Does this photo bring feelings of excitement, adventure, the wildness of nature and a once-in-a-lifetime moment through photography?! It does for me!
Or rather did that is. You see, it seems these kinds of ‘wildlife’ moments are more life than they are wild. I had a nice conversation with a fellow at the Prince Rupert airport who had just come from a bear-shoot where he and a group of fellow pro-photographers went on a guided tour of a nesting/feeding area just to the North of us. They safely floated along on a boat about 25 feet away from the frolicing bears while amassing hundreds of images with their expensive, cutting edge gear. It wasn’t staged photography per se, but it wasn’t exactly wild either. The bears have a ‘go to’ spot to eat or play or what have you, and the tour guides know how to get you into this location ….so the boat of 4-6 photographers experience a literal turkey shoot of ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ images. There’s no special moment ….not really, and it makes the impossible to capture image very much possible.
There’s a live webcam here for example (to where this fellow was heading the following week) showing you dozens of bears feading throughout the day ….but what you don’t see in it are the platforms of 50+ photographers perched in more or less the same spot, racking up thousands upon thousands of images and turning that special, raw moment into a certainty. Yes, the bears are in a ‘natural’ environment, but only natural when you ignore the hoards of people trained on their every move. Of course they’re hungry and are feeding as they’ve always done, but they don’t pay much attention to their onlookers because they’ve been seeing them at this spot for decades. Heck, the bears have even been assigned their own names/numbers, they have fans (followers) and detailed histories in terms of personality. It’s almost akin to being camped in a zoo ….aiming your lens through the bars and waiting for that ‘wild’ to happen.
And so what does this do for a great photograph you ask? For the unknowing viewer ….nothing. The image is still great. But for an informed newbie (like myself) it shifts the emphasis away from the extraordinary feat of capturing a wild bear eating a salmon to something much more mundane; focusing in on a good looking bear for example (one with non-yellowing teeth, an un-scared coat, an animated expression etc. etc.), hunting for a healthy looking salmon being grabbed at the right moment, framing a stunning backdrop with the perfect waterfall, lighting and treed or rocked compositional aspects …the list goes on. It also removes the natural and imaginative storyline of risk-taking and danger, replacing it with something more run-of-the-mill ….perhaps even shifting the interest away from such wonderful creatures and their exceptional abilities, not to mention normalizing a breath-taking natural environment. It’s like looking at a fashion cover model in a magazine; you know a great portion of the shot is ‘fake’ and unnatural so you just don’t care anymore. You become immune to the effect because you’re aware of the behind-the-scenes production of it all. However, that may be me….
Anyway I was kinda excited to find out how it was all done, and my fellow photographer was more than happy to share the juicy details on getting such magic shots (not just bears either ….most wildlife for that matter) – but then I was kinda disappointed at the same time. You see, I look at ‘taking pictures’ the way I look at a lot of things I suppose; as a journey. Sure, there’s a destination of sorts when you finally get an image you’re happy with …but don’t you dismiss that adventure by jumping the gun with things? Is it really in your best interest to rush to the end of an experience just to pad the portfolio and proclam “See, I did/got it!” And what of that prize ….can you finally go home and sleep with ease knowing you’ve accomplished all you’ve set out to? And then what’s next, more of the same great quality images of wildlife in action? More ‘setting up’ ….so you can get bears with perfect teeth? Eagles with the perfect beaks and feathers with their gaze in the right direction?
There has to be more to it as far as I’m concerned, and as much as you raise your game and cash-in on acquiring such gold-standard images, I think you miss the point of it all; the struggle you go through in achieving that something. I could be wrong too, and perhaps there’s a whole and completely different struggle among these pros to arrive at their perfect shot. Maybe they’re finding adventure and excitement in getting that picturesque bear bite, that perfect expression of rage, that crisp and vibrant action shot of a paw as it’s about to slice through a glistening, pink salmon? And maybe it’s just me who has set his sites too low in terms of what to expect when it comes to getting a ‘good’ shot ….and perhaps it’s the case that my good has simply become my good enough?
*I’m not exactly sure what this all means …but I’ll figure it out*