Birds Through a Spotting Scope

A photographer captures the philosophical side of the birds around her.

Carol Richards often photographs very non-avian subjects: a view from atop the island of Capri, for example, or her niece’s feet, stuffed into ballet slippers. But thanks to a bit of technological improvisation, Richards happened on to a new way to study the birds outside her window. The result, Birds Have Wings (Nazraeli Press), appeared late last year. Here Richards, who represents artists from her base in Los Angeles as well as shooting her own work, describes how the book got airborne.

My interest in taking photographs of birds through a telescopic lens was discovered accidentally, perhaps serendipitously. Some years ago, in Taos, New Mexico, I was having difficulty identifying a species I observed through the spotting scope and whose repetitive song had captured my attention. I took a photograph through the lens so that I could do some research, and found that the photo stood on its own.

I liked the soft focus created by shooting through two, sometimes three surfaces (the camera’s and scope’s lenses, and occasionally the window in my studio, maybe even a screen). Also, the vignette created by the scope appealed to me, echoing dreamlike landscape photos I’d taken in the past with a Diana toy camera.

Unlike some photographs of wildlife that are clear and provide answers, these soft visuals raise questions. It was a surprising discovery: As I spied on these birds, I could see their charm and individuality. Who knew? I hadn’t realized that birds could seem thoughtful or look as if they were making plans.”

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This story originally ran in the March-April 2014 issue as "Tunnel Vision."