Photography, in general, takes a lot of planning.  Sometimes it is planning that big trip to Yellowstone and sometimes it is just planning to photograph some of the local flora and fauna in your own backyard.  Whatever you choose to photograph,  I think we can all agree that we need a plan to be successful.

About two months ago, I started preparing and planning for a particular shot to be added to my "Bluebird Project."  I invested both time and equipment to try to get everything figured out beforehand.  In particular, I was using a new IR triggering system to capture songbirds in flight.  I had practiced on several occasions and I got fair enough results to apply them to actual project. I determined to use my newly acquired experience to capture flight shots of the bluebird as they traveled to and from their nest box.

I carefully monitored and waited for the bluebird eggs to hatch, as they always do.  One day, while performing a normal check, I found that the nest had been raided.  The eggs had been removed, thrown to the ground and mostly eaten.  I determined it was not the normal suspects such as the raccoon or opossum since the nest was still fully intact, and the pole I use would not support the weight.  At one point, I even blamed the neighborhood black snake.  I believe, after quite a bit of examination, it was most likely done by a competing bird species.

The whole situation was completely out of my control, but none the less, my plans were ruined.  There would be no flight shots.  It was is at this point, that we all have a choice.  We can "throw ourselves" and have a pity party.  This might involve moping around, questioning why it happened , and what could have been done differently.  I could beat myself up for weeks with the question "why?", but the results would have been the same.  I would not have photographed any birds and not changed the situation at all.

Instead, mostly based on experience, I picked myself up and immediately started the next wave of plans. I knew that I could not get the flight shot I wanted, but I could improve the situation by starting back to feeding the birds.  Generally I stop feeding birds once nesting starts as it upsets the bluebirds and could interfere with nesting.

Forsyth County, NC - Taken soon after the nest failure.  Move on to the next plan!

So, I began feeding the birds and also setup my hummingbird feeder for the next project.  This will start the creative energy and anticipation flowing again.  There will be another time for the flight shots, but that can't stop you from shooting and planning. Sure, it is a big disappointment when plans don't come together and sometimes it can be really tough when several big plans fail in sequence.  The latter, of course, being the reason many people quit.

The bottom line is that I many never convince you with mere words to hang in there and never quit. In the end, it is a matter of personal ambition that drives you to the next level.  I see it in myself and others all the time.  It is what sets all of us apart from the average quitter.  Don't fall into the trap of expecting all of your plans to succeed, because they never will.  Instead, focus on making the next plan successful.

Your photographic career will be filled with other quitters.  They are the people who don't get what you are doing and try everything to make you unsuccessful.  They could be your girlfriend, wife or even someone you thought was your best friend.  You cannot listen to them, because they will drag you down and keep you from completing your plans.  This goes for any area of your life.  Quitters always hang out with other quitters!  Don't let yourself be sucked into that world.

I will leave you with these steps to becoming successful in life as they were told to me many years ago by a wise man...

  • Never make a major decision in the midst of a personal crisis.
  • Never seclude yourself from friends/family when going through a storm.
  • Never listen to your fears. Dread distorts your view of reality.
  • Never give in to self-pity.
  • Don’t dwell on “if only” and “what could have been."
  • Don’t overlook the good things that happen to you everyday.
  • Don’t become absorbed with yourself (focus on the needs of others).
  • Don’t quit living while going through your storm.
  • Never forget that God Almighty is sovereign.

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FORSYTH COUNTY, NC -  Spring is finally moving into a higher gear, and I see more signs of activity in the animal world.  Up until now, songbirds have been reluctant to build their nests due to the bitter cold temperatures and windy conditions.  It really, in many ways, has been a harsh and unforgiving winter in North Carolina, but there was still much to look forward to this Spring.

As part of my early spring activities, I often can be found photographing raptors at the Carolina Raptor Center for their event called PhotoWild.  PhotoWild, is a special time set aside for wildlife photographers to have an opportunity to photograph raptors in a controlled environment.  This equates to getting images that really are not generally possible in the wild.  At least there is not a practical way to get these images.  Furthermore, it is an opportunity to photograph species from other parts of the world.  Finally, it is a great time to meet other photographers, talk a little shop and check out what gear and techniques they are using.

In this article, I thought I would layout how I approach photographing an event such as PhotoWild and share some of the images as examples.

Looking for the Full Length Portrait
The full length portrait is an image, which is composed to show the entire bird.  It might also have other compositional elements added to make the shot more interesting.  Below is a shot of a barred owl where I not only utilize a full length portrait, but use the foliage to provide a more interesting framing element.  Note the tree to the left of the owl, providing a framing element, and the leaves wrapping around him in the foreground also support framing.

Looking for the Close-up Portrait
Next, I begin looking for close-up portrait to give the viewer a more detailed and often times unseen image of the raptor.  With close-up images, sharpness and higher megapixel images can really make them pop.  Below is an image of a male American bald eagle.

Looking for the Extreme Close-up
Again, for this type of shot, think detail.  Think about making images you simply cannot make very easily in the wild.  Look for feather detail and talon detail.  Below is an image showing the detail in the golden eagle's feathers.

Looking for Gesture
Gesture is what makes images unique.  It can be anything from an unusual look from your subject, to yawning, eating and anything else that evokes emotion.  This is really what I want every time I go out to photograph a subject.  Whether it is in captivity or the wild, this is a must for any photographer to be able to capture.  Below is an example of gesture.  This turkey vulture is opening his mouth very wide and is something I have never witnessed from a vulture in the past.  A perfect opportunity, and one to never waste.  Patience is key here.  When everyone else is leaving, you stay and work the subject.  Good things often happen to those who wait.

I hope you enjoyed this months blog.  There is much on the horizon at Matt Cuda Nature Photography.  To be specific, the time has come for the continuation of the Hummingbird Project and the Bluebird projects.  These two projects generally keep me busy from May through June.

God Bless,

Matt Cuda