Saturday, September 5, 2015



When one shutter closes, another one opens.

Like any birder, I started birdwatching by procuring a decent pair of binoculars and a bird guide. This was two decades ago, in India. Then came a time, during my Kenya sojourn, when I would reach for my camera sooner than the binoculars; my birding trips were rarely complete without my Canon PowerShot SX100.

The PowerShot was my first camera and, like a faithful friend, I  tagged it along everywhere. With an effective focal length of 360mm, it served me well for wildlife photography to seal in memories of once-in-a-lifetime (figuratively speaking) safaris. Of course, it fell woefully short in the face of the “bazookas” tourists of all hues flaunted there. Thankfully, I was not shooting wild African lions and elephants with a cell-phone camera like a visiting friend once did!

That is when there was a paradigm shift.

Passionate birders believe that binoculars are all you need for birdwatching. They maintain that a camera is a redundancy, a distraction at best. They believe that in the pursuit of obtaining the perfect picture, birder-photographers sacrifice acute observation and pure pleasure. The keen birder in me sees the point, but the bird-photographer in me has her own infallible logic.

Nobody can deny the immense contribution of photography in recording and documenting vital and subtle information. In many instances, logging of bird-sightings thus has aided in accurate identification of species that has confounded even a seasoned birder. Having said that, bird photography, like any other form of photography is, primarily, a "fine art" and not just means of documentation.

There is a breed of bird-photographers, as distinct from purist birders, that has to compulsively and obsessively entrap birds in its lens-eyes. This breed suffers from an irresistible itch to immortalize the subjects and aims to give it its best shot.  

For a while, I managed with the PowerShot, but soon it lost its appeal and application and I knew it was time to move on to a DSLR. As a greenhorn in creative photography, I settled for a crop sensor camera more out of consideration of budget than desire. I landed an incredible deal in a Canon EOS 700D with a kit lens combination—of standard lens and a macro telephoto. The entire kit cost less than the price of a good camera-body alone; what's more, a macro lens costing nearly Rs. 10,000 was virtually thrown in!  But as is wont with "interchangeable-lens cameras", without an appropriate lens I am still nowhere equipped for birding photography. Reaching for a camera-body was easier; it was the lay of the lens that had me in a fix.

Birding lenses which are super telephotos are the most expensive accessory of all photography gear. Of course, there are relatively cheaper versions, but they are not a patch on the “original” ones. I surveyed, researched, and discussed with friends and photo-enthusiasts the merits and demerits of birding lenses. I deliberated on the possibility of third-party lenses with relatively smaller reach to fit my pocket size, but nixed it presently.

In my book of photography, image quality is sacrosanct. For bird photography, smaller reach is akin to getting to the doorstep of the bird-world but no further. What I have my sights on is the latest version of the enduring Canon “100 – 400 mm” zoom, a technology marvel. But there is a blip between the eye and the lens. For a hobbyist, it is an extravagance ill-afforded, and I don't see me indulging myself; not yet. Of course, if I had my way I would go in for the best prime lens! There is no end to greed and need in photography, an expensive hobby if there was one.

As I bide my time for the perfect birding lens, I am out experimenting with the macro telephoto. My birding trips are now enhanced to being wholesome nature trips. In the process, I have stumbled upon butterflies and bees, dragonflies and damselflies, and chameleons and crickets.  Butterflies are always creating a flutter in Dolphin Hill where I reside, but now I am able to “see” them better with the "55 – 250 mm" appendage. The fresh “eyesight” has brought me closer to these insects-on-wings for I am discovering their habits and habitat, now. As I hover over butterflies trying to focus, I naturally latch onto dragonflies—dainty creatures with gossamer wings—in scarlet and sunset yellows.

With my macro lens, I am unravelling micro life.

After ornithology, I am drawn into entomology.

Birding and photography make for a captivating combination. Among nature- and photo-enthusiasts, birds and birding photography are perched high in wildlife hierarchy. It was my passion for birding that led to photography and that in turn has sparked interest in insects, anew. Delegated to low life, the insects were waiting in the wings for their moment in the sun. In my eyes and lens, they are now elevated. For their part though, they were always content in the knowledge—or perhaps oblivious—of the invaluable part they play in the web of life. 


1 comment:

  1. This made great reading. And I empathise completely. I discovered macro photography in that most perfect of urban locations, Singapore! My favourite just now are spiders. They have the most expressive faces and body language - if you give them their time and space to make friends with you! In fact, like all of us! And then there is the world of dew drops and textures and ... So many minuscule worlds in worlds!