Beauty through the lens of a wildlife photographer
By Richard P. Fray
Once you have caught the wildlife ‘bug’, there’s simply no letting go. The appetite for learning is instantly awakened; it grows and grows and never stops. There are always new species to see, new facts to be learned. But the relentless quest to satisfy an ever-expanding curiosity often hides a more powerful passion in wildlife watchers. This usually stems from a single defining moment – the reason that you became hooked.
I was brought up in a household that produced my older brother, Rob, whose first word was not ‘mamma’ but ‘Robin!’. So defining a single moment from my childhood is difficult, although a few stand out. Many ‘defining moments’ are close encounters with animals going about their normal business, and not adopting the usual reaction to human contact by fleeing the scene. As a wildlife photographer I experience many close encounters with really amazing wildlife. However, I still feel an immediate emotional bond every time that a wild animal bestows the privilege of accepting me into its world.
Once allowed into the animal’s world, it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of a brightly colored kingfisher, or the unavoidable cute factor of a baby fox. Close-up, there can be no doubting an eagle’s sheer power, or a butterfly’s fragility. But the longer you look, the more you will see. Is there a more subtly beautiful bird than a female House Sparrow, or a more intriguing and entertaining character than the local Feral Pigeon?
There are two general paths that lead to wildlife photography – photographers who discover wildlife, and wildlife enthusiasts who pick up cameras. I’m the latter type; the former often take the better photos technically, but those with an emotional involvement capture all the trust and tension, power and beauty, and the fascinating everyday habits that all go into making wildlife photography so rewarding.
Whilst the emotional aspect can be helpful, it is also a hindrance to the photographer. I often don’t get photos of the rarer or more sought after species I see. Experience taught me to make a deal with myself – unless I’m photographing something that’s very familiar, I always take the time to enjoy the experience first before reaching for the camera. There’s not much satisfaction in getting a great picture of a special moment, but having no personal recollections because you were busy behind the viewfinder.
Undeniably, it’s nice to receive a check for a published image or framed print (it’s not the most lucrative occupation!), but for the enthusiast-turned-photographer like myself there are two main incentives. Firstly, we can preserve our personal, special moments and relive them whenever we want. But more importantly, we want to share our images with everyone – just look at the beauty that surrounds us! If one of my photographs persuades someone to reflect on the natural environment for a minute, inspires a person to further their interest, or provokes a momentary emotional response – that ‘bond’ – then I feel I have done my job.
My main interests are in birds, butterflies and dragonflies, but I photograph all wildlife and natural subjects, as well as sceneries and sunsets.