Patience is not something I’ve ever had much of. Talk to the people who know me best. They’ll readily confirm this fact. But I’m trying to change that. In December I took the plunge and bought a Nikon 600 mm AF-S VR II lens. Yup, the brute. Or as I call her, “Big Mamma”. This is the quintessential wildlife lens. If you want to photograph birds and mammals and have those great frame-filling photos, this is the lens you need.
But there are two things about this lens that you need to know. First – using this lens effectively takes practice. It’s a big, heavy piece of glass – wonderful, high quality glass. But a brute nonetheless. You need a special tripod mount for it and you really need to practice, practice, practice in order to be able to track your subject, ensure the focus is sharp, and release the shutter in time so that you don’t end up with an out of focus image of a bird butt. Second – you need patience. And lots of it! It’s nearly 1pm now and I’ve just spent 3 hours sitting by a pond trying to photograph beaver and muskrat.
Yesterday, I hiked to a pretty little pond on the Crown land behind us. I startled a beaver that was in the woods doing a bit of ‘chopping’. I never knew beaver could run so fast! He high-tailed it down the slope and into the water, but once in the water, he hung around and seemed in no hurry to swim off. I’ve found that beaver are quite shy – they are hard to photograph because they are so skittish. But not this guy. He hung around. Then I watched him walk down a slope, onto the ice of a pond and then eventually plop into the water through a hole int he ice.
Given how undisturbed this beaver seemed with my presence, I figured he’d be a better candidate to photograph than Jocko and Evelyn, the resident beavers in our backyard. So this morning – Sunday – I got out of bed at 7:30am and hiked back to the pond. I set up my camera, my camp seat and threw the camo net over me to hide me. And I waited. And waited. And waited. Sigh…. After a little over an hour, I decided to go for a walk – give the beaver time to wake up, have his morning coffee, lounge around a bit and then wander up to the pond. So I went for a beautiful walk. Thirty minutes later I returned to the pond and clearly the beaver had been back. Fresh tree stumps from recent tree-felling were newly chewed and were still wet from where the beaver has just been gnawing on them. Yay! He’s back. So I moved as quietly as I could and set my gear up at the side of the pond. I faced the open water, which also meant I wouldn’t be shooting into the morning sun. And I waited. And waited. And waited. No beaver. After an hour and a half, I heard munching sounds. To my left was a muskrat happily grazing on pond grass. He was peeking out from behind the grass, which would have made a great shot! But it would mean me having to move, which probably would have frightened the muskrat off. And it would have meant I was shooting directly into the sun.
So instead I just sat and watched the muskrat for the next 20 minutes. Nice. I waited for him to swim over to the part of the pond I was focused on, but he never did. I eventually gave up and decided to head home – having waited and waited and waited and waited for the wildlife, but they didn’t show up or what did show up, I was unable to photograph. But that’s ok, it was still fun. Welcome to wildlife photography. Wildlife photographers often spend a lot of timing waiting just to get that one good shot.
This afternoon, around 5pm, I”ll go back to the pond. This was about the time that I was there yesterday. And the sun will be at the other end of the pond, which is better for picture-taking. So wish me luck! And patience….