Nate – Spontaneous Portrait


Before I write about the photograph, let me set the scene. My friend Nate invited me out to shoot with him. Nate is a talented photographer, who excels with wildlife imagery. The plan was to go to Plum Island in search of Snowy Owls. I have little or no experience with photographing wildlife, so I was excited with the idea of getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new. As an added bonus, Nate offered to let me borrow his 70mm-200mm telephoto lens. Super cool.


This time of year Snowy Owls, aka Snowys, migrate south for the winter. One of the places they set up shop for the season is Plum Island, which is just of the coast of Newburyport Massachusetts. To get there, I needed to wake earlier than I normally do to go to my day job. I know, life is hard. I needed to get out of my warm bed to go look at birds. Anyway, the experience was one I found fascinating. To start, the island is very popular for birders and wildlife photographers. As you drive down the access road, I observed pockets of people setting up shop or moving about to their desired locations. Something else I noticed was that everyone sort of knew each other. It was like a tiny community, composed of tribes of photographers or birders. Folks would tell you what they were photographing or pass along tips about where snowys were spotted. This information is crucial because unlike landscape, the snowys move about the area. Between word of mouth, text message, or tip from the internet we would plot our course to try to find us some snowys. Most of the time, the destination not accessible by car. We would park, grab our gear, and walk to the beach or lookout. If there were no snowys, we would head back and try a different spot. This is sort of the pattern until you find a snowy or you get hungry and head to town for a breakfast sandwich.


This leads me to the photograph above. Imagine waking up at 5am on a Sunday. It is freezing cold outside, and your shooting destination is outside on the ocean. You drive around, park, lug your gear to a place only to find that the snowys have moved on. You keep repeating this process until you locate a snowy, which we did. It was too far out for the telephoto I had to adequately photograph it, but it still ruled to see one in person. On the way back to the car, I wanted to pop my wide angle back on my camera. I slowed down so I could do it while walking. Afterward, I looked up at the scene in front of me. Nate was a little ways ahead, carrying his 600mm lens on a tripod down the boardwalk in his cold weather gear. While walking, I set the camera by metering with the top screen and took the photograph. For the record, this type of shooting is very out of character for me. I like to champion the “Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast” mantra while shooting. To photograph while walking, and not looking through the view finder seemed wrong to me. To my surprise the shot came out. I felt that this image illustrated the experience of going in search for snowys. It was cold. The gear can be cumbersome. The object of your photograph desire keeps moving. However in spite of all of this, you brave over and over again for the chance to photograph a snowy.