The Lake Project: The Importance of Luck

In wildlife photography, it is important to get lucky. Unlike doing photo shoots, taking landscapes photos, or working in any sort of controlled environment, wildlife is always on the move. We can do our best to minimize the amount of luck we will need, but in the end, there are still elements of the work that are completely uncontrollable. In this blog post, I will dive deeper into what that means.

lithobates-clamitans

Lithobates clamitans (Green Frog

The green frog picture above is what I would consider a successful photo for the finished catalog. The lighting is fantastic, the water perfectly clear, and the colors are vibrant. What you don’t see when you look at this is the work that went into capturing this photo and that is important to understand because it can make a big difference in the way we appreciate wildlife photography.

For this picture, I spent over half an hour patiently walking around the water’s edge an hour before sunset. This time of day is known as the “Golden Hour” as the light is bright but not harsh on the subject. This is one way I can minimize the amount of luck I need and instead try to control the environment that I am shooting in. But during that thirty minutes, there were countless photos that did not turn out how I wanted.

Here is an example:

green-frog-bad

What is blatantly obvious when looking at this photo is that the focus is not nearly as crisp as the other picture. You can also see that the colors are more subdued which results from a minor change in the camera settings (a slightly smaller aperture or faster shutter speed).  But most importantly, and this is where the real “luck” component sets in, is the direction that the frog is facing. Since it is looking directly away from the camera, the photograph looks off. The subject does not grab the attention the way the previous photo did. The main reason for this is the way we see the eyes of the frog. In wildlife photograph, being able to see the eyes of the subjects is crucial. It makes the viewer look deeper and (hopefully) be more enraptured by the photograph.

Getting a photo of any type of wildlife can be difficult (let alone getting a picture where you can see the whites of their eyes) because they can be hard to predict . For example, every time I go down to the lake there is a green heron that always flies away as soon as I get near enough to see it. I have not been able to get a good picture of it because it is always far away and when I get close, it is quickly gone. To date, here is the best picture I have of it:

green-heron-bad

The focus is bad, the lighting washes it out, and the background draws too much attention away from the bird. It is likely that I could have done a better job taking this photo, but I was also unlucky. My relationship to where the bird was made it difficult to get a good photo and the birds positioning on the branch also made it harder.

So this past week I tried to venture down to the lake and stake out nearby to its favorite spot and either wait for it to appear or simply photograph it there. Sadly, after over ninety minutes of waiting, the heron never appeared. At the end of the day, I cannot control where the animals are or where they will be, I can only do my best to predict it and hope that I am lucky enough to be in the same place they are at the right time.

With any luck, I will have a better picture of a green heron to show you next time!

Until then,

Dex

9 thoughts on “The Lake Project: The Importance of Luck

  1. wbdrisco

    Are there any predictable patterns that you’ve observed the green heron following to date? Regardless, I look forward to seeing a beautiful pic of the green heron soon.

    Reply
    1. dexcoengilbert Post author

      Generally is present in the holding pond from 3:30-5:30. This isn’t a hard-fast fact, but every time I have seen it it was during those times. And I haven’t seen it outside of then either.

      Reply
    1. dexcoengilbert Post author

      For the sake of the blog which is covering the independent project, I only visit the Lake because it is about photographing and cataloging there. However, in my free time, I will go to other spots to take pictures.

      Reply
  2. megannuggihalliwesttownedu

    I’m no photographer, nor am I lucky really, but I think at the end of the day if you don’t end up getting the perfect picture of the heron you’ll still get something out of it. I would rather have my version of a perfect picture than a random one.

    Reply
  3. rickyyu1999

    Great pictures. By any chance, do you think there is a way to set up a system that you don’t physically have to be there? Like as in you could maybe set up the camera and leave it at a spot for a day or two and take the picture without you having to be there. Just wondering.

    Reply
    1. dexcoengilbert Post author

      There is certainly that option. These so-called “trap cameras” I fairly easy to set up if you have the motion censor equipment which I am lacking (too expensive at the moment to justify). Photographers often use these at night to capture animals that otherwise are nearly impossible to see. Generally they would have to be placed on an animal trail so that you can be fairly certain of the outcome. I would be nervous of leaving camera equipment by the heron spot for days on end because it is right next to the most frequented path on the lake.

      Reply
  4. yanwenxu

    Are you planning to classify all the species you’ve found around the lake at the end of the semester? It’s very interesting to see those clear pictures and thorough analysis of lake species. Keep working!

    Reply
  5. kevinwang11

    I would not consider my self as a professional, but my knowledge in photography should probably suffice to make a few comments on the photos you’ve taken. Like you said, the “green frog” is a very success shot. It probably exemplifies what you called “good luck.”
    A piece of advice on the “green heron”: To avoid getting the image out of focus, do not let the camera choose the focus points by itself; try preselect an autofocus point (or a group of autofocus points) to achieve the perfect focus.

    Reply

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