By Asif Raja Khan*
Nowadays, bird photography is a trendy passion among people all over the world. Pocket friendly DSLRs, jumbo telephoto lenses, and exposure on different social media platforms are increasingly influencing people from different fields to adopt this hobby. Some of them are Engineers, some of them are Doctors, some of them are teachers, government employees etc. Every hobby, passion or addiction has its positive and negative side both. Of course, bird photography is not an exception. Because of this hobby, people from different fields come close to nature and become more aware about wildlife conservation, importance of a tree, a wetland, and a forest.
But amateur bird photography also has some dark ‘behind the scenes’. Obscure knowledge about ecology, wildlife, bird behaviour, and blindly running behind the ‘perfect shot’ without any basic knowledge about ecosystem and habitat has nowadays become a threat for wildlife.
Few years ago, when I got a DSLR and a telephoto lens, just like other amateurs, I wanted to be a professional wildlife photographer. That time, I was a student, didn’t have enough money to do safaris in forests, so I chose birds as my wildlife subject. I spent a lot of time with my camera, trying to learn everything, every technique of my new toy. Honestly speaking, that time, Birds were just some colorful subjects for me. I had no basic knowledge about Ecology, Ethology or conservation.
During my graduation and post-graduation in Zoology and Life Sciences with Ecology specialization, I understood the actual difference between bird photography and bird watching. Then I devoted more of my time in reading books than in taking ‘perfect shots’ of birds. Now I feel, if you really want to be a professional bird photographer, at first you have to be a good bird watcher, you have to know the ethics of wildlife, bird photography. I am a learner; I still don’t know much about wild birds. I am learning something new every day about these mysterious flying creatures in fields. I am going to share my thoughts about ‘how to be a good bird watcher’, which I have learned throughout my bird watching journey.
How To Be A Good Bird Watcher?
i. Read Books- Try to spend time with some books about wildlife, birds, Ethology, Ecology etc. You don’t need to be an Ecologist or Wildlife biologist, but you have to know at least some basics about wildlife before visiting a wildlife habitat. Without knowledge, you would never become a good bird watcher or professional bird photographer.
ii. Observe Birds- Don’t run behind the ‘prefect shot’; ‘Perfect shot’ is a myth! So many amateurs never get satisfied with their bird shots. They constantly click photos one after another, until bird leaves the ground in fear and disturbance. Instead of that, I can give you a suggestion – stay calm in field, don’t disturb birds, and just observe them from a safe distance. You may see some amazing moments of nature that you would never forget in your life.
iii. Birds Are Not Just Your Subject- Birds are living organisms just like you! They can feel happiness, they can feel sadness, and even sometimes they suffer from depression. When we visit their habitat, they get disturbed because of our appearance. Try to minimize disturbance; respect them and their emotions.
iv. Relate Your Observation With Your Knowledge- If you really want to be a bird watcher, rather than a bird photographer, never visit fields for just clicking some colorful bird photos with blank mind. Try to observe what and why those wild birds are doing in their habitat. Then, relate your observations with the lines that you have read in books, and then try to make your own thoughts.
v. Be a part of nature- Many bird photographers create artificial environment for ‘perfect shots’. Some of them intentionally scare birds for flight shots, some people give food to wild birds, make false bird calls in fields to find birds easily. Don’t do such acts. Try to observe their wild natural behaviour in their own habitat. Be silent and camouflaged in the wild, don’t try to be dominant over those wild organisms; if they recognize you as a friendly visitor, they can give you some amazing behaviour photographs, which you can never take by doing those ugly manipulations.
vi. Don’t Do Nesting Photography- Most of professional wildlife photographers are well trained, they do a good homework before trying to photograph nesting birds. They take precautions to minimize disturbance during taking those nesting photographs. However, many a times, amateurs do nesting photography without any basic knowledge about Ethology; sometimes, because of them, parent birds leave their nest in fear, and baby birds die in some days, suffering from starvation. Please don’t do nesting photography just for fun or for getting likes on social media.
If you really want to be a professional bird photographer or bird watcher, then your work must be concerned with a single word, ‘Conservation’. Conservation of wildlife should be the one and only focus of your work. Never try to manipulate normal surrounding natural environment of wildlife for ‘prefect shots’. Make people aware about birds, wildlife, nature by your photographs and works; make locals aware by your experiences and knowledge. If you could influence even a single person to become a wildlife conservationist, then you can proudly call yourself a professional bird watcher or a wildlife photographer.
*Author is a passionate birdwatcher and wildlife blogger from Canning, a small town near Kolkata, India. He has completed his Masters in Life Sciences with Ecology specialization from the Presidency University, Kolkata.