For Sandra Calderbank—a photographer whose primary subject is birds—patience, stealth, and deep observation are as crucial to her work as her camera and lenses. These are the skills that have allowed her, time and again over the course of more than two decades, to successfully achieve her main goal of capturing the essence of birds’ lives. Spanning a near-encyclopedic variety of species from around the United States, her body of work adds depth and breadth to its viewers’ understanding and appreciation of these fascinating, beautiful creatures.
Mixing action shots—birds in flight, hunting, feeding, etc.—with portraits, the rich variety of her work within this specialized subject is evident; and hints at the distinct techniques necessary to realize the different types of pictures. Some of the action shots, like one of a bald eagle chasing an osprey over water—with the two birds beside each other, every wing, feather, and talon absolutely clear and seemingly in perfect alignment—are feats of serendipity; but also illustrate the veteran bird photographer’s well-honed instincts and technical prowess.
The portraits, on the other hand—genuinely intimate and revealing as they are—oftentimes stem from hours of quiet persistence, with Sandra ensconced in a blind, out in the wild; waiting, watching, and composing the perfect shot in her mind.
“Technically, it’s really challenging and takes a lot of practice to photograph birds,” she says. “Also, with the portraits especially, you have to study the different birds’ behavior and observe them closely, to learn, for example, what they eat and where they like to perch. That makes them less unpredictable, which naturally increases the chances of getting the shot I want.”
Sandra travels to wildlife refuges around the country, spending a lot of time walking, waiting, and watching; not unlike a hunter, stalking her prey and orchestrating the precise shot, with a successful capture of the image bringing cathartic pleasure. (In her case, though, the target always escapes unharmed.)
Sandra grew up in rural North Carolina and has always found solace in nature, which for her is synonymous with the miracle of life and the bounty of creation. In effect, her photography is an extension of the lifelong joy she has always found in solitary communion with “the great outdoors”; as well as a means to a greater understanding of and a deeper immersion in the wonders of nature (which, by dint of her many striking pictures, can be pretty contagious).
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