Thinking about Wildlife Photography

If you haven’t been down to Boundary Bay yet this year, you might want to take a stroll on the dike between 64th Street and 72nd Street. It’s a decent walk and will give you plenty of time to think about wildlife photography and the ethical decisions that one makes as a bird photographer. You’ll see good behaviour and bad behaviour. And you’ll get a chance to reflect on what you’ll do to get a photograph.

I was out at Boundary Bay in late January as the tail end of a trip to see the red-flanked bluetail in New Westminster. I wasn’t really looking to get photographs of owls—I’m pretty realistic about the limitations of my gear. However, when I did see a compelling landscape I did leave the dike despite signage instructing me not to. I rationalized it by telling myself it was a quick foray just meters beyond the drift logs and by checking carefully for owls and other wildlife before doing so (there was nothing visible within binocular range).

Salt Marsh Ice
Salt marshes at Boundary Bay – a compelling landscape.

The landscape was very compelling, it had an “essence” that I felt I needed to photograph. I composed the image, made the photograph and then prepared to return to the trail. Not fast enough. A couple walking by commented about me being off the trail, clearly not impressed with my actions.

Owl Photographer
Owl photographer out in the salt marshes at Boundary Bay, Delta, BC.

Last weekend I returned to Boundary Bay with a group of Comox Valley photographers and took a look at the salt marsh through a different lens. A couple of snowy owl photographers were out in the marsh trying to get the perfect shot, and the reaction of these photographers when I photographed them was rather interesting—they got a little bit ticked and words were exchanged. Maybe the 70-200mm lens that I borrowed for the weekend just wasn’t long enough to give them the space they needed and they flushed. Most of the other photographers were pretty good about staying on the dike.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) photographed from the dike. Image is significantly cropped.

I walked further down towards 64th Street and I thought that I’d challenge myself and see if I could get some decent images from the dike this time. Snowy owl photographs were pretty tough since they were so far out in the marsh, but it was still great to see them.

Boundary Bay #1
Salt marsh at Boundary Bay Wildlife Management Area, Delta, BC.

I did manage a half dozen scenics, but I have to admit that they aren’t quite as good as the one that got when I went out to the edge of the drift logs on my last visit. No matter—it was enjoyable to simply walk the dike and take in the landscape with a few fellow photographers. It wasn’t even tempting to leave the trail.

Boundary Bay #2
The expansive salt marsh at Boundary Bay, Delta, BC.

In thinking about how we interact with wildlife and the land, I discovered Ingrid Taylor’s wonderful blog The Wild Beat. She’s got a link to the North America Nature Photography Association’s Principles of Ethical Field Practices on her site that sums up the situation at Boundary Bay in a nutshell:

Every place, plant, and animal, whether above or below water, is unique, and cumulative impacts occur over time. Therefore, one must always exercise good individual judgment.

Words to live by as a nature photographer. Worth thinking about. Maybe getting that perfect shot isn’t really the important thing after all.

Further Reading: