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Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards

On Being a Rabbit

As a nature writer, I’m ambitious and I have hopes. As a nature photographer, I recognise I’m very much an amateur and always will be. Though I may use my photos to illustrate an essay or blog post, photography is purely a hobby for me, one I indulge in whenever I travel. One I’m becoming a bit addicted to because it gives me such a kick.

I enjoy the solitude necessary for nature photography. It’s very difficult to take photos when you’re in the company of others, unless those others are wholly in tune with your needs and are happy to sacrifice theirs. Photographers are selfish people, much like writers; they have to be.

Sea otters, Monterey, California. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk, Words from the Wild

Yet I also like how photography focuses all my attention and senses on something other than myself. While absorbed with my camera, not only am I much less likely to notice when I’m physically uncomfortable – the wasps crawling over my sweaty arms, my leg going numb under me, blisters rubbing raw on my heels - I’m also more willing to accept the likelihood of discomfort in the first place. Tell me to climb a mountain and I’ll weigh the pros and cons. Tell me to climb a mountain and, by the way, there are burrowing owls up there… I’ll go to quite a bit of effort to obtain a photo I’ve set my heart on.

Young rabbit, Montana de Oro State Park, California. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk, Words from the Wild

Most of all, I love the thrill of the chase and capture. Trees, flowers, fungi, insects, landscapes: Each of these requires a different approach and are rewarding. Not surprisingly, however, birds and mammals are the most demanding subjects. In order to get a good photo of a bird or mammal, you need a decent camera and lens, and yes, you need a lot of luck. But, as with so much in life, in nature photography you make your own luck to a great extent.

California quail, Montana de Oro State Park, California. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk, Words from the Wild

It’s mostly a question of being in the right place at the right time, of knowing how the light moves and changes through the day, and of understanding your subject: When it’s active, how it behaves, what makes it tick. Often, though not always, you need to get close, obviously without disturbing it too much. And then the trick is to anticipate its next move and be ready when it comes. Briefly, you need to become the animal. To get to this point, deep reserves of patience come in very handy and the ability to cope with frustration is a must.

Mule deer, King's Canyon National Park, California. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk, Words from the Wild

When I go home at the end of a day or trip and I look at my photos, and find that one or two (out of several hundred perhaps) are good enough to please me, that feeling of fulfilment, sometimes even of triumph, comes in large part from knowing that, for a little while, I came close to being a rabbit, or a sea otter, or a mule deer.

It does make me wonder: If this is how it feels to be an amateur nature photographer, how much more challenging – and exhilarating – must life as a professional be?

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