Being red-green colorblind used to be slightly inconvenient but an entertaining affliction that I repeatedly tried to explain or discuss with color-normal people. Being colorblind became an annoyance in the later years of my working career due to an increased use of, and reliance on, GIS technology. The color palettes that ArcView provides are subtle variations of colors that are troublesome to me. Maps codes with such colors were useless to me.
Being a colorblind photographer has not been much of an issue for me. For the most part, I am able to compose and expose without any reliance on colors. Digital processing has helped me ensure accurate colors in my photos except when I venture out to places in Photoshop or Lightroom that I should not enter without a trusted escort. Our recent trip to Ecuador to see and photograph a sampling of the 1600+ species of bird took my colorblindness to a totally new level.
It seems that many of the birds in Ecuador incorporate “red”, “rufous”, “cinnamon”, “crimson” or other red-related adjectives in their names. After studying several field guides, I knew going into the tour that I was in for a challenge. My usual technique, such as it is, is to locate birds by movement and then work to capture a photo. That technique worked well most of the time in Ecuador since the birds are pretty active and frequently move around. Every once in awhile, though, I’d be faced with a dense, dark jungle while everyone around me was raving about the magnificent red bird in our view. I contained my frustrations – mostly. Dianne came to my rescue many times and led my gaze to the bird(s). Others in our group developed an awareness and sensitivity to my situation and offered help when they could.
For example, we were traveling to a new lodge on our route through the Andes when the bus stopped and began backing up. Our guide, Edwin, was already out of his seat and explaining that there was an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock sitting on a nest above the road. We all exited the bus and walked down the road for a view. I heard all sorts of exclamations from my friends as they brought their binoculars up to see the bird. Picture, if you will, a nearly vertical wall about 50 feet tall rising above you. The wall is shaded and partially vegetated. Your job is to locate a red bird sitting on a nest in the deep shade. Dianne jumped in to help and I still could not find the bird. Others began guiding my view using a variety of landmarks on the wall… dangling vines, bright horizontal stems, etc. I finally found the nest in my viewfinder and locked in the location in my mind. After moving around a bit to clear the view, this is the scene I captured.
I was grateful for the patience my companions showed and for their help finding the bird. But there is one more situation that prompted this blog entry. I am still torn about how to phrase the description of the event. The title of the blog is purposeful, as I will try to explain.
Most of our group had departed from the lodge at Wildsumaco to hike the trails with our expert guide, Edwin Perez. Three of us (John Winnie, Tom Sparlin and I) remained on the deck outside the restaurant and were enjoying a great variety of hummingbirds and other birds. An employee of the lodge came abruptly onto the deck and asked if we would like to see the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Well, YES!! Off we went, following this fellow down the trail. He stopped and pointed into the darkest jungle. John and Tom got very excited to see a male Cock-of-the-Rock and began hastily setting up their tripods to take photos. I scanned the scene over and over looking for the bright red bird in a sea of green. I got nothing. I heard shutters clicking near me and knew that my friends were making photographic moments of this iconic Ecuadorian bird. I continued to scan and continued to get nothing. Nada. Zero. I must of groaned. Perhaps I screamed in frustration about not seeing the bird. John, the ever-professional tour leader, took pity on me and stepped behind my tripod, grabbed the camera and centered the bird in my viewfinder. As he stepped away he told me to lock the tripod down, that the bird was dead center in my view. I did as he suggested, and began adjusting the focus point to center on the birds eye. My camera zooms 10x when I manually focus so I was working hard to ensure that the eye was sharp. The bird is basically a rounded object with little contrast on which to focus. The eye was basically all I could see. I clicked away and then made a point to refocus. More clicking and focus checking. I knew that there was a bird attached to that eye.
I was very grateful to have the help – but, I had to admit that I needed help to make a photograph. That had never happened to me before. Colorblindness crippled my ability to take a rewarding photo. Without John’s understanding and assistance I never would have gotten the images. I’m grateful, but humbled. I still have a hard time seeing the bird in the photos but I know it is near the eye. I’ve never been more grateful to see a bird’s eye.