Painting wildlife involves a lot more than just sitting down with some brushes and paint. It requires knowledge and quality reference. This page is dedicated to that topic and the amount of work it takes to get the reference I need to do the paintings I do.
Getting close to wild animals requires time, patience, hard work, the endurance of difficult conditions, and a lot of know how. Most of the time, you are up several hours before sunrise to get to your spot, set up, and hidden, all long before you expect the animals to even show up.
The ghillie suit allows me to get up-close shots, as well as natural behavior type shots. The ghillie suit not only allows me to get close to wary wildlife species but much of the time, they have no clue I'm there. -This is a huge advantage. If the birds suspect something isn't quite right, they won't behave naturally. You end up getting nervous alert poses. You can clearly see that the birds in the below photograph are not wary and are behaving naturally. Much of the time I'm trying to hide in areas with very little cover ... trying to conceal someone my size ...plus a 500mm lens ...and camera ...and tripod, is not an easy task.
Remember up above when I said "endurance of difficult conditions"? Well this is what I'm talking about. The wind and the cold can be unbearable at times. Often, the cold has effectively numbed your fingers, long before the sun has even peaked over the horizon. Thus finding the shutter button can be a difficult proposition when that perfect bird is finally in that perfect moment. Everything tends to feel the same to fingers that have lost all feeling. Hand warmers can help. Canon cameras are only "rated" for operation at or above 32º. It is also not too uncommon to have camera issues in extreme cold conditions which is really irritating when you've been up for hours and went through all the hard work of getting out there and getting set up.
Generally speaking, all that people see of my work is my finished paintings. They see the price and ask how long it took to paint it. They never think to ask how many hours, days, weeks, months, years, it may have taken to get the reference, required to complete the painting before them. They also don't factor in the cost of all the gear, the miles driven, the difficulties endured, etc. I am grateful that the documentary "The Million Dollar Duck" at least touches on some level, the field work involved in completing these paintings. The truly hard, but enjoyable work that most people never see.
I spend most of my time during the migration attempting to get great photographs of the birds swimming, standing, and flying. This is an extremely difficult, time consuming task, but I enjoy the challenge. Often overlooked however, is the importance of habitat reference photos. It's hard to paint the proper setting for an animal without good habitat shots. Landscape and habitat photos tend to be a lot easier to acquire. The problem is that the best time to photograph that subject matter is also the best time to photograph the birds. My good friend, and fellow artist, Tim Taylor (Click here to visit his Website) and I, have reached a consensus. Since I have an expensive 500mm telephoto lens and am pretty good at using it, we decided that my time is most wisely spent photographing the birds. Tim on the other hand does not have a quality telephoto lens, and thus we have concluded that his time is best spent traversing the wetlands in the immediate area to photograph the ever important and never elusive, habitat. So while I get cold and sore from sitting in often uncomfortable positions for hours on end, Tim is often burning up and exhausted from walking the countless miles through the muck, snow, and thick weeds. At the end of our excursions, I grant Tim access to my bird photos and in return, he gives me access to his habitat photos. I guess you could call it a "symbiotic" friendship.
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