Professional photographer

Erlo Brown Photography
Mud, Sweat and Flamingos
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If I were to make a list of things that are not so “lekker” about being a professional photographer, about ten things would come to mind. If I then were to make a second list of things that were lekker” about being a professional photographer, there would be many things that I could mention. One of the “lekker” things about being a professional photographer is, without a doubt, the fact that you have no limits on what you can photograph. I mean everything around us can potentially become a fascinating subject if a little effort and imagination is thrown into the equation.

When we moved into our new home in Hermanus one of the things that caught my attention was the dam three hundred meters up the road from our house. The dam occupies a space of about two hectares, that sits in the middle of our little coastal suburb, Vermont. I soon started photographing some of the birds there, it is home to many species of waterbirds including the Greater and Lesser Flamingo.Those who know me will know that I have a history with flamingos, it was a fascination that started the first time I laid eyes on them on the west coast. I have even lost my Blackberry phone due to water damage in pursuit of that special photograph of a flamingo. My friend Otto and I have spent countless hours trying to “line them up”. Needless to say most of our attempts brought us close enough to keep the appetite burning but not close enough to say we’ve got it. So when I realized that the flamingos were a two minute’s walk from my new home I jumped at the opportunity to photograph them.

The idea was to photograph a flamingo using a focal length of about 20mm, where conventional bird photography is done with a lens 300mm and longer. I wanted to have the camera at least within two meters from the flamingo to accentuate the intense perspective of the bird within it’s landscape.

That was the plan, doing it would prove to be an entirely different story. Because the birds spend just about all their time in the water I thought it would be wise to put my camera in a glass box in the water. I would remotely trigger the camera when I thought the birds were in the right place. I soon abandoned this idea as I did not fancy the idea of my camera almost floating in muddy water with me 30m away, besides this, the glass that I made the box from reduced the optical clarity somewhat.

My next idea was to make my camera and tripod look like a flamingo and then see if they would come closer, thus allowing me to take a photo from with in the group. It took me an entire day to make a model flamingo,  who I dubbed Vasco, after Vasco Da Gama the explorer. The flamingo was so realistic that Lauren mistook it for a real flamingo when it was out on the water. This seemed to work better than the glass box, but the flamingos would only come within about 15m, which was still too far away for my wide angle idea.

After spending days-on-end trying to get my camera closer to the flamingos I started noticing a pattern in their behavior. They would start feeding about half an hour before sunrise and 20 minutes after. They would come right to the edge of the shallow dam, skimming the edges with their beaks. I then resorted to hiding my camera in a hole under the mud by the edge of the water and the hoping that they would come close enough for me to get a photograph. I wrapped my gear up in three layers of plastic and placed it under the mud. Within half an hour I started getting more action in that one session than in the previous two weeks. Some of the flamingos were so close they almost touched my camera. I was ecstatic and could not wait to see the results some great photographs came out of that first session, but they were all foggy. The cold had caused a layer of fog to settle on the lens filter, rendering all my work unusable. I was so disappointed and started wondering if I would be able to get them that close again. I applied different substances to the surface of my filters and tested them in the freezer to make sure it didn’t happen again. I made some adjustments to my setup and soon succeeded with my first closeup of Greater Flaming looking straight into my lens from about two feet away.

I am still not completely satisfied that this is the best that I can do, but it did manage to get second place in Sunday Times Wildlife photograph of the month for August. In order to get the photograph I have in mind I have to wait for next season to try my luck again with the flamingos.

One Response to Mud, Sweat and Flamingos

  1. Chris Joynt says:

    Hi Erlo. Absoluut ongelooflike fotografie ou maat. Veels geluk. Jou stap om die SA kuslyn is aangrypend en herriner my aan die vroee avonturis Thor Heyerdahl se vaart met die Kontiki ekspedisie. Passie, tegniek en talent staan uit in jou fotos. Doen so voort! Geniet Hermanus en groetnis aan julle.

    Chris.

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