Bird of par­adise

Practical Photography (UK) - - Spring -

Tim La­man talks us through one of his ver­tig­i­nous wildlife images.

Part of a long-term pro­ject doc­u­ment­ing these spec­tac­u­lar crea­tures, Tim La­man’s ver­tig­i­nous im­age af­fords us a rare glimpse into this ex­otic world.

PERCHED HIGH ABOVE A MISTs­moth­ered rain­for­est on a tiny is­land in the Ara­fura Sea south­west of New Guinea, this glo­ri­ous bird of par­adise is en­act­ing a mat­ing rit­ual that has gone largely un­seen by hu­man eyes for mil­len­nia. And it’s only thanks to the in­ge­nu­ity of pho­tog­ra­phers like Tim La­man that we’re able to wit­ness such events...

Your work is hugely cin­e­matic and much more than ‘just’ wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy... I de­scribe what I do as ‘wildlife pho­to­jour­nal­ism’ be­cause my goal is not to just cre­ate pic­tures of wildlife, but to tell the sto­ries of wild crea­tures and the places they in­habit. That is why my favourite type of im­age is one that shows an an­i­mal in its spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, like the one shown here. This spe­cial­ity grew out of my back­ground as a field bi­ol­o­gist and my pas­sion for ex­plo­ration of the re­mote places in the world, and a de­sire to pre­serve them. What’s the story be­hind this par­tic­u­lar im­age? This is a male greater bird of par­adise perched high in the rain­for­est canopy on a re­mote is­land in In­done­sia called Aru. Dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son, males come ev­ery morn­ing to the same tree where they call, dis­play and try to at­tract fe­males. This pho­to­graph is part of a long-term pro­ject spon­sored by Na­tional Geo­graphic and the Cor­nell Lab of Or­nithol­ogy, doc­u­ment­ing the spec­tac­u­lar group of birds in the bird of par­adise fam­ily that in­cludes about 40 dif­fer­ent species, liv­ing in re­mote ar­eas of In­done­sia, Pa­pua New Guinea and Aus­tralia. How did you achieve such a close-up and spec­tac­u­lar view­point? This wide-an­gle view from close to the bird could not have been made from a hide, like so much of my bird pho­tog­ra­phy. In­stead, I ex­e­cuted this shot with a well-cam­ou­flaged re­mote cam­era mounted in the tree where the birds dis­played. To set up the cam­era, I climbed the tree first dur­ing the day when the birds were not around and rigged a cam­era mount and ca­ble across to an ad­ja­cent tree where I had a hide. Then ev­ery day for about a week, I climbed this tree in the dark at 4am and mounted the cam­era and con­nected ca­bles. Then I re­turned to the ground and climbed the other tree to my hide car­ry­ing a lap­top, and I con­trolled my re­mote cam­era from the lap­top when it got light and the birds ar­rived. Talk us through the cam­era equip­ment and tech­niques you used… The cam­era used as the re­mote was a Canon 7D with a 10-22mm lens, mounted on a ball head at­tached to the tree trunk with a lag screw. A 20m-long USB ca­ble sys­tem was con­nected from the cam­era to my con­trol sta­tion in my tree­top blind. I used my Mac lap­top run­ning Canon re­mote con­trol soft­ware to con­trol the cam­era. I was able to ad­just ex­po­sure and fo­cus from the app and take still images and video. How many shots did you take in to­tal? Cap­tur­ing an im­age like this of­ten takes a week or more of work, but when I find a sit­u­a­tion that of­fers the po­ten­tial for me to cre­ate a stand­out im­age, it’s worth the ef­fort. So it’s not a ques­tion of how many images needed to be taken be­fore

“EV­ERY DAY, FOR ABOUT A WEEK, I CLIMBED THIS TREE IN THE DARK AT 4AM & MOUNTED THE CAM­ERA”

I got the right frame, but a multi-day process of scout­ing, start­ing to pho­to­graph the sit­u­a­tion from a dis­tance in a more con­ser­va­tive way, then ex­per­i­ment­ing by plac­ing a GoPro very close and see­ing if the bird would tol­er­ate it, and then fi­nally, us­ing the well-hid­den DSLR to cap­ture this im­age. But, of course, all that prepa­ra­tion would have been for naught if the bird hadn’t dis­played in the right place, and the sun hadn’t popped out in that amaz­ing way that morn­ing. So, there is an el­e­ment of what some peo­ple call luck, but I’m a firm be­liever that luck favours the pre­pared pho­tog­ra­pher. Is this the ex­act shot you en­vis­aged and how does it rate in terms of com­plex­ity? I def­i­nitely plan and pre­pare a lot for this kind of shot, and this is close to what I ini­tially en­vis­aged. A shot like this starts with an idea in my head and maybe a sketch. Then I have to find the right lo­ca­tion, and of­ten solve tech­ni­cal prob­lems along the way. This was a par­tic­u­larly com­plex shot be­cause I had to do it with a re­mote cam­era, and the cam­era place­ment was in the top of a tree. I spent a lot of time and en­ergy climb­ing up and down trees to pull it off. How much time was spent in post-pro­duc­tion for this shot? Very lit­tle. I be­lieve strongly in rep­re­sent­ing the real world in my images, so I ad­just high­lights and shad­ows (for ex­am­ple, in this shot I mainly tried to bring out more de­tail in the sky), a lit­tle sat­u­ra­tion ad­just­ment, and some­times crop­ping. What unique chal­lenges does your spe­cial brand of wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy present? I re­ally like work­ing with sub­jects that few peo­ple have pho­tographed be­fore, and telling the sto­ries of rare and en­dan­gered species. So, this means, al­most by def­i­ni­tion, that I need to travel to re­mote parts of the world and that the sub­jects I’m try­ing to pho­to­graph are not com­mon or easy to find. Also, a lot of my work is in rain­for­est en­vi­ron­ments, so I’m con­stantly deal­ing with mois­ture, poor light, and other chal­lenges of work­ing out of re­mote rain­for­est camps for weeks at a time. How did it feel to win Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year 2016? It was an amaz­ing ca­reer high­light and brought my ca­reer full cir­cle, be­cause the place I took that im­age, a rain­for­est in Bor­neo called Gu­nung Palung Na­tional Park, is where I spent years of my early ca­reer do­ing re­search and my first few

Na­tional Geo­graphic ar­ti­cles. I care deeply about the con­ser­va­tion of that area and, also, the sub­ject of the pho­to­graph, a wild orang­utan climb­ing high in the rain­for­est canopy, is very per­sonal be­cause I’ve been pho­tograph­ing orang­utans there for over 20 years, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with my wife Ch­eryl Knott. Ch­eryl is a Bos­ton Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and pri­ma­tol­o­gist who con­tin­ues her re­search on orang­utans in Gu­nung Palung to this day, and so this pho­to­graph also rep­re­sents my col­lab­o­ra­tion with her on try­ing to bring more at­ten­tion to orang­utan con­ser­va­tion.

Tim La­man is a field bi­ol­o­gist, ex­plorer, pho­tog­ra­pher and film­maker. He won Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year 2016 and was part of the BBC’s Planet Earth 2 film­ing team. His work reg­u­larly fea­tures in Na­tional Geo­graphic. tim­la­man.com

Above An adult male greater bird of par­adise per­forms an up­right wing pose in the Badi­gaki For­est, Wokam Is­land, Aru.

Right A cloud for­est near Mount Ha­gen, Pa­pua New Guinea, and a Bornean orang­utan at rest.

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