Monday, January 30, 2006

Blog-erview with Brian E. Small

Brian Small travels the country to capture and share the beauty of birds. He contributes his photographs to almost every issue of WildBird, and he occasionally writes species profiles (see recent examples in the November/December 2005 and the March/April 2006 issues). Brian also participates in WildBird's Advisory Board.

We last chatted in person at the American Birding Association convention in Tucson in July. Sunday morning, I'd driven from Yuma, Ariz., without air conditioning. After sitting on black vinyl for four hours, with the heater vent open to draw hot air off the engine and onto my toes, I looked frightful and fervently hoped not to see a familiar face in the lobby of the host hotel. Brian happened to be at the front desk when I arrived, and the gentleman ignored my bedraggled appearance. Very nice chap he is.

Without further babble:
Did a specific species/event encourage you to start birding?
It was a specific person. My father, Arnold Small, had me birding at the age of 3. As a kid, I loved to tag along on his weekend birding trips, and it kind of grew from there until I became a teenager.

I sort of lost interest in birds when I discovered girls, rock concerts and cars in my teens. After I finished college, my interest in photography got me interested in birds again, and I haven't looked back since.

When did you begin photographing birds?
I actually still have old photographs of birds that I took when I was about 5 or 6 years old, but I really started to take photographing birds seriously in my mid-twenties. I've been at it pretty seriously and constantly for the past 20 years or so.

How do you feel about rubber ducks?
I've always liked them... especially the ones that squeak when you squeeze them.

Where do you most like to shoot?
That's an easy one. I've got an addiction to photographing Neotropical migrants, so I spend every April on the Texas coast. The funny thing is that I've been at it so many years now (12 consecutive) that I really can't photograph many species that will be new to my files. But I get so much enjoyment out of seeing and photographing all those warblers, thrushes, vireos, buntings, grosbeaks, orioles, tanagers, flycatchers and more that I keep going back.

How do you encourage the next generation of birders?
I try to be really good about responding positively to people that are new to bird photography, who may have contacted me with questions or whom I meet when I'm in the field. I also hope that my published work serves as an example of what you can achieve when you are really passionate about something like birds.

What is your dream shot, the one that appears in your mind’s eye but eludes you in reality?
An interesting question and one that has a new answer all the time. I'm always after those species that I've never photographed before, and so I always want that perfect shot of something new. My target list is ever-changing, but a few of the birds that I most want to photograph right now are Cerulean Warbler, Buff-collared Nightjar, Crissal Thrasher and Swallow-tailed Kite.

Who is your photographic mentor?
Again, that would have to be my father. He was a pretty accomplished bird photographer as well as a teacher, and he was able to help me learn photography. He exposed me to birds, birding and photography but never pushed it on me. I guess it was in the genes, and once my interest kicked in, he was always there to help me along.

What are your favorite pieces of photographic equipment (1) at home and (2) on the road?
It's the same answer for both places: my Canon 600mm telephoto lens. This single piece of equipment is my bread and butter, and I wouldn't be able to create the images I like without it. I probably make 95 percent of my bird images with that lens, so it's got to be my favorite. Now if only Canon could figure out a way to make it about 5 pounds lighter...

What was your worst experience as a photographer?
Mosquitoes. I hate 'em. Whether it was Florida, arctic Alaska or the Texas coast, they have really made photography miserable on more than a few occasions.

Which is your favorite species to shoot?
I've been asked this question many times, and my answer is still the same: warblers. I just love them!

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