Let me get this out of the way first: Jill is an immensely talented photographer and she almost always puts in the time required to get ‘the shot’.
Just not when the mosquitos out number people 100:1.
Nor when its -20 with the wind chill.
And such was the temperature on that fateful, frigid March day (March! Remind me again why I moved to Toronto from the delightfully temperate Vancouver?) when we stumbled upon our first northern saw-whet owl in Toronto’s Thickson Woods.
We had traveled west of the city in search of a barred owl, but having no luck, we started exploring local parks to see what we could see. And by explore, I mean take a quick glance and if nothing immediately jumped out at us, we’d then dash back to the warmth of the car.
But in Thickson Woods, a kindly gentleman offered to show us a place where a saw-whet had been frequenting. And as luck would have it, the owl was right where he thought it would be and, for once, according to the man, in plain view.
Thinking this would be a sight that would last mere moments, I hurriedly snapped photos of the sleeping owl, before passing my telephoto lens to Jill, so that she too could have a chance to get a photo.
But after a few minutes, it was clear that the owl was going nowhere and seeing as I was in Ontario (read: far away from the lure of searching out a grizzly), I decided to patiently wait out the owl, in the hopes of seeing its reportedly beautiful, yellow eyes.
Now, some will think it’s crazy to stand out in the cold for five hours to wait in the hopes of seeing the yellows of an owl’s eyes. Some will think Jill was much smarter, returning to the warmth of the car to read, rather than stand hunched over a camera, with a finger on the trigger waiting for that special moment.
I’m not one of those people.
I think most photographers will agree that you have to suffer pain to get the shot you want, albeit, I didn’t think it would take five hours.
Sure, I was rewarded with a side glance of an eye when a raven darted through the trees…
And other people were as crazy as I was, waiting out the owl in the cold, albeit taking less than appropriate actions to encourage the owl to look in their direction…
Around 5pm, I decided to check on Jill in the car. By now she was warm enough to take in another view of the owl.
We went back to the spot where I had my tripod set-up and, ever the kind person that I am, offered Jill the chance to put her camera back onto my lens and take a few more shots. After all, it wasn’t like the owl was going to open its eyes and look my way any time soon.
At the moment Jill’s camera snaps onto the lens (my perfectly framed shot, the one I waited hours to get and probably caused frost bite on my fingers), the damn owl slowly opens its eyes and looks right into the lens.
Jill’s snapping away. She’s getting ‘the shot’.
I beg to take her camera off the lens so I can also get an image of its eyes.
Jill suddenly goes deaf.
She keeps shooting.
Finally, happy that she has the best 100 northern saw-whet owl shots a person could shoot in a day, she offers my lens back and – you guessed it – the owl shuts its eyes.
And kept them closed long after Jill returned to the car and the sun faded.
Now I know I should be happy that Jill had the patience to spend an entire day even in the general vicinity of an owl. And I’m, of course, thrilled she got a wonderful photo. But can you also blame me for being a bit bitter?
To add insult to injury, a few weeks later, a friend of mine who works at the Royal Ontario Museum saw Jill’s image and celebrated the great find by posting it across their social media platforms.
I spent days hearing the congratulatory comments of people who marvelled at the time that must have gone into capturing the image. Jill’s response was: it only told a few seconds to capture!
It took a couple of seconds for Jill to capture a great photo and too many hours to teach me that sometimes patience and hard work doesn’t pay off.
(Well played, Jill. Well played.)
(Jill’s edit: all in a days work, Simon…all in a days work.)