I hope you are all well, and staying safe wherever you are. I’m continuing to dig into my archive to share some favorites and some unpublished Bird-of-Paradise images. I’ve chosen the Blue Bird-of-Paradise to feature this week.
The Blue Bird-of-Paradise is one of the most legendary of the Birds-of-Paradise because of its phenomenal coloration and relative rarity. I journeyed to the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea to photograph this species, and it turned out to be one of the most challenging I have encountered. This was not because the bird was hard to find, but due to the fact that I wanted to photograph the male performing his courtship display. Displays, I found, were extremely unpredictable. It turned out that unlike some Birds-of-Paradise that are quite reliable once you find a display site (like the Western Parotia I shared in the last Wildlife Diaries), the Blue bird has not one, but many different display perches in the forest. It was almost impossible to be at the right one that he would choose to display at on a given day.
After many days of failure at display sites, I decided to concentrate on photographing at a feeding tree where we had seen the male visiting regularly. Indeed, he came to this tree several times a day, and by waiting him out, I captured a number of interesting feeding shots. This image is my favorite, because he was on a low branch with a clean background, posed at a beautiful angle across the frame, and the light was such that his blue plumage seems to glow from within.
As you can perhaps imagine, as I have traveled around the New Guinea region photographing and filming the many species of Birds-of-Paradise, there have been times when things didn’t work out the way I hoped. My goal is always to capture the courtship behavior, but sometimes that just doesn’t work out in the time I have in the field. The Blue Bird-of-Paradise was one such case. Although my collaborator Ed Scholes succeeded in filming some of the crazy upside down courtship behavior of the male at the sites he monitored on this trip, every time I set up in a blind where Ed or one of our local guides had seen the male display the day before, the bird would display somewhere else that day. I resigned myself to possibly only being able to capture some shots of the bird feeding, but at least wanted to do that well, so I put my time into sitting on a hill overlooking a fruiting tree. This was successful, but I also was in for a surprise one afternoon. I don’t know if it was because he saw a female nearby, or just felt an urge, but the male flew to a nearby tree to my right, and suddenly flipped upside down and started buzzing and shaking his plumes and performing a practice display. I slowly spun my unwieldy 600 mm lens around on my tripod, trying to get the bird framed quickly without making any sudden movements that would alarm him. Fortunately he stayed upside down long enough for me to capture the image below!
I was very pleased to have captured at least a documentary shot of the male in his display pose. At the same time, there is a lot of room for improvement in making an image of this upside-down display. I’d love to have a cleaner background, better light, and a female present, watching him! So while I had to be satisfied with what I got on that trip, I do hope to get back one of these days to have another crack at photographing this incredible species. I think this is one of the most interesting things about pursuing wildlife photography. There is no such thing as a perfect shot. Every image I make, I can always think of ways it could be better. It’s a perpetual quest.
I’m continuing my celebration of the Birds-of-Paradise this week since it doesn’t look like any of us are going to the field any time soon. I have chosen Wilson’s BoP as the next species to feature from my archive.
Print Giveaway: Like this past week, I’m going to have a drawing at the end of this week to give away a print, this time it will be the first Wilson’s BoP image featured below. If you have received this newsletter, then you are automatically entered. On Friday, we will randomly select one of my newsletter subscribers, and the winner will get an email as well as be announced on my Facebook page.
|Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise, like the Red Bird-of-Paradise featured last week, is a species that is endemic to the Raja Ampat Islands in West Papua off the far western end of New Guinea. Just getting to the island of Batanta, where I first photographed this species in 2004, is quite an adventure in itself. After flying around the world and across Indonesia to the town of Sorong, we still had to make a boat journey to a coastal village, and then find a crew to help carry our gear several hours up a mountainside into the forest. Then we established a camp, and started scouting for the birds. |
Wilson’s BoP is one of the smallest, but also most colorful of the BoP’s. One if its most unusual features is its bare blue head skin, but that is only a little more bizarre then its curled central tail feathers, and its amazing color scheme. The key to photographing this remarkable bird was to find an active display court, where a male had cleared the ground of debris, and had chosen a small sapling in the center that he used as his display pole. My goal with this species in particular, was to tell the story of its courtship display, so I really wanted to get images of the male displaying to a female. To do this, I set up a blind near the most promising court we found, and started waiting there each morning at dawn.
Due to the low light early in the morning, and the fact that this was 2004 and I was using early generation DSLR’s, I couldn’t shoot at higher than ISO 400 to maintain the image quality. So I rigged a couple strobes to give me a little fill light. This worked out well, and although the male was a very fast moving little bird, he paused long enough on his perch for me to capture the image above at 1/15 sec, giving me a nice background exposure balanced with a little flash to make his colors pop. In this pose, the male is presenting his bright red back, along with yellow neck and blue head, to a female who is looking down from up in a tree.
The second shot I was after, which I thought would tell the story of the bird’s courtship, was the female perched right above the male looking down at him while he displayed. After a few of these predawn hikes up the mountain to my blind, and moving between a couple different display courts, I succeeded in capturing the image below. I thought it showed the interaction nicely, and you could even see the male shaking his tail. Feeling like I’d accomplished my goal, I switched focus to the Red Bird-of-Paradise for the remainder of that trip. Though satisfied with my shots, little did I know what I was missing by not having a way to shoot from above and capture the female’s point-of-view.
It wasn’t until over ten years later, in 2015, when I had a chance to go back to Raja Ampat to photograph Wilson’s BoP again. Camera technology had improved a lot since 2004, and not only could I shoot in lower light without strobes, but also, I had the ability to control remotely positioned cameras over wifi. This led Ed Scholes and I to come up with a plan to hide a camera on a tree right above the male’s display position, to shoot looking straight down, over the females shoulder. Well, I think the image below that Ed and I made pretty much says it all and it’s fair to say it blew our socks off when we first saw it. We expected green, from the glint off the male’s breast shield, but we had no idea it would be so bright. I think it is very exciting that in 2015 (and even 2020), it is still possible to find subjects in nature to photograph in ways that have never been seen before.
Behind the Scenes Shots:
I may be the one with the camera, but it takes a team for me to get these shots. I have worked closely with ornithologist Ed Scholes since the beginning of our Birds-of-Paradise project, and while I’m sitting in one blind, he is usually out searching for other display sites, or watching and filming other individuals. And of course without our Indonesian support crew and local landowners, we couldn’t find the locations or camp comfortably when we got there. Here are a couple behind the scenes shots from our camp on Batanta Island back in 2004 when I made the featured images above. The late Kris Tindege, a pioneer birding guide in Papua, was our local guide and fixer.
Our camp on Batanta Island. Kris Tindege and local guides cooking dinner over fires. This is a pretty typical setup for how we still camp in the rain forest on our more remote locations.
It was 2004, and actually the first trip where I shot mostly digitally. Being able to download and review images at night, even in our rustic field camp, was a revelation, compared with carrying loads of film back for processing and not knowing what you had. Ed Scholes and Kris Tindege look on while I review some Wilson’s BoP shots.
I hope you are all well, and staying safe wherever you are hunkering down during these unprecedented times. I’m at home and won’t likely be making my usual field trips any time soon, but I find myself thinking about the amazing Birds-of-Paradise that I enjoy photographing and sharing with you so much. They are still out there in the forests of New Guinea doing their thing, and while I can’t be creating fresh images right now, I have an archive with a wealth of imagery and associated stories that might help brighten your day just a little during these crazy times.
So for the coming weeks, I’m going to share a favorite Bird-of-Paradise image each week, and to make it more fun, I’m also going to have a drawing to give away a print of that image each week.
|Print Giveaway: If you have received this newsletter, then you are automatically signed up for my weekly Bird-of-Paradise print giveaway. Each Friday, we will randomly select one of my newsletter subscribers to receive a print of that weeks featured image, and announce the winner on my Facebook page.|
Behind the Scenes Shots: Here are a couple images from that memorable tree climb in Batanta.
Gallery Update: We regularly add new images to my galleries at www.timlamanfineart.com. Recent additions include hummingbirds from Sunnylands added to the open edition paper prints category, and also a collection of favorite East Africa images from my recent trips. Please have a look!
Hope you enjoy these birds and stories, and can also get outside and enjoy the beauty of birds in your own area, wherever you are.
Stay safe everyone!
This morning USA Today published a story on National Geographic’s Travel Flash Sale featuring Tim’s image. Josh Hefner says, “National Geographic is synonymous with great photography, and few craft its jaw-dropping images like Tim Laman.”
The article describes Tim’s photo of two Japanese macaques in a hot spring. His picture (above) is part of National Geographic’s flash sale that ends tomorrow. You can purchase Tim’s signed image by going to National Geographic Creative’s webpage.
Check out Tim Laman’s latest publication “The National Geographic Guide to Landscape and Wildlife Photography”. Tim prepared 12 lectures on wildlife photography while renowned photographer Michael Melford has 12 lectures on landscape photography. Tim teaches the practical, technical and artistic aspects of wildlife photography while showing you how he took some of his world famous photographs.
The Great Courses provides multiple options for learning. There is a monthly or annual online plan or you can purchase the lectures on DVD. The 4 DVDs come with a 248 page course guidebook. Check out The Great Courses website to watch the trailer or start a free trial.
Welcome to TimLaman.com. I’m a photographer, filmmaker, and field biologist with a passion for exploring our natural world. I hope you enjoy this website, and you can also sign up for my newsletter “Wildlife Diaries” at right to get updates on my latest adventures, photo tips, and news from the field.