I remember reading a photography blog many moons ago (Wild Eye – can’t locate the exact post though) and there was a debate as to which element within an image makes the bigger difference. Is it the subject or is it the setting? Far too often we’re preoccupied about one and forget the other.
The trouble is, we can’t have the subject without the setting. In practical terms, if there is no habitat there will be no bird. Which is a big reason why I tend to include lots of habitat in my images. It’s just as important, and perhaps more important than the bird itself. Simply speaking, if you plant trees in your yard that means you create a habitat and birds will arrive. However, if you trap a bird and release it in a place where there is no suitable habitat, well, it has wings to find itself where it needs to be.
Back to the question though. What really makes the magic? I photographed this sleepy looking Black-crowned Night Heron in Tobago some time ago, where they are less common than in Trinidad – but on a world scale, few people really care what’s common in your area and what’s not – unless of course it’s scientifically significant. The soft, indirect light is mirrored in the softness of the bird’s feathers as well as the leafy branches.
One element that adds a touch of magic is rain, certainly. Although this Brown Booby was hunting in the shade of a mountainside, the sun was just coming over the top of the trees and filtering ever so softly through the frame. No need to add a filter for this one!
As you may have realized by now – the magic comes from neither the subject nor the setting. At least from my point of view. The real magic is in the light. To be able to play with light is one of the basic abilities of anyone who dares call themselves a photographer.
I posted a Rufous-tailed Jacamar under different lighting conditions before – here’s another that’s strongly backlit, the light not only passing through her rufous tail, but also every conceivable space in the foliage behind her. Creating that lovely bokeh we all dream of.
Anyone who’s ever photographed in a tropical country knows that the famed golden hour doesn’t really last for an hour. But if you catch the light in the right time, things can get pretty. I nearly didn’t photograph this Red-eyed Vireo as I couldn’t see it properly against the light. But it turned out well.
Some weeks ago, I tracked this Little Blue Heron for quite some time, waiting for it to line up with a small break in the trees where there was gorgeous golden light filtering through. Subject, check. Setting, check. Magic, check.
Which one of these appealed to you? If any? After all, we must ask ourselves what makes our own magic.