A “keeper” is a photograph that captures a mood, atmosphere or some clear emotion just perfectly. I once listened to a professional wildlife photographer who said that in a good year he’ll get three to six “keepers” and while his standards are much higher, my keepers are definitely not an everyday occurrence, or even a given.
It was in 2015 when, while visiting Rwanda and Kenya, I became officially addicted to wildlife photography.
Fast forward to 2021 and I have thousands of images, ranging from African and South American fauna, to local fauna – including many, many birds. I remain happily addicted and have accumulated a few “keepers”, some of which I’d like to share.
With wildlife and especially bird, photography, you often don’t have time to apply all the “rules” of a good photo. You have to be ready to point and shoot while the animal’s there, then scroll through the shots later. This suits me fine; I’m not good with “rules” and besides, I enjoy the hunt, especially since, “no animal was hurt in the production of these photographs”.
A day in the life of this bird photo addict starts by heading out to a good spot, camera in hand, hoping for photo-op’s. Finished, I head home, yank the SD card from the camera, plug it into my mac and away I go. Delete, delete, keep, delete, delete, etc until I end up with a few good shots. The best of these I import in RAW form into Capture One, where I’m even more brutal and delete many more – often all – until, occasionally, I wind up with a “keeper” or two. It’s not a given, I have come home with “wonderful” shots only to have no keepers, and vice versa.
These photographs are “keepers” simply because I like them. They have a scene or memory attached which, in my eyes, gives them context.
This is my first keeper, taken in Rwanda in 2015.
Golden Monkeys live in the bamboo forests of Rwanda and I saw them whilst we were visiting the gorillas. He’s memorable because I’d just arrived in Rwanda wielding a bridge camera that I was intimidated by. These guys never stop moving and with bridge cameras “burst” photography doesn’t exist.
I just kept shooting as best I could. Back home, I scrolled through many bad photo’s and then suddenly, whoa! The monkey is In perfect focus and has a cute, slightly stunned look. A keeper because this is ground zero for my photo addiction.
ZEBRA AT A KILL
This young zebra is watching two hyenas ripping another zebra to pieces, as only hyenas can. The zebra is looking on in horror. Maybe it’s only me who, knowing the context of the shot, feels the horror, but that’s why it’s a keeper.
Hyenas are voracious carnivores and this was a vicious, brutal, scene. Shortly after this photo the zebra, wisely, turned and bolted. The African plains aren’t big on empathy.
INQUISITIVE POLAR BEAR
Polar bears are different from many other large mammals. In our presence, most large mammals act as if you don’t exist, unless you pose a threat, whence they leave. Polar bears however are extremely inquisitive and will investigate everything new or interesting, including you! This particular bear was obediently following mum past our cabin, but you can see he’s curious. They’re waiting for the ice to form on Hudsons Bay and are very hungry, so they are not going to pass up a food opportunity, human or otherwise, hence the inquisitiveness. So don’t get too touchy feely here – any carelessness and you become dinner. Still, to me at least, he looks very cute.
Lazuli Buntings are not common and I’d only had a couple of sightings before this. On this particular day, I had returned to the spot where I had seen, fleetingly, a Lazuli. But no photo.
This time, he was singing in a bush when suddenly he landed less than 15 feet away from me and started eating elderberries. He ate and ate and ate. He was oblivious to me and changed positions occasionally, allowing me to get just the right pose. That was sheer luck, but as the saying goes, “the more you practice, the luckier you get” and by putting in the time, neat things like this happen occasionally.
Walking on Allouette River dyke in late August, this guy walked out from some fruit ladened blueberry bushes and ambled across the path, 30 yards ahead of me.
I stopped, thinking – “He’s stuffed with blueberries and just wants a drink and a rest”.
He stopped, thinking – “I’m stuffed with blueberries and just want a drink and a rest”.
Then, he ambled past, I kept still and life goes on. What a wonderful moment! It is possible to co-exist with these beautiful animals.
CASPIAN TERN – TORA,TORA,TORA!
This is a so-so shot, taken from a distance and not perfectly focused so why is it a keeper?!
Oh come on, look at that commitment! Forty feet in the air, sees a meal and he’s going down….now….no hesitation! Terns go right into the water and I often wonder if they ever misjudge the depth and stub their beaks on the bottom! Probably not. I watched him plummet down a few times to emerge with a fish.
POLAR BEAR CHECKING US OUT
This bear was far away when he sensed us, whence he slowly weaved our way. You can see the harsh environment, with little vegetation. You also see the bear, half way towards us and he’s still coming!
It’s a keeper for me because it portrays a wild, magnificent and clearly inquisitive animal, perfectly adapted to the harsh landscape. At about a hundred yards distance, having realized there was no food-op and, intimidated by our size – we were taught to stand in a line facing him, so he sees that we’re “big” – he lay down and went to sleep, where he remained when we moved on 40 minutes later.
I can still feel that biting cold wind, passing through my jacket – I was hopelessly under-dressed and hugging up to Shannon was a lifesaver!
This is obviously taken by someone with an artistic eye, using great gear. Must be an experienced photographer, right?
Um, actually, no. It was moi, who, by sheer good luck, has a keeper!
In Botswana, our guide spotted two hyenas looking up into a tree. After a few seconds of searching – there he was, a leopard, presumably with a kill although we didn’t get a great view of it.
Using a bridge camera, rapidly turned on and uncertain re settings, I took quick snaps before he moved. The photo disappeared into my Botswana file for 2 years – I only had a bridge camera and thought I wouldn’t get great shots, so I sort of lost interest in them until I had a second look recently.
Whoa! A bit of tweaking in Capture One and voila, a keeper! I actually have a few keepers from that trip. The animals are fairly close and the light is good, so, a valuable lesson – any decent camera can shoot keepers!
The Okavango Delta in Botswana as sunset approaches, a wonderful memory. Again, this bird was close and in perfect light and taken with my bridge camera. The real challenge here would be to try and get a bad photo!
The delta also features hippo’s, the most dangerous animal in Africa. Males have a harem which they defend aggressively. They will submerge, then surface much, (and worryingly), closer to your boat, which they could capsize easily. We kept a good distance, but caution was necessary and one evening we had our sundowner – gin & tonic, the absolutely perfect drink for the African wilderness – interrupted as an aggressive male attempted to join us.
GRIZZLY EATING MUSSELS
This drooling female was eating mussels, oblivious to our presence.
It’s a keeper for sentimental reasons. Bears just eat, they don’t go to etiquette school. They grab mouthfuls of stuff some of which may tumble back out, like it does here, with absolutely no regard for table manners!
I used to make up Mr Bear stories for my kids bedtime routine and Mr Bear’s sloppy eating habits was a recurring theme. Mr Bear would attack a bee’s nest, oblivious to the stings and get honey everywhere, including all through the bed, (bedsheets get shaken up), my kids hair, (kids hair gets tousled), and in his fur, (more tousling). This elicited a hysterical response of course – well usually, kids can be a tough crowd!
Mrs Bear reminds me of Mr Bear stories, ergo she’s a keeper.
I’d spent a while trying to photograph this Hooded Grebe at Brydon pond but he was too far away. So I took a seat and was idly perusing my email when whoosh, he popped up right in front of me, less than10 feet away. We both had a “what the hell!” moment, but I managed to get some shots before he paddled rapidly away. Yup, just a great photo. When an animal is this close, any camera will do the job. And of course “the more you practise, the luckier you get”.
“Trevor” is a Mandarin duck who is a celebrity in these parts. A native of Eurasia, not North America, we don’t know whether he lost his way or is an escapee. He’s a keeper because he’s a celeb and we all go goo goo over celebs! He outshines even the Wood Ducks, whom he hangs out with.
He lives at Burnaby Lake most of the time and has been around since 2018.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST – MISS TOBY
You know those annoying people who look just fabulous in any photo? Well, meet Toby, the older of my two cats. Zoey, the younger, is furry, very cute and gets all the attention of the grandkids. But put Toby in front of a camera and whoa, “when’s the next photo shoot?”
We all love our pets so Toby, the runway model, is a keeper!
Other posts by Colin Rankin that you might enjoy:
What Makes The Falkland Islands Worth Visiting? (Albatross, penguins, caracaras)
A Cluster of Buntings (Lasuli and Snow Buntings)
A Pleasant Surprise (The Cape May Warbler)
Even More LBJ’s – The Bewick’s Wren (Little Brown Jobs)
Hey! That’s My Fish! (Ospreys in British Columbias)