While working on getting great pictures of birds of prey (as in, trying very hard, not necessarily achieving), I had the realization that the people are as fascinating as the birds. Especially the children.
I’ve spent the better part of my life ignoring most children. Not that I have anything against children; I just tend to gravitate towards people who are old enough that they would be insulted if you called them a child. I blame this, in part, on my height. I have a tendency not to notice much that’s shorter than about mid-thigh height unless it barks, meows, or flies. I don’t know why this is, but I do know I have walked right into small children on more than one occasion because I just didn’t see them–they snuck into range under my radar.
But on Sunday, when I sat in the amphitheater at Rock City watching the birds interact with the audience, it was the children who were the standouts. Perhaps they haven’t yet developed the stiff facial muscles of adults whose faces repeat the same patterns over and over again. Perhaps they don’t change their facial expressions to reflect what they think someone else expects of them, so their expressions seem more genuine.
I’m not sure exactly what quality of children’s expressions makes them so much more . . . well, expressive, but I cannot help but swing the camera around to catch a child practicing hooting when John teaches the audience how to call a Barred Owl. I cannot but wish for a second camera body so I could have a wide-angle lens ready to go to catch the reactions of the children as the birds soar over their heads.
After the first show, John stands on the stage with Atsa, the bald ealge, while Dale takes Buddy, the screech owl, down the sidewalk. I stay with John and take pictures of the people stepping up to have their picture taken with Atsa.
I sneak in a shot before they pose for their camera. There is a moment for most people when they look up at Atsa, this magnificent bird, and their face expresses their genuine amazement, joy, or nervousness. That’s the moment I want to capture. Once they face their camera, they paint on the smile they’ve been using since their kindergarten class picture and I am instantly bored.
After the second show, I follow John up the walkway with Buddy and try to stand back far enough to shoot without anyone noticing. I find myself wishing I could push the people aside blocking my view of the wonderful children petting Buddy. Their faces made my whole day. In a matter of moments, I witnessed fear, nervousness, surprise, joy, curiosity, and a hundred more emotions I can’t name. I don’t know how many of those I captured in these images, but I sure have fun looking at the photos and realizing that these people were fascinated, engaged, and enjoying learning about birds of prey.