How birding made me a lazy photographer (and what I'm doing to fix it).

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Four years ago, I wouldn't have known a sparrow from a gnat-catcher, but after taking a job in the environmental conservation field, I started to learn from my colleagues. I poked fun at them at first, when the faint call of a great crested flycatcher could draw staff to the windows like moths to a porch light. Bird nerds. But then I found myself being drawn in too. The flit and flicker of wings in the chestnut oak outside the window distracting me from the work on my screen. I started noticing birds more when I was out walking the dog or running in the early morning. When I was birding, I wasn't thinking about what needed to be done at work, or the dishes I still hadn't washed, or how I was going to scrape together enough money for rent. I was in the moment. 100% present. And then it wasn't enough to just see them anymore, I had to capture their image. To prove that I had seen an eastern towhee or a common yellowthroat or a Baltimore oriole. To test my patience and my knowledge and my shutter speed. So I began photographing them. Zoom lens in hand, I welcomed the challenge of finding them, focusing and shooting quickly before all that's left is the tremor of the twig on which they had perched just milliseconds before. But I found myself losing any sense of composition and creativity. All my shots were zoomed in, tight on the subject which sat in the dead-center of the image, with no other context to tell the viewer who or what or when. Who has time to compose a shot when you don't know where your subject will be and for how long? I was so focused on getting a close up of the bird to prove that I had seen it, to check it off my life list, that my technique and creativity went right out the window. 

So on the eve of my adventure to Iceland, I'm calling a re-do. I'm taking this trip as an opportunity to zoom out, to think and observe and compose. I have three photography goals for this trip:

1) To successfully use my graduated neutral density (GND) filter.  It is a filter that screws onto the lens and allows the photographer to expose the sky and the foreground properly in one shot, taking a lot of work out of post-production. It also affects how motion is captured and is popularly used for water shots, creating those soft, creamy images of waterfalls, rivers, and ocean waves. I will be using this filter to shoot the sun rise over the ocean. Fingers crossed for good weather. 

2) To shoot something I've never shot before. And I don't just mean the landscape because I've never seen Iceland, I'm talking about an entire subject matter. I have never attempted to shoot the night sky. It is much more complicated than pointing up and shooting, so I am looking forward to the challenge and the unfamiliarity. And what better place to try to capture the night sky than Iceland in September, when the aurora borealis should be visible on a clear night. 

3) To stop overthinking. To trust my gut and my knowledge and go with the moment. 

I fully admit that I am now a huge bird nerd, but I'm looking forward to my redo. I'm looking forward to not trying to be one step ahead of my subject, to watching my surroundings and shooting anything and everything that I find interesting and foreign and fun. I'll let you know if I accomplish any of my goals...