My Favorite Bird Photo

Five celebrated photographers pick the pictures they consider to be their best

01-01-1997 // John Nuhn

ONE OF THE BIGGEST TREATS of being photo editor of this magazine is to go on a guided tour of a photographer's files. Best of all is that moment when my guide says, "Here's one of my favorites," and hands me an image that reveals a unique way of perceiving the world. Part of the pleasure comes from hearing explanations of their choices from the artists themselves. With this feature, we come as close as we can to sharing such experiences with our readers. We picked a subject--birds--and asked each of the five celebrated photographers below to choose among the millions of frames they have exposed over the years. Their reasons for their selections proved as varied as their work--impressionism, detail, light, massive numbers, intimate behavior. We are happy to share the results with you here.


Working from a towering scaffold constructed to his specifications deep in Peru's Upper Amazon Basin in 1992, California-based Frans Lanting knew just what he wanted in his photo of a scarlet macaw in flight. "This image blends plumage detail and impressions of flight," he says. "I've always been fascinated by birds in flight, and I've experimented with ways to show those two qualities at once." His subject is a young, recently fledged bird, chosen for its fresh colors. Despite all his planning, Lanting says, "There is always a certain amount of luck involved."


From the deck of their cabin in a remote valley of Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Fogdens can watch hummingbirds attracted by Stachytarpheta, a member of the verbena family. "If we lie flat, we can watch them from a distance of a few inches, though only if we use reading glasses," says Michael.

Early one spring day in 1988, they took a photo of a violet-headed hummingbird. "We had a good idea of the image we wanted," Michael recalls. "But you can never be sure with hummingbirds; it is impossible to predict where the position of their wings will be stopped."


During four days in 1993 capturing images of what he calls "flamingo soup" at Lake Bogoria in Kenya's Rift Valley, Australia resident Jean-Paul Ferrero used "every possible angle and every lens" he carried. The kudus in the background of the image appeared just long enough to be included in a few frames.

"The presence of rather large mammals among the flamingos broke up the mass while giving a third dimension," Ferrero says.

The birds pictured are mostly lesser flamingos; a sprinkling of greater flamingos is also probably lost in the mass, adds Ferrero.


Long before Washington state resident Art Wolfe visited South Georgia Island in 1994, he had conjured up dream photos. "One was of courting black-browed albatrosses, together on the edge of a windy cliff, deep into their budding relationship," he recalls. Finding the real thing "was a magical moment," he says. And for Wolfe, the resulting image is near perfect. "I love the dark, brooding background, with its feeling of darkness and threat and primitive, bygone times," he muses. "I love the luminescence of the two albatrosses, how they seem to glow in their surroundings."


New Zealand-based Tui De Roy says, "I hardly ever pre-visualize an image, but rather wander in search of aesthetic views." She found one in 1993 on Peru's arid Lobos de Tierra Island, where the right conditions can prompt birds to nest at any time of year. "The island's shape, the pastel colors of the desert, all suggested peaceful simplicity," she recalls. "Then, over a rise, bingo! There were thousands of the gaudiest colored pelicans I'd ever seen, all scooping great beakfuls of sand to build their nests."

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