Wanting It the Way I Want It

In the second week of February, the Big Guy and I drove 3 1/2 hours SE of Phoenix to Bisbee, to use it as a staging point for 3 visits to the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, wintering grounds for about 15,000 sandhill cranes. My photos of those birds weren’t what I’d hoped for. I was able to get no closer than about 100 feet and maybe not that close. In any case, I was much too far away to get good, high-resolution shots with my camera equipment, which gives me a maximum 300mm zoom. I’m sure my skill level had nothing to do with it.

Flock of thousands of sandhill cranes

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area – No zoom


Sandhill crane drinking.

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area – Max zoom, max crop


Lone sandhill crane standing in water

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area – Max zoom, max crop

This past week, I visited the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary about 45 minutes SW of where I was staying in Vancouver. The resident sandhill cranes are pretty habituated to humans, and I was able to get within 5 feet of them without causing them any distress. The biggest challenge here was keeping the ducks and sanctuary infrastructure out of the backgrounds.

Close-up of sandhill crane

George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary – Max zoom, negligible crop


Close-up of sandhill crane, drinking

George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary – Max zoom, negligible crop

What I want, of course, is pictures with the quality of the close-ups possible in the bird sanctuary, but with the ambiance of the wildlife area – and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with getting a rare picture (even just rare-ish). Like Sally in When Harry met Sally, I just want it the way I want it. And, you know, without making it my full-time job.

I’m not sure what to take from these disparate experiences. My first impulse is to devalue the wilderness shots on technical merit (lack of close-up clarity), and to devalue the sanctuary shots on artistic merit (lack of rarity).

On the other hand, I guess I could be happy with both sets, valuing what I managed to do in each case, while continuing to strive for better. Which sounds like a good model for life, even if altogether too well-adjusted . . .


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9 Responses to Wanting It the Way I Want It

  1. Tom Watson says:

    You might be interested, if you’ve never been there, in knowing a bit about Pelican Lake in Manitoba. It’s about 130 miles south west of Winnipeg, or 35 miles south east of Brandon, at the edge of the town of Ninette. The largest lake in southern Manitoba, it’s 14 miles long, 1.5 miles wide.

    Pelicans come there by the hundreds at a time, maybe even thousands. I can’t find an exact count. Here is a link with some images in case anyone is interested.

  2. Laurna Tallman says:

    What you say here about your art in photography is the tension I am feeling in my writing. I need to convey scope, but the personal vignette is so much more compelling. How much can I compress into a short book with minimal cropping and extraneous details out of view? Thanks for helping me to clarify my challenge! We need all of your photos to appreciate the splendour you have in view.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Ah, yes, the challenge of focus. A bit different in writing than in photography, but only a bit. 🙂 We still need to decide what we’re doing, since we can’t do it all. A professional photographer on our Utah trip talked about painting as an “additive art” but photography as a “subtractive” one. When I’m editing, I often feel that writing is the same – subtractive, for maximum effect. You might enjoy Seth Godin’s blog on a similar topic.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    On the relative value of anecdote vs explanation, that Laurna raised. At one point in my career, I edited Paul Scott Wilson’s novel, Holy Week. He congratulated me on the way I was able to sharpen/enhance his story. A little later, I edited an article that he had written on preaching. And he complained that I had cut out all the good stuff. I realized I had done the opposite in the two jobs; in the novel, I had concentrated on the incidents, and cut down on the accompanying authorial narrative; in the article, I had thought that his philosophizing was more important than his examples and illustrations . I went back to the article, and let the stories carry the weight, instead of the explanations. It came out as a much better article.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – I have a strong impulse to tell the reader what point(s) they should take from my stories. It’s tough to let them stand on their own.

  4. Laurna Tallman says:

    Thanks to you, Seth, and Jim I start this day with a new game plan. Many thanks!

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