I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Laura, from the Afternoon Birder. Laura is an avid birder, talented Wildlife Photographer and Blogger living in Canada. Laura draws inspiration from nature and her photography is proof of her passion for the natural world. Thank you, Laura, for spending the time to share your story with us and view of the world through your camera lens. Your body of work is truly inspiring.
Where is home?
I am a birder and photographer from Ottawa, Canada, but currently living in the Rocky Mountain town of Fernie in British Columbia, Canada. I enjoy traveling so I try to visit new areas as often as I can to see and photograph different bird species. I like to share my travels and birding adventures on social media and on my blog, The Afternoon Birder.
Is photography your full time career or a hobby?
Three and a half years ago I was diagnosed with a life-altering dizziness condition so I had to give up my career and lifestyle. I borrowed my Mother’s superzoom camera and began taking photographs of the birds in her backyard. I found myself completely hooked and haven’t looked back since.
Photography is my hobby in the sense that I don’t make money from it. But, it’s become a passion of mine. Since I’m unable to work, being able to get outside and take photographs is a great substitute.
Are you formally taught or self taught? And what has been the best source of information along this journey (workshop, online forums, classroom, mentor, etc)?
I am mostly self-taught, but I did take one class run by Always an Adventure soon after I upgraded to a DSLR. It was extremely helpful for making the transition to an SLR from a superzoom.
Aside from that, I learned mostly by trial and error and from talking with other photographers on social media.
Are you satisfied with your choice of getting involved with this industry? Is there anything else you would rather be doing?
Absolutely! In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have a dizziness condition. But given my circumstances, I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing. Even if I was suddenly cured, I can’t imagine my life now without photography.
What has been your most memorable session and why?
For me, I don’t look at my photography in terms of “sessions”. I like to get outside, enjoy nature and take photographs. Each day is different which is part of the appeal. What type of outing I do depends on the season and what birds I might be able to find. Quite often I just head out in nature and see what happens (rather than planning a particular photo shoot).
What has been the easiest part of learning about photography?
I love photography so none of it has felt like a chore. I think it’s easier to learn if you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing.
What has been the most challenging part of photography?
Being okay with making mistakes and missing photos. You have to accept that the only way to improve is to be willing to take risks, even if this means you may miss some photos.
How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?
I rarely have a problem with motivation and photography. Especially living in Canada where the seasons are so different. It’s hard to get bored when things are always changing. Whenever I want to mix things up, I plan a trip. Travel is a great way to keep things fresh.
Who or what inspires you in your personal life and work?
I like living life to the fullest and experiencing all of what the world has to offer.
What’s the best part of being a photographer?
Being outside in nature. I also enjoy the excitement and challenge of photographing a new species, or getting a better photograph of one I’ve already seen.
What has been the best source of information along your photography journey (workshop, online forums, classroom, mentor, etc)?
The best source of information for me has been to get outside and take photos as often as I can. I also follow a lot of photographers on social media and you can learn a lot by seeing other people’s work.
I haven’t spent much time reading books or taking classes so I can’t comment on those sources.
What industry sites and blogs do you read regularly? Would any stand out as particularly motivational or inspirational for someone who might be interested in learning about photography?
Two stand out to me –
I recently discovered a live video series hosted by an excellent photographer, Ray Hennessey.
I also like a photography blog: Nature Photography Simplified.
Are there any photographers out there who motivate you? If so, who are they and what is it you like so much about them?
I really like Melissa Groo. She travels extensively so gets to photograph some amazing species. She is also an advocate for ethical photography which is something I believe in. There aren’t many professional female wildlife photographers, so it’s great to have someone like Melissa in this field.
Other photographers I’m enjoying at the moment are David Stowe from Australia, Faraaz Abdool from Trinidad & Tobago and Heather Thorning, another australian. They all have great quality images and well-thought out composition (something I’d like to work on).
What has been the biggest source of inspiration in your work?
My inspiration comes from nature. There is so much beauty and fascination in the world, I just want to capture a piece of it.
What is one piece of advice you would like to offer a new photographer just starting out?
Get out there and photograph as much as possible. Take risks, try new settings and accept constructive criticism from others.
Share with us your favorite image and why.
One favourite image of mine is of a Northern Pygmy-Owl with a Bohemian Waxwing prey. There is something tragic and beautiful about this photograph. It was also one of the most incredible owl encounters I’ve ever had.
Nikon or Canon? Favorite lens?
Nikon D7200 and 200-500mm lens. It’s the only lens I have for birds, so it’s my favourite by default.
What is your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera?
My Black Rapid camera strap. I handhold 99% of my photos so I find the strap invaluable.
Do you use Lightroom, Photoshop, both or other?
I use both.
What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet?
I would like to upgrade my lens at some point to a 500 or 600mm prime.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite or most memorable photo sessions? What made it so great and why did you like it so much?
I had a recent memorable photo session that was great because I came away with good results. I went to Vancouver and wanted to see and photograph Barn Owls (I had never seen this species before). After standing beside a field for 2 hours, I was freezing cold and ready to give up. But, the wait was worth it as a Barn Owl appeared and began hunting in the field in front of me. I was able to get one fantastic photograph with the Owl facing directly towards my lens carrying prey in its talons.
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
Not long after I upgraded from a superzoom camera to a DSLR I went to Algonquin Park in Ontario and was hoping to photograph Boreal Chickadees. After two days of trekking around the park, I finally found a flock. I hadn’t figured out all the manual features of the SLR, so when I got home I realized all my photos were blurry. I was really upset, but it made motivated me to learn the best settings to use with the new camera.
Are there any areas of photography that you have yet to pick up on that you’d like to learn?
Last year I bought a wide angle landscape lens as I was hoping to diversify from just birds and wildlife. Landscape photography is a totally different realm and I have a lot more to learn about it. I find it hard to balance my time between the two genres and recently I haven’t been doing any landscape photography. I hope to pick it up again this summer birding slows down after migration.
I’d also like to combine the two genres and start doing some wide-angle bird photos that include the landscape in them.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I hope to continue birding and doing bird photography and to improve my skills with both. I’m also really enjoying writing my blog and I want to grow my audience. I would also like to keep traveling and exploring new destinations around the world.
Do you see yourself as a photographer many years down the road?
Yes I do. Absolutely!