Eagles and Vultures and Being There

Fortune smiled on us last week. We were traveling with some good friends who knew about the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland, and that it would be a good time to photograph bald eagles there. I was doubly lucky that my friend Tony owns the perfect lens for bald eagles and triply lucky that he thoughtfully lugged it along solely so that I could use it. He was shooting with a Nikon, so he let me monopolize the giant 500mm f/4 Canon lens. I don't own and have never used anything like this lens... I'm not a professional wildlife shooter and this specialist's lens is very costly. So I was delighted to have a chance to use it for the first time at the dam.

I often hear the question, how do you get good shots? The cliche answer is a quote from the celebrated photojournalist named "Weegee," who was said to respond to that question with, "f/8 and be there." He meant, the most important thing is getting your ass to where the interesting things are, and having a camera with you. No amount of expensive gear or practice or talent or luck or anything else will matter if you stay in your chair at home.

So we went there. We weren't prepared for the bracing cold and wind, and we didn't really do the whole wildlife photographer thing with the arriving at dawn, hiding in a blind with a $1,000 tripod, rubbing duck lure scent on our camouflage hats, whatever it is they do. But we went there, we stayed an hour or two, and that was enough to get some good shots. (The 500mm lens helped, but not as much as showing up helped.)

Practice, new gear, and serendipity might help me deliver better shots than these some day, but for now, I'm just happy I was there and able to get my first bald eagle pictures.

Oh, and I threw in a black vulture too, because... vulture!