I constantly have to remind myself that there is always an image to be made, although it may not necessarily be the one that I originally had in mind when I set up my camera!
Recently, I made several visits to a local site where a pair of Short Eared Owls are overwintering. The site is reclaimed industrial land in the middle of a large urban conurbation. The presence of the Owls, and their displays, has attracted a lot of interest from bird watchers, photographers and members of the public.
On one visit, having arrived in plenty of time before the Owls were due to put in their daily appearance, I was pleased to see that, save for the occasional dog walker, I had the site all to myself. I set up in a small dip in the ground with views onto two perches that the Owls used whilst hunting. Within half an hour, another photographer arrived and set up on the top of the ridge overlooking this hollow. Shortly afterwards, more photographers began arriving and all too soon a large gaggle was assembled on the ridge. By setting up sky lined on the ridge and by their overly loud behaviour, things were not looking promising and I began to suspect that the Owls would keep away from the perches I had previously observed them using.
As soon as the Owls appeared, things went from bad to worse. Rather than wait for the Owls to come closer to where they were standing (albeit skylined on a ridge!), a couple of the other photographers began chasing the Owls as they hunted over the rough grass lands. The outcome was always going to be obvious – as soon as a photographer ran towards them the Owls moved to another area to hunt. Whilst in some ways comical to watch, these mad antics were clearly distressing the Owls. From conversations with some of the locals who used the site for recreation, when the Owls had originally appeared they were very tolerant of human presence and would fly around quite unperturbed, at times coming in very close. Over time and with increased pressure being placed on them, the Owls had become more wary and less tolerant of human presence.
As I descended into a very bad humour as a result of the behaviour of the other photographers, I was about to call it a day and pack up when I noticed that the sun was about to set through a bank of heavy clouds. As the sun started to drop into the clouds, the clouds began to diffuse the intensity of the sun and the colours on the horizon started to come to life. As I was set up for the Owls with a 600mm lens and 1.4 Teleconverter on my Nikon D3s, I was concerned about the potentially harmful affects of turning what is in effect a great big magnifying glass with my eye on the end of it towards the sun! However, by watching the movement of the sun and clouds, I began to suspect that there was the safe possibility of making some images of the setting sun through the clouds. Very carefully and with my eye away to one side of the camera viewfinder, I slowly swung the camera lens towards the clouds that were now fully covering the sun. As soon as I was absolutely sure that the clouds had sufficiently diffused the intensity of the the sun and that it was safe to do so, I quickly focused the camera on the clouds covering the sun and made a few images. In between images I watched the movements of the sun and the clouds. Before the sun’s light started to break through the clouds, I moved the camera away from the direction of the sun.
Whilst it may not have been the image I had set out to make, I was pretty pleased to have this in the bag as I turned for home. As for the other photographers, they had all moved to another ridge line overlooking another part of the site and the Owls were still avoiding their pursuers!