I’ve noted before the occasional conflicts between birdwatchers and photographers and I’ve received stories from readers regarding experiences with rude picture-takers. There’s the one about the professional photographer who aggressively pursued a rare Kirtland’s Warbler in front of a group of birdwatchers. He chased to bird out of its hiding place in a bush and followed it until it flew off. Then he came back and showed off the photos he got to the birdwatchers who would rather have seen the bird in person.
Let me tell you my stories.
A couple of years ago I took a cruise to Antarctica. There were some well-known and accomplished people on the trip such as Carl Safina, ecologist and author of several books about human relationships with the natural world, such as Eye of the Albatross and A Sea in Flames. Also aboard was Franz Lanting, whose photographs are regularly published in National Geographic magazine, even covers.
One of the options on the trip was to take photography lessons from Franz for a $2000 fee. About 20 people opted for that, making Franz $40,000. And he and his wife got a free cruise, I presume, for another $40,000 perk. I have no qualms about that because with the skills and reputation he has, he is worth it.
So here I was on the cruise that cost me a small fortune, but worth every penny because it was spectacular. Not just the scenery but the opportunity to get up close and personal with the wildlife, just feet away from seals, whales, nesting King Penguins, Chinstrap Penguins, and albatrosses, and getting good looks at the very unusual Sheathbills and Giant Petrels. Many times I just stood in one spot and watched the bird activity all around me. Then one afternoon I was about 20 feet from a beach and a flock of hundreds of Adelie Penguins came porpoising towards shore and body surfing onto the beach. It was a spectacular sight and I just stood there mesmerized as the scene unfolded. Then, all of a sudden, there was Franz Lanting and his wife, also a photographer, rushing to the edge of the beach, taking photos or videos of the phenomenon. Now all of us watching the penguins had two photographers in the center of our view.
I understand that if you are going to be a wildlife photographer you have to be very patient under some circumstances and quick to respond in others. This was a quick to respond moment. Unfortunately, their response was at the cost of other’s enjoyment. You would think that getting a free trip and a substantial income for giving a couple of hours of photography lessons a day would be sufficient and that they could stay in the background and let the other, paying, passengers have priority.
I have lectured on about 30 cruises and have always been told in one way or another that I was basically a crew member and that passengers always came first. Franz apparently didn’t get the word.
I’ve had other trips like that, one to the “Stans” – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc. during which one woman who fancied herself an author doing “research” for a book, got in front of everyone whenever possible to take photos. And on a trip to Uganda to visit the gorillas, one participant took photos constantly. Trying to listen to the sounds of the jungle were continually interrupted by “click, click, click, click.” When I complained to her she responded by saying she’ll have better pictures than me. Yes, at the cost of my diminished experience.
Although I appreciate having great photos of wildlife, especially birds, the thrill of seeing them in person, in silence, undisturbed, is much greater. So you bird photobugs please take note.