Thursday, 17 November 2011

Photographer's Block....

Writers can get it, so it seems can photographers. I haven't posted for a while because I hit a photographic brick wall. I couldn't "see" or "find" a picture.

Plenty of stuff around on the Patch but I couldn't take a picture I liked. A few were good in a "classic" sense, ie well exposed and sharp but somehow uninspiring, just photos of birds.

Perhaps it was there was no story attached to the picture, something that only I know about. The viewer might not get it, and it might not be an award winning image but it would be the spark that would re-ignite my photography. Maybe I just needed a stroke of luck or a chance encounter....

Also there has been almost a complete absence of useful light. Cloud has hung low over the Dee with limited splashes of low winter sunshine. Weather and photographer feeling decidedly flat.

Idiots didn't help either. I think I'm about to reconnect with the Patch as I go to Hoylake shore for the high tide. I painstakingly get into position 2 hours before high water when there are no birds so I don't disturb them when the incomming tide forces them towards my vantage point. I take care not to cause any harm to my subject. They seem to be fairly chilled out, not at all worried.

I stay low, lying on the cold damp sand and wait for the birds to come to me. They start to walk in...

It is fairly obvious to the other beachgoers what I'm doing, some call over and we have a brief chat about the birds. In general people are interested about the birds and you photographing them. Not all though.

A jogger in high-vis spandex lollops along the prom with a dog in tow.

The birds are close enough to start getting some pictures. I'm going to try and get something interesting, a picture of feeding or quarrelling, not a simple portrait, but that will take time. I take a few shots to get an idea of exposure then get ready for action.  I'm hopeful I'm about to lose the photographers block. All I get are the test shots.

 The jogger allows the dog to run into the flock feeding on the tide edge. The birds take flight in obvious distress, alarm calls and swift jinking flight away from their canine pursuer.  Yards away, on the other side of the armour stone there is half a mile of empty beach, . The jogger cannot fail to notice the people watching the birds or me trying to photograph them but does nothing and offers no apology. A walker says something that she ignores. Ignorance is no excuse and is a most unattractive quality.

Photographers block still there.

A few days later I'm on Hilbre. I have the camera on the off chance, but again I'm not feeling like I'm going to get any pictures. I feel like a striker who can't find the back of the net, my poor run of form seems set to continue. I wander along the west side of the island.

Then it happens. I notice something in the tussoks of wind battered, salt scortched grass a few yards to my front right. I freeze and try and focus on the shape that seems to not quite fit in.

A snoozing Short-eared Owl.

Wow! I'm closer than I've ever been to one of these amazing birds and it hasn't spotted me. This is more by luck than skillful fieldcraft, but who cares when you need a lucky break?

My pulse quickens, my mind is racing. These few weeks of stalled creativity could be about to end. This could be the moment.

I raise the camera and fire off a shot. The shutter sound wakes it up, it spins it's huge face to the direction of the noise and we are eyeball to eyeball.

For as moment I am transfixed. I can see why it's prey is said to freeze when they see it about to swoop.  For a second I forget to take it's picture. I'm thinking of how we arrived here. The owl choosing to stop on this island the day I'm here. It could have gone in any direction. The decision I made to check the west side rather than the east. All the events and circumstances that lead to the moment I depress the shutter button. The wind ruffles the owls ear tufts. The clouds are reflected in it's pure yellow iris, it's pupils darkest black. A click, a spark.


As I feel all this the owl takes me in and clearly doesn't feel the same. It dismisses me, indifferent to my recent barren run with the blog, and turns to the sea and stares out towards the horizon.

I often take four or five hundred pictures when I go out on the Patch, I only took 6 of this Short-eared Owl but that was enough. I retreat the way I came and leave the bird staring at the sea. They might not be the best pictures of a Short-eared Owls ever taken, but when I look at then I see the chain events that lead to them being taken. I can't stop looking at them.

I have total respect for these birds.

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