Rick Hobbs Photography

Wildlife/Nature/Outdoor Photography

Photo Tips

Finding The Rhythm

When heading out in the field to create photographs I generally have some idea about the type of images I hope to create. Just as important, however, I am flexible, open, and more than happy to just respond to the opportunities as they unfold in front of me. An important component to your success in the field is dependent on your ability to tune into the rhythm of your subject and the location.

After first arriving in a location I begin the process of scouting and evaluating the opportunities that are available. In this article I will use a recent trip to the magnificent Bosque del Apache NWR as an example. Upon my arrival I check with the refuge staff to find out if there are any special things going on in the refuge and to get their suggestions on recent activity or sightings. Then I follow this information up with a couple of casual visits with other photographers that have been working the area the previous few days to find out where the "action" seems to be.

Snow Geese

Bosque del Apache NWR, like most other locations, is great every year, however, the opportunities vary from year to year, week to week, even day to day, so you need to find out what is going on now and go with the natural flow. When I first returned to Bosque on this trip I was looking for my subjects to be in the same location, doing the same things, at the same time, as on my previous trip. At first, things were different and I was disappointed the birds were not where I had expected them to be. Then I reminded myself - be open to the possibilities and find the natural rhythm.

I decided to stop "looking" for subjects where I remembered them to be and began "seeing" where they are now. Almost instantly things began to improve dramatically. I began observing the direction, quantity and quality of the light as it slowly moved across the refuge throughout the day. At the same time I was paying attention to the habits of the wildlife subjects in the refuge noting when and where they liked to be at any given time of day. Getting in tune with their preferences and behavior became a critical part of my success. Within a couple of days in the area I not only found the natural rhythm of the refuge but I became a part of the daily routine.

Snow Geese

On this trip I was also leading a Photography Workshop and I had it timed so that I had a couple of days to get into the natural flow of the refuge before my group arrived. As a result, for the next several days we were able to be in position to photograph the snow geese as they flew across the beautiful New Mexico sunrise. We were able to photograph cranes, geese and ducks on the water with a backlit fog, followed by shooting thousands of geese exploding off the water and taking flight as they headed out to the fields to feed for the day.

Snow Geese

Then we moved to some other ponds in the refuge with hundreds of sandhill cranes standing in the shallow water, in perfect early morning light. We were able to create great photographs for at least another hour each day as the cranes went about their normal behavior in the ponds. We were in position to photograph them as they took off and flew right in front of us as they left the water and headed to the fields for the day. Since they leave in small groups we were able to have plenty of opportunities to create our images.

Sandhill Crane

Next we drove around the refuge loop road to photograph roadrunners, hawks, eagles, coyote, mule deer, and a variety of other local residents in morning light.

Roadrunner

In the afternoon we would go back to the refuge and work the loop road to photograph a variety of ducks, geese and pheasants. We also created some very interesting wetland landscapes in great light. I timed it so we could be in position at the corn fields late in the afternoon when the snow geese usually came up to the road for easy access. The first afternoon we rolled up to the corn fields to photograph the snow geese some of the participants expressed concern that there were no birds present and wondered if we were in the right place.

Snow Goose

As a result of being in tune with the rhythm of the refuge I assured them that I thought the birds should show up soon. Thankfully, within about 30 minutes, thousands of snow geese were in the air and the participants were thrilled when the geese landed only 40 feet away. For well over an hour we photographed geese flying in and landing directly in front of us. Snow geese and sandhill cranes were flying right past, and over, us in perfect light with a great blue sky for a background. Occasionally, thousands of geese would explode out of the corn at once and while squawking flew directly towards, over, and around us only to settle down and land right in front of us again.

After everyone emptied the remaining film in their cameras we all looked at each other in amazement of what we had just seen and felt. Everyone had a huge smile on their faces and some even applauded the experience. At that moment, it was clearly the "being" there that mattered most.

Sandhill Cranes

To end the day we went back to the ponds the sandhill cranes favored and were in position to photograph hundreds of them coming back to the ponds in waves. We photographed them flying against the setting sun and watched them settle in for the evening. After it was to dark to shoot any more we packed up our gear and went back to town for dinner.

While everyday was similar, it was also a little different from the day before. As a result of being in tune with the natural rhythm and open to the possibilities we were able to create many wonderful images and spectacular memories from this trip.


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