 70-200mm so I knew that wasn’t going to cut it. To shoot wildlife responsibly, you need to ensure you give plenty of room between you and the subject. Therefore, I decided to rent two telephoto lenses and test them out.
PRO TIP: Anytime you only need a lens temporarily or when you aren’t entirely sure if a piece of camera gear will be a good fit, try renting it first. Renting camera gear and testing it over a few days to a week is incredibly helpful when making gear choices. A lens rental may seem like a steep cost. However, I have found it saves me money in the long run. I know when I make a lens or camera body purchase after renting, it is the right move for my photography.
Next, I grabbed some supplies from the garage and began my work turning my second-story bathroom into a wildlife blind. It really wasn’t terribly hard. I grabbed a good chair and hung out my 2nd story bathroom window like a nut. Another thing to note, it’s a good idea to give your neighbors a heads up about your motive for hanging out the window with a huge lens that may be somewhat pointed at their house from time to time. Thankfully, they already know I’m a little unhinged, so no police were summoned.
Shortly after my rental period, I added a 100-400mm lens and a teleconverter to my gear shelf. This wasn’t going to be a short foray. Perhaps this is a short-person problem, but I loved being up in the trees. Moreover, I started to forget about the fox and deer because watching the birds was fascinating. They are so agile, quick, and incredibly interactive. I enjoyed making up stories of what was really going on in their world. Before I knew it, I had bird apps and could identify species by their tweets and chirps alone.
Eventually, I added some padding to the windowsill. Then, I fabricated mosquito netting around the window so I could attempt to keep the bugs outside my house. I left only a little slit for my lens to poke through. My husband and I researched a good bird feeder. Then as a rite of passage to becoming a birder, we battled different setups until we finally outsmarted the squirrels from stealing all the food. My family was right there to support my madness and sent over their favorite crazy bird lady jokes and memes. My mother and I sent photos back and forth of the different birds we saw at our feeders. Finally, we had something other than the pandemic to discuss.
Now, a year later, here I sit from my bird-blind bathroom throne with a greater understanding and appreciation for birds and the role they play in our ecosystem. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a “real” use for my favorite bird images, and that’s okay. Sometimes, the final image isn’t the purpose or the end goal. This entire bird photography experience gave me what I needed. It taught me that I don’t need to travel and only photograph when in the presence of grand landscapes. Sure, it is fun. I still long to travel and discover hikes to serene waterfalls or majestic mountain peaks. However, those travel destinations aren’t practical at the moment, Even with a vaccine, I have a small toddler now. My bathroom bird photography taught me to follow my heart. Embrace what may seem a little unconventional or crazy, continue to learn about the world around me, and photograph anything that makes me happy.
While I listen to the birds every morning and ensure the feeder is full, I reserve special days to return to my bathroom blind in the throne room. While the rest of the house is sleeping, it’s my time to enjoy a good cup of coffee and enjoy some bird photography. I love the rush of capturing the perfect shot of a nuthatch as it nimbly jolts from tree branch to tree branch. Though, I invested in a gimbal for my tripod this year. Additionally, I have more knowledge and experience with bird photography. It’s going to be fun to see what I can capture this summer. So I guess I need to update all my profile information to read I’m a nature, landscape, travel, and bird photographer now. Meh, I’m a photographer. That’s good enough for me.