The Challenges of Pruning, Part 2


There are a lot of challenges involved in managing 170,000-plus nature photos. WC has written about the hard decisions of which to keep on review. Today we’ll take a look at reasons to keep a bad photo.

We’ll start with an easy oe. Here’s a pretty bad photo of an Opal-crowned Tanager.

Opal-crowned Tanager, Amazon Basin

Opal-crowned Tanager, Amazon Basin

The tanager is actually nesting in this giant bromeliad, which is pretty cool, but it’s completely lost in the photo. As a bird photo, it mostly sucks. But the Opal-crowned Tanager is a canopy species, not commonly found in the jungle understory. This photo, in fact, was made from a platform – built around a giant kapok tree – 120 feet above the ground. A series of variations of this shot are the only photos of the species WC has. So, yeah, it’s a keeper, for all its flaws.

The problem of lousy photos of uncommon birds can lead to some truly dreadful photos in a photographer’s portfolio. This is the rare GreatTinamou. Sort of.

Great Tinamou, Ecuador

Great Tinamou, Ecuador

Our guide was uncertain whether the bird was on eggs; it certainly held position, to the extent you could see it at all through the undestory and in the gloom. But the photo presents the question squarely: Do you keep a really bad photo of a really good bird, if it (or one of fifteen or so similar ones) is the only photo you have? WC kept the photo.

A final example, the Stripe=throated Hermit.

Stripe-throated Hermit, Ecuador

Stripe-throated Hermit, Ecuador

According to the guidebooks, this is a fairly common species, but this is the only Striped-throated Hermit, a tiny hummingbird with an out-sized bill, that WC has ever seen. It’s an awful photo, with badly over-exposed dead leaves and branches around the bird. To get this image, WC had to shoot at ISO25800 (that’s not a typo), with an aperture of 4.5 and a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second, handheld, with WC on knees and elbows. It was dark in there. It’s hard to imagine how the hermit flew through that dense tangle. So, yeah, WC kept the photo.

The point of all this is not to inflict bad photos on WC’s long-suffering readers. Rather, it’s to show that sometmes you don’t throw out photos just because they aren’t very good. In these three instances, the reason to save bad photos is because one of WC’s goals is to photograph lots of species and these are the only shots he has. But there are other reasons, too.

Plus, they serve as reminders that WC really needs to get back to these locations and try for better photos.

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3 thoughts on “The Challenges of Pruning, Part 2

  1. I know it well first the ID pic and then try again for a photograph that may never happen. You have traveled far more than I and I thoroughly enjoy your bird of the week and even these saved from the cutting room floor.

  2. Maybe some of these photos are not pictures, but stories worth keeping and retelling. At that point, photographic parameters don’t matter so much as the beauty and uniqueness of the tales.

    All three are great stories, thank you for sharing them!

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