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Searching for the Picture

Snow Goose bathing, Skagit Valley

Over the course of my career, I have been on a lot of airplanes, and traveled to some pretty exotic, far-flung locations. But almost all of us live with an hour or two of something worth photographing.  They may not be icons, like Yosemite or Brooks Falls, Alaska, but I would venture to say that there is almost always something worth taking your camera out when the weather turns good (or even when it doesn’t).

Here in Seattle, we finally had a sunny afternoon today after weeks of gloom, so I headed up the road about an hour to the Skagit River Delta, where every year, Snow Geese gather by the thousands. It is a spectacle of sight and sound, and a treat to photograph. But the truth is, I hadn’t been there in 30 years. ( I’m dating myself, but all of my pictures from there were shot on Kodachrome 64.) What better excuse than to re-shoot these familiar birds in digital, and with the vastly better equipment available today?

As always, whenever I confront a scene with a lot of animals, it takes some time to settle on an approach – it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed with the numbers of birds and just start shooting without a specific picture in mind. I shot the birds in flight, and the massive flocks on the ground. But looking around, the one thing I thought was unusual was a small pond where a handful of the geese were taking turns drinking and bathing. Rather than shooting right away, I spent some time watching, looking for picture opportunities. That’s how I discovered that after a bout of preening, almost every goose would rise up to beat their wings, presumably to get their feathers dry and back in position. That allowed me to simply settle on a bathing bird, camera ready, and wait for what I knew would come eventually.

This can be a tough strategy to follow, since there is always the temptation to look around and make sure you’re not missing something else. I did that once, in fact – and looked back to see “my bird” just finishing his shake-off maneuver. So I found another bird and waited, ignoring any distractions.  It took a while, but I finally got a nice clean series of the bird head-on in nice afternoon light.

There are probably millions of pictures taken every year of Snow Geese, but with a little time, planning, and perseverance, I managed to get one I like. Next time, maybe I’ll concentrate on interaction.

Snow Goose bathing, Skagit Valley, WA   Nikon D300S with 500mm f4 lens

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