Focus? Depends On Your Perspective

Brown Pelican in flight

The focus of Brown Pelican C02 is not the same for everyone.

Before typing a word on this blog, I’m contemplating the “send” button.  My index finger quivers, drifts forward, then pulls back.  Like a bad case of finger hiccups.  I’m about to post an out of focus photograph – gaaahhhd!

I have spent over a quarter century of my life trying to create in focus, sharp, images and in one click of the return tab I’ll be sharing what under any other circumstance I would dash into the digital dustbin.

Today I’m learning focus isn’t a point, or a plane, it’s a perspective.  And with a flying Brown Pelican radiating a neon pink leg band focus definitely depends on your perspective.

I’m in the middle of a massive edit – and a few thousand images behind schedule.  Under normal circumstances the edit between what is a “keeper” and what isn’t would be quick, immediate, surgical.  I have learned over the years not to carry forward much emotion for photos that just aren’t well lit, sharp where they should be or teaching me something I was experimenting at.  In the Gulf National Audubon is my primary client, but I’m picking up others as I work through bayous and back roads.  And each of these new clients has a unique perspective and set of needs.

Brown Pelican flock in flight

My original goal was to capture the chaos of all the pelicans in their mad scramble to catch pogy fish - but the scramble becomes too chaotic in the photo and to me misses my goal - but if you look in the lower left third of the frame you see two bands - the next photo shows the reward

close up of banded Brown Pelican

changing perspective I noticed two bands - the front gave us nothing, but cropped significantly the rear band revealed a clear C50 - a juvenile we often didn't get looks at - it was alive and well.

The work I did on Brown Pelicans for example originated with a couple of goals in mind, then the tide shifted and while on location it was clear those pellies were important as band bearers not just birds.  Every red and pink banded bird will tell us something about our ability to rectify our disastrous mistakes – and with any luck help us not repeat them.  To the folks from Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries regardless how sharp, if that band number was readable then the photo remained in the keeper file.

Brown Pelican with tag in flight

This photo doesn't make it on a couple levels - but again a bit of severe cropping tells a whole different story. While this will never make a cover, double-page spread or grace a wall - the information on the photo below does contribute more to conservation than many other photos far more dramatic.

pelican leg band

From a whole new perspective the "focus" is dead on.

Over the course of a few weeks I created nearly 2,000 pelican images, and many were not focused on what I was after – but over 50 revealed band IDs that helped biologists focusing on survival, not dramatic photography.

Would I prefer to have ever image sharp, in focus, perfect – yes, of course.  And I will always stutter when preparing to push the send button – yes.  But if every photo is worth a thousand words, then a few photos, from time to time, are worth a few digits of data in an Excel spreadsheet that might help a species or place on this planet survive.  And that’s worth me accepting my perspective might need a different focus.

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