Why I photograph birds

Way back in 1986, when I was leaving New Brunswick, Canada to go spend two years in Zimbabwe, my friend Anne Bardou gave me a book, “A Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa”. While Zimbabwe is not East Africa, the book went to all the parks that I managed to get to in Zimbabwe and Botswana, and it served me well. After that I spent a couple of decades in university, working on various aspects of biodiversity and ecology, in the marine environment. My birding stopped then, and was forgotten for a long time.

Red-billed firefinch, Lagonosticta senegala, male, at Pilanesberg National Park, Northwest Province, South Africa.

When I moved to Johannesburg to take up a role of Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) at Wits University, there was no ocean, and my connection to nature, that was always important was kind of severed. I picked up the East African field guide, and it got me thinking. So I bought myself a cheap telephoto lens and a couple of field guides, and started going out to places such as the national botanical gardens, and starting to learn and try to photograph the birds.

With a long-standing interest in alternatives to traditional “All Rights Reserved” copyright, I decided that a suitable challenge for me would be to create a library of images of southern African birds that could be freely available for use by anyone, for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, with the only requirement being that they attribute the image to me in some way.

Being a DVC is a pretty busy job, so I did not get much opportunity to pursue this until I left Wits, to pursue my own business interests. I moved into technology, so suddenly the hobby was important to keep me connected to nature, and also to contribute to this library of free (as in freedom) images that I dreamed of creating.

People who photograph birds fall in to some typical categories:

  • birders who want to document the species they see;
  • photographers who want a good challenge and decide to photograph birds;
  • people who are new to both birding and photography and want to pursue both together.
I guess I fit into neither of those categories. I am a biologist who has been taking photographs on land and under water since I was around 14 years old, but my real passion is neither the photography nor the birds as such. I photograph birds because I have a passion for nature, and a passion for for creating reusable content, in this case images, that people can use to build additional educational and other content.


Long-crested eagle, Lophaetus occipitalis, at Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre (captive, tame, flown).


Nobody should be unable to find and use a photo of any living species due to copyright and paywalls. Anyone should be able to get creative with images of living species, and create derivative works in any form, whether painting, sculpture, video or mashup images. Freedom is the best source of inspiration and innovation. This is why I photograph birds, and of course because it is fun, challenging, I learn about the birds, and I get to spend time in nature.
I will write more about this in another post, explaining the licensing that I use and why I chose to do it that way.

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