The Spectacular Ordinary

 

We are all connected to the natural world in some degree. There are those of us who forge this connection through photography, while others enjoy camping or hiking, even time spent simply gardening is in itself an appreciation of mother nature.

It is unfortunate, however, that we have been molded by society and modern culture to chase instant gratification and nothing seems to be able to quench out insatiable thirst for the “wow-factor”; I have seen it first hand on safari, when people are so blinded by their lust to find the big five, that they miss or even ignore an infinite amount of magical moments in-between. They are chasing rather than experiencing; unfortunately, I see it more often than not and it’s really the opposite of what a safari is about. Safaris are not just about seeing the big five, going on safari is about experiencing Africa, immersing yourself in the wild, going on an adventure… let me get back on track before I go off on a tangent about the modern safari goer. 

The natural world is a stunning canvas of life, a beautiful composition if intimate moments, painted by light and defined by life. Ever changing, and infinitely beautiful in its composition and purity, there is no greed nor jealously, envy or hate, there is simply life. Nature’s beauty, her “spectacular” is all encompassing, each creature and every moment unique in its ability to leave you awestruck. As a wildlife or nature photographer, it is important not to overlook the ordinary, in your quest for something more “spectacular”, for more often than not; the “spectacular” is disguised as the “ordinary”. It is when you photograph this “spectacular ordinary”, that you realize, nature and wildlife photography is much more than photographing things with paws, claws, talons and horns, because nature’s beauty is as far reaching and as vast as the many species that complete her intricately flawless palette. I experienced my moment of “spectacular ordinary” over the past week on the shores of colossal Lake Texoma, when I spent some time photographing Shorebirds as they fed on the muddy banks of this incredible lake. Not only was it an incredible sight to watch these remarkable birds as they waded through the shallows in their quest for a morsel, but it also provided an incredible photographic opportunity, and with the sun being low on the horizon… the moment was perfect.

The natural world is a stunning canvas of life, a beautiful composition if intimate moments, painted by light and defined by life. Ever changing, and infinitely beautiful in its composition and purity, there is no greed nor jealously, envy or hate, there is simply life. Nature’s beauty, her “spectacular” is all encompassing, each creature and every moment unique in its ability to leave you awestruck. As a wildlife or nature photographer, it is important not to overlook the ordinary, in your quest for something more “spectacular”, for more often than not; the “spectacular” is disguised as the “ordinary”. It is when you photograph this “spectacular ordinary”, that you realize, nature and wildlife photography is much more than photographing things with paws, claws, talons and horns, because nature’s beauty is as far reaching and as vast as the many species that complete her intricately flawless palette. I experienced my moment of “spectacular ordinary” over the past week on the shores of colossal Lake Texoma, when I spent some time photographing Shorebirds as they fed on the muddy banks of this incredible lake. Not only was it an incredible sight to watch these remarkable birds as they waded through the shallows in their quest for a morsel, but it also provided an incredible photographic opportunity, and with the sun being low on the horizon… the moment was perfect.

Back to our insatiable thirst to experience the constant “wow-factor”; this holds especially true when we spend time outdoors, we always hope to see the incredible, experience something which we deem amazing, see animals that we consider special. It is that very thought process that has jaded us to what makes spending time in nature special, and that is to experience her “normal”, her “spectacular ordinary”. (that is where the magical moments live)

When I talk about nature’s “spectacular” I am talking about those moments which will completely mesmerize you if you simply just look. When on safari, or even just out on a hike or a visit to your local park, we tend to ignore so much incredible beauty in the vain chase to see something “better”. This in itself, diminishes the entire experience and point of being out in nature. 

The Great Egret has become one of my favorite subjects to photograph. Their incredible, striking white plumage provides a dynamically beautiful contrast against their usual wetland backdrop. In many ways it may be this contrast, this anomaly of color that has captivated me. In a natural world where blending in ensures survival, this icon of a bird proudly stands out, bolding stalking the shallow waters of its hunting ground. Spending time photographing wetlands can be extremely rewarding, with its incredible abundance of fauna and flora, it provides a widely diverse range of subjects to photograph. Not to mention that this semi aquatic environment is usually a hive of predator and prey activity, and yes at the throne one will find the Great Egret.

The Great Egret has become one of my favorite subjects to photograph. Their incredible, striking white plumage provides a dynamically beautiful contrast against their usual wetland backdrop. In many ways it may be this contrast, this anomaly of color that has captivated me. In a natural world where blending in ensures survival, this icon of a bird proudly stands out, bolding stalking the shallow waters of its hunting ground. Spending time photographing wetlands can be extremely rewarding, with its incredible abundance of fauna and flora, it provides a widely diverse range of subjects to photograph. Not to mention that this semi aquatic environment is usually a hive of predator and prey activity, and yes at the throne one will find the Great Egret.

When one takes time to experience nature in its entirety, when you take a moment to appreciate the guinea fowl as much as the lion, only then do you expose yourself to a beauty the will leave you spellbound. When you open yourself up to a mindset of discovery, even a simple stroll in your neighborhood will leave you with magical moments. We have become so jaded and even left numb by the information age, we have resigned ourselves to the notion that we don’t have to discover anymore, because with the click of the mouse we can access imagery and information about every creature on this planet. My qualm is not with information, but with the way it is attained. We should never cease to discover, we should never stop exploring, we set ourselves on a path of disconnecting with nature when we choose to watch her on a screen rather than experience her in real life.

The American Beaver, nature’s most industrious creature, bar none. I have always loved this incredible creature, not only are they extremely beautiful, but their intelligence and work ethic is simply unfathomable. For instance, consider this, the largest beaver dam in the world stretches for about 850m and can be seen from space… UNBELIEVABLE. If the sheer construction of these dams, or lodges as they are also known, is not impressive enough, then the complexity of these structures is sure to leave you with an incredible admiration for this master builder of the animal kingdom. Beaver lodges are designed with an entry as well as an exit point (both submerged) to help evade predators, additionally they also have multiple chambers, which include a drying chamber and a living chamber, proving that these brilliant creatures, are not just incredible builders but amazing architects as well. So, the next time you see a beaver, know that you are in the company of nature’s original real estate developer.

The American Beaver, nature’s most industrious creature, bar none. I have always loved this incredible creature, not only are they extremely beautiful, but their intelligence and work ethic is simply unfathomable. For instance, consider this, the largest beaver dam in the world stretches for about 850m and can be seen from space… UNBELIEVABLE. If the sheer construction of these dams, or lodges as they are also known, is not impressive enough, then the complexity of these structures is sure to leave you with an incredible admiration for this master builder of the animal kingdom. Beaver lodges are designed with an entry as well as an exit point (both submerged) to help evade predators, additionally they also have multiple chambers, which include a drying chamber and a living chamber, proving that these brilliant creatures, are not just incredible builders but amazing architects as well. So, the next time you see a beaver, know that you are in the company of nature’s original real estate developer.

I have spent many days on the back of a Land Rover in the African bushveld, searching for Africa’s famous Big Five, and while searching for these iconic creatures, I make it a point to stop and spend a moment with all of the creatures that I find along the way. This has led me to some of my most memorable moments in the bushveld and without a doubt allowed me to capture some of my favorite images. Images that were captured in the most off the cuff instances, all because I chose to top my insatiable chase, and appreciate all that was in front of me. We were out tracking lions at sunrise when we drove past these Helmeted Guineafowls roosting in a tree. We drove by at first, until it registered just what a beautiful sight that was. These birds that we pass countless times a day, were presenting us with one of the most beautiful sights we had seen.

Many who travel to Africa are often left spellbound by the iconic creatures that call this sublime continent their home. However, when we get caught in the mystic of her most famous children, we are often blinded to the many other beautiful beings that share this incomparable land with the famous big five. One such creature is the flawlessly beautiful yet commonly overlooked, Helmeted Guinea fowl. Sometimes we tend to discard the intricate beauty of that which we encounter often… maybe that’s just human nature. So, one of my goals while in Africa during my latest photographic safari was to capture an image of this amazing bird, an image that displayed this “commonly” beautiful bird in an otherwise uncommon way. I came across this flock roosting in a tree at sunrise, and as I sat there mesmerized by their silhouetted beauty, I thought to myself… “Oh, how radiant Africa is!”

Many who travel to Africa are often left spellbound by the iconic creatures that call this sublime continent their home. However, when we get caught in the mystic of her most famous children, we are often blinded to the many other beautiful beings that share this incomparable land with the famous big five. One such creature is the flawlessly beautiful yet commonly overlooked, Helmeted Guinea fowl. Sometimes we tend to discard the intricate beauty of that which we encounter often… maybe that’s just human nature. So, one of my goals while in Africa during my latest photographic safari was to capture an image of this amazing bird, an image that displayed this “commonly” beautiful bird in an otherwise uncommon way. I came across this flock roosting in a tree at sunrise, and as I sat there mesmerized by their silhouetted beauty, I thought to myself… “Oh, how radiant Africa is!”

Time in nature should not be spent chasing, but rather immersing. Spend time with the butterflies, the sparrows and the ladybugs, take a moment to enjoy all of nature’s creatures, for they all are pieces of the puzzle that you are trying to complete. Challenge yourself to spend time enjoying moments in the company of nature’s “spectacular ordinary” and you will not come up wanting. Teach your children that a sparrow taking its first flight is as spectacular as a cheetah at full burst, that a monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis is as breathtaking as a leopard pulling its kill up a tree. 

In this modern, “disconnected from nature” world that we live in, birds may very well be the gatekeepers, the catalysts that will once again open up our eyes to the incredible beauty that nature has to offer. They will be the ones that allow us to reconnect to a world that we have systematically become detached from because of the burden of modern life. Birds are one of nature’s greatest marvels and what’s astonishing is that we can observe them every single day without disrupting a single aspect of our daily lives. This may very well be the reason why we seem to have taken these incredible creatures for granted. They possess the gift of flight which gives them a freedoms that we couldn’t begin to comprehend, and yet we pass them by on the daily, without even a second glance. Are we that vain, or perhaps it’s some sort of subconscious terrestrial envy that has blinded to this creature that is gifted with an ability that we reserve for super heroes and gods. Just watching these incredible flighted beings, opens your eyes to a flawless beauty that lives alongside you, every single day… once you go birding, you will never look at your world the same way again.

In this modern, “disconnected from nature” world that we live in, birds may very well be the gatekeepers, the catalysts that will once again open up our eyes to the incredible beauty that nature has to offer. They will be the ones that allow us to reconnect to a world that we have systematically become detached from because of the burden of modern life. Birds are one of nature’s greatest marvels and what’s astonishing is that we can observe them every single day without disrupting a single aspect of our daily lives. This may very well be the reason why we seem to have taken these incredible creatures for granted. They possess the gift of flight which gives them a freedoms that we couldn’t begin to comprehend, and yet we pass them by on the daily, without even a second glance. Are we that vain, or perhaps it’s some sort of subconscious terrestrial envy that has blinded to this creature that is gifted with an ability that we reserve for super heroes and gods. Just watching these incredible flighted beings, opens your eyes to a flawless beauty that lives alongside you, every single day… once you go birding, you will never look at your world the same way again.

As a wildlife photographer I have found myself photographing these moments more often than not. I have spent many a day in the company of ladybugs and egrets, or even hours photographing Sandpipers wading in the shallows. I have also learned the importance of putting the camera down and just taking it all in without taking a picture, because I don’t want to only experience nature through a viewfinder. I want to be able to enjoy more sunsets than I capture, I want to watch a cheetah at full speed without freezing the moment, I want to hear the melodies of the songbirds without photographing them. I say this because, yes, I am a nature photographer, but I am a nature photographer because I am a nature lover. 

I tried to keep this blog as short as possible because my goal was for my readers to be inspired to reconnect with nature and take a moment to experience her “spectacular ordinary”. Remember reconnecting with nature starts with a simple walk in a neighborhood park. 

When you go searching for nature's spectacular ordinary, you realize that in your search, what you really find is yourself, with your soul reenergized. 

 
Faizel Ismail