Q: Who or what inspired you to start birding/nature photography?
A: We grew up camping and tromping through the woods. We always had a bird or flower book, and my parents taught us to love and learn about nature. My friends Kristie and Ken are awesome photographers, and I admired their work and learned some stuff from them. Then my husband, who’s amazingly supportive of this adventure of mine, bought me the good camera I was yearning for, and away I went, combining these two things I love, thanks to lots of people I love. In addition to teaching me to love nature, one of my mom’s last gifts to me was allowing me to photograph her in her final months as a way to process the impending loss. So in that way she helped me to become a photographer, too.
Q: What’s the trick to birding?
A: I tell people it’s mostly sitting very still for a long time, sometimes in uncomfortable positions! But I find it very relaxing, meditative—almost spiritual. And there are some truly thrilling moments, too, when you catch a glimpse of a new bird, and your adrenaline spikes, and your heart starts to race, especially if you’re trying to photograph it while it’s camouflaged in leaves. Seeing a “life bird” (on a birder’s wish list, essentially) like that painted bunting made me cry. I was just overcome.
Q: Where do you find all these birds?
A: People ask me that all the time! Many of them are actually in my own backyard and neighborhood. We have a lot of these huge old oak trees around. But there are birds everywhere! My dad’s in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a haven for all kinds of wildlife, and I go to the LSU Lakes, Bluebonnet Swamp, state parks…anywhere, really. I did once drive six hours round trip to go see the fork-tailed flycatcher, a rare visitor to the States. (And totally confirmed my status as a bird nerd!) But a lot at home. My philosophy for birding and life is you just have to look up!
Q: What do you consider a “good” shot?
A: Honestly, the technical aspect of photography isn’t really that interesting to me, f-stops and ISO and all that. That’s probably a naive or irresponsible response from a photographer! I’m more invested in the things that make a shot interesting, like what a bird is doing, or the way the curve of a leaf follows the bird’s head, or how the light looks on feathers, or the intersection of urbanity and nature. I don’t spend that much time thinking about it, really. I’m sure I put stuff out there that people criticize, technically. I rarely if ever do anything in post except a crop to get the feeling I want and maybe a tiny adjustment for light. I want to do the least unnatural thing to something natural, if that makes sense, even though capturing it in a photo is kind of already doing something unnatural, I suppose…
Q: Which photos are your favorites?
A: Well, Tufty is my favorite bird, as most folks know. I love that perky crest and inquisitive little black eye. Lately I’ve been liking what I call the “moody” shots, where light and shadows and leaves make the shot beautiful and sort of mysterious. This cardinal is an example:
Q: What does being a nature photographer mean to you?
A: This might sound kind of crazy, but my husband and I don’t have kids. I don’t have a legacy to pass to anyone. So I feel like kind of in a way that sharing these things that my parents instilled in me—this love and appreciation of nature—is a way for me to pass along a little piece of myself, and them. There is so much beauty around us if we look for it (just “look up”!), and maybe one of my photos can bring that bit of nature inside to someone, and they can see it and be happy and be reminded to look for that beauty around them.