Photography and natural history

Photographing and filming here has made me realize how precious light is within the jungle! So far, I haven’t worn sunscreen at all; it has been quite unnecessary since the entire forest canopy acts as a pretty effective sunblock. In the mornings, though, there are plenty of isolated sunbeams slanting through portals in the tangled canopy, especially on the ridge trail. Besides illuminating aerial particles of mist and dust, the beams of light transform the dew on leaves into iridescent golden beads. If only a bird would hop into such a spotlight I think one might be able to get a grand picture. This is quite unlikely, but luckily scattered sunbeams aren’t the only source of concentrated light here. There are a fair number of clearings where big trees have fallen over, either because they were rotten or were strangled by vines. In these clearings, the sun can penetrate to create good lighting conditions for photographing and filming. Even then, it takes patience to get good shots; amidst the thick swathes of vines and leaves, birds easily hide from the camera lens.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the jungle is an excellent place for gaining skills in photography and filming precisely because it takes so much patience and forethought! It’s a bit like doing endurance training by wearing pants and hiking boots while running – the more challenging the conditions, the better you become! I’ve learned a lot about using camera settings to the best of my advantage in order to utilize the lighting that I have. It’s extremely rewarding when everything aligns at the perfect moment and you get a sharp shot of a bird singing! It’s quite fun to track some of the babblers who like to hang out in the undergrowth where the light is often the scarcest. It pays to be persistent when you hear one singing – if you can follow it through the understory without getting too tangled in rattan vines, you’ll likely get some good images. The other day, I came across a Ferruginous Babbler singing next to the trail. It was a gray morning and light was limited but the bird was so close that I figured I could get a decent shot of it so I began following it. It’s funny how absorbing it is to follow a bird; the frequent facefuls of spider webs don’t even matter when you’re seconds away from getting in range of a good shot!

Taking media to document the birds here is extremely valuable and satisfying. Even so, adding to the natural history knowledge base of the birds in this ancient primary forest can be most successful when you’re without any sort of media acquiring device. The 500 mm lens is a beautiful piece of equipment, and quite amazing to use, but binoculars, a GPS, and a notebook are great for observing the behaviors and interactions that can’t feasibly be noticed or documented when carrying around a camera all the time. Brian was saying the other day that he thought that an octopus would make a great field ornithologist – you’d be able to use binoculars, camera, GPS, machete, and an audio recording set all at the same time, no sweat. I agree, but I think spiders, since they can have up to eight eyes as well as eight legs, would also make very good field ornithologists. Our field crew currently has nine pairs of eyes and arms (not to mention ears) all being utilized for the purpose of learning about the birds here – I’d say we’re covering a lot of good ground every day!

Below is a picture I took while tree climbing today! I was standing on a branch 160 feet up in a fruiting tree, using a 200 mm lens. Of about 30 blurry images of the bird, this one was reasonably sharp!

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One Response to Photography and natural history

  1. Matt Medler says:

    I’m enjoying all of your updates, and am looking forward to the next one, which is going to be on audio recording, right? Hope you’re all doing well and having a great time!

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