​​​​How Tin Man went from being a couch potato to an award-winning wildlife photographer?

It was another Friday evening. After a long day working at a research lab, I drove to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore.

Everything felt so familiar, I walked straight to the magazine section, grabbed a few wildlife photography-related magazines, then headed to the Art and Nature section and glanced for the newest photography books.

Carrying the stack of books and magazines, I waited in line at the Starbucks inside the bookstore, got my coffee and this time, a slice of New York cheesecake... 

The background music was "Yellow" by Coldplay and then "By your side" by Sade.

Once I sat down at a table, I started to read, and that's where I could finally dream. It was 2001. 

I would do that every day for the next ten years, especially in the days when I was feeling down. I told myself, "if only I had $5000, I would have bought that Canon 300mm 2.8... and maybe I could take some of these photos." 

At the time I had a Canon Rebel, a 100-400mm lens, and since the people in forums said one must have a good tripod, I spent a fortune buying a Gitzo 1325 Carbon Fiber tripod. All my photos suck. And nothing worked in life as well...

My first try on SERIOUS BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY

Then one day in 2010, I decided to rent a Canon 500mm f/4 and a Wimberley head.

I drove to the nearby Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge right after work. Facing a egret colony across the LA river, I felt self-conscious as I was carrying the lens from my car to the spot. Everyone were looking at me. I spent half an hour and failed to put the lens onto the Wimberley head. The lens was heavy and the sweat dripping from my forehead was blinding my eyes. Since I never read instruction manual, I never knew that I was supposed to balance the lens on it. It took me another half an hour to find the great egret in my viewfinder. The great egret had been standing there, not moving a bit, at the colony for the whole time. I remember a father and his 5-year old son walked by. His son was looking intensely at the big lens. He looked at me and asked, "can I see?" I held him up to the viewfinder and he said, "wow!" I couldn't get a single sharp shot that evening because the bird kept moving and locking focus through the long lens was impossible. I realized bird photography was a lot harder than I thought... maybe it's not for me.

Then I discovered BIF

I figured that one of the most important factors in getting my shots in wildlife photography is SPEED. And I was fascinated by the birds-in-flight photos in birdphotographers.net and naturescapes.net at the time. I read through all the online resources, ebooks and went to learn from a lot of professional photographers specialized in this area. Being able to handle big camera, lenses, at times big tripod, and get a sharp shot turned out to be quite easy. With a lot of trial and errors, I improved upon the techniques I learned to suit my style, and was able to finally get sharp photos of flying birds!

And I tried it on wildlife

I applied the same BIF techniques onto wildlife, and immediately received my first award in Nature's Best Photography. 

It was mid day in Yellowstone when the action was slow. We saw a herd of bisons with their new born calves. Only very few of us decided to get out of the car to shoot. And with those, all of them went to photograph the calves. I saw this adult bison grazing comfortably but there was a cowbird near him who was ignoring his presence. I expected something to happen so I got ready. Lo and behold, the bison sticked his tongue out and almost kissed on the cowbird. The cowbird gave up a chirp and flew away. I turned around and no one except me saw this lovely moment. And the shot won a highly honored award in NBP in 2012.

to be continued...

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