Mary and I discussed in the comments once how sometimes we have to lie on the ground to get the kind of photograph we want. Whether it be flowers or lizards or something else entirely, a great deal can be said for a prostrate approach.
Milling about on two legs and taking pictures of anything that seems worthwhile is a practice requiring little forethought. Although I hardly think myself an artist, I have discovered that looking at things from a point of view contrary to our own lends itself to results that stand out from the pack. Not only does such imagery offer something more appealing than the subject alone, but it also seems more natural, as though we could sneak in and watch the world unfold without interfering with it.
Another piece of the puzzle is stability. When shooting hand-held, stabilizing the camera means putting as much foundation beneath it as is possible. Snapping pictures during a walk is one thing; having time to really focus on the subject is something else entirely. Lying on the ground means I’m not wobbling on tired legs, not shifting my weight back and forth, not swaying in the wind.
Photographing wildlife demands that we become as small as possible. The smaller we appear to creatures great and small, the less of a threat we seem to be. That means we can get closer or, as my experience has shown, that wildlife is willing to get closer to us. Much closer in some cases. Being relatively tiny and using small, slow movements has afforded me not just the opportunity to snap some presentable images, but it’s also given me the chance to enjoy many close encounters that can only be described as magical.
But perspective leaps to mind as the most important factor, at least in my case. A great deal of nature photography oozes from a standing position, a view always looking down on the subject in a way that diminishes it, reduces its impact, hides the intricacies of its presentation. This approach works fine for those spur-of-the-moment images captured when some fantastical creature is fleeting by without interest in stopping to pose. But when the opportunity arises, I think the best results come from looking at things from their own level.
So with all that in mind, I want to share some experiences from an autumn walk not too long ago. All of these capture nature from ground level.
These American coots (Fulica americana) gathered on the bank, some preening, some standing about looking bored, and others grabbing a quick bite to eat from what few morsels could be found in the dormant grass. A few times they looked at me with curiosity, but mostly they ignored me.
Despite its highly unusual coloration, this beautiful rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) stayed with the dule as the entire group had breakfast and tried to avoid the rather unruly grackles. In fact, the doves were so comfortable with my presence that, even standing, they walked right up to me, one of them even daring to walk across my foot. This one especially caught my eye, however, for I had never before seen one with plumage like this. Although rock doves often display a wide range of colors and patterns, most demonstrate the classic form.
And speaking of a more classic rock dove, this one walked right up to the camera at one point—so close that I couldn’t take a picture without switching to macro mode. The charcoal color it shows usually comes through as a lighter gray in most of its kind, yet this morph is far more common than the (IMHO) one-of-a-kind bird in the previous photo.
A world full of stars held high atop a thin arm. The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has a bad reputation as the scourge of gardeners and groundskeepers around the globe. Nevertheless, I think both the golden flower and the feathery seed head offer more than weeds; their beauty, in my mind, is unquestionable, and they also represent the single most recognizable set of memories stretching right through my childhood. Who doesn’t remember holding one of these and blowing on it just to watch the seeds take flight? What a simple act, sure, but I bet a right of passage for most kids.
Lying on the pier in Sunset Bay at White Rock Lake, I held the camera down near the water’s surface hoping I could somehow grab a bit of the magic happening all over the lake, from pelicans and cormorants to ducks and gulls. That didn’t work out very well due to the wind blowing my hands about and the choppy waves threatening to splash water on the camera. Yet as as I tried, this male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) landed nearby and screamed. A stone’s throw from where I was, he bellowed time and again, often doing so as he looked right at me. Perhaps I was in his favorite spot.
(And check out the flattop on that bird! It gives him an almost Frankenstein look, at least from that angle.)
I’ve yet to identify this tiny flower, but it and its kith and kin permeated every step I took. So short that most stems held their flowers below the dry grass and so small that a single bloom disappeared completely beneath my fingertip, only in their vast numbers did they become apparent. The ground shimmered as sunlight danced across their varied hues. Some were brilliant white and others were varying shades from lavender to cyan.
My adoration for mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) is second only to that for the red-winged blackbird. The soulful voice of these birds always stops me cold. It’s the sweetest lamentation one can ever hear. When I found several wandering beneath a canopy of trees as they rounded up something for breakfast, I had to stop and enjoy their company. Several of them came quite near (within an arm’s length). The blue jays were more skittish than these stunning creatures.
“Pardon me, sir, but have you seen any acorns?” Well, that’s what I thought this female fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) was asking when she stopped right in front of me, sat up, crossed her hands in a fretted manner, and looked right at me. Realizing as a prey animal that squirrels see best to the sides and not in front of them, I knew she was watching me as I lay there snapping a few pictures of her. Eventually she went on with her business, and so did I.