Nature through a photographer’s lens

November 30, 2020 8:55 am

Aron Tanti, a nature photographer with more than 20 years of experience and a collection of unique bird photos, shares his insights of how to capture the movement of nature and also discusses his latest book about bird photography which has just been published by BirdLife Malta.

For millennia, humans have been fascinated by birds, almost mythical creatures that bestow wonder and fascination on many. Nowadays, despite our hectic, technologically-dominated lifestyle, birds play a primary role in the life of many, especially mine. The ways people interact with birds vary drastically, from killing and trapping, to watching, ringing, and in my case, photographing. For a number of years, I’ve considered myself as one of a handful of people that practised local bird photography on a regular basis, but in recent years, the popularity of this practice has increased with more people finding pleasures in the not-so-easy task of nature photography.

Dotterel at Majjistral

While the majority of the bird species visiting the Maltese Islands can be enjoyed only during the migration season, getting good views of our wild birds might be quite a challenge. Being always on the move, birds tend to be one of the most unpredictable creatures to spot.

For example, despite visiting our islands regularly during both the spring and autumn migrations, I only managed to get the possibility of photographing the Dotterel last year, a sweet and sour experience, one of many I’ve collected throughout the years. Another experience revolves around the Nightingale, a rather common visitor during both migrations, yet very challenging to get a glimpse of due to its habit of remaining concealed in the thick vegetation.

Snow Bunting at Dingli

Good knowledge on when to spot birds and where is crucial, and for somebody who is not yet so knowledgeable on the local scenario, it could be extremely challenging. While I suggest consulting one of the local bird guides as regards factual knowledge on the bird species that visit our islands, collaboration is key in so many areas in our life, and bird photography is no exception.

Here I would like to thank a number of friends who were kind enough to inform me of the presence of a number of birds that I would otherwise have missed. Amongst others, I would have surely missed the Hoopoe Lark, Snow Bunting and Brown Shrike, were not I informed of their presence. In fact, I managed to see the three species only once in my life. Having said this, I cannot stress enough the importance of doing our utmost not to excessively disturb birds, hence despite being such rare vagrants, we should not bother them too much with our presence.

I have been capturing images of birds in Malta for over 20 years, gradually beefing up my photo library, yet I never sat down to work on my own publication until now. My photos have been featuring in publications for a number of years, but it had to be a world pandemic to keep me indoors and enable me to start working on what is now A Hundred Experiences of a Bird Photographer in Malta.  From the very beginning, my aim was not to publish yet another bird book, but to present the reader with a book that offered a different perspective on the fascinating world of birds, always in the local context. The publication is totally made in Malta since I personally took care of the photography, text, and design, the publishers being BirdLife Malta, and BDL (Book Distributors Limited) being the distributors.

Even though the book features hundreds of photos, a hundred of them are the primary images since they inspired my hundred reflections. The issues addressed vary from social, educational, geographical to artistic and obviously environmental. Apart from their photographical aspect, the images were chosen because of the memories they elicit whenever I look at them. The same picture might convey different thoughts to different people, yet, in this book, it was my turn to share my memories. This publication made it possible for me to share a hundred of the many memories that I had the pleasure, sometimes misfortune, of experiencing through the practice of bird photography in Malta. If anything, my journey cannot be described as plain sailing, or a bed of roses, yet, none of the less pleasant experiences was reason enough to discourage me from going out for my next photoshoot. In one of the experiences included in the book, I recount what occurred whilst I was shooting an image of a Red-throated Pipit, one of the not so pleasant episodes. I believe that the ups and downs faced throughout the years, made me even more passionate, and more determined to improve.

Unfortunately, somebody with a camera, especially those with a bigger lens attached to it, is very often looked upon with great suspicion, to say the least, and it is not just by hunters and trappers. The fact that our islands are amongst the most densely populated spots on the planet surely does not help. Every kilometre is contested by so many different interests that it is no wonder that it is pretty difficult for a bird photographer in Malta to find that remote spot to work in peace and tranquility. Some of my photoshoots were abruptly cut short due to a number of different causes, from scramblers illegally trampling on protected garrigue, to hunters very politely sending me back to my country, despite being on public land. In another experience, triggered by a flock of Black Kites, I share an incident in which a mass event in a very naturally sensitive area led to an undesired circumstance, hopefully not to be repeated.

Bee-eaters at Buskett
Cormorant with gulls at Salina

Apart from sharing my experiences, this book also gave me the opportunity to share a good number of photographs that I managed to compile throughout the years. Diversity in the book spreads beyond the species, as it also includes diversity in sizes, shapes, colours, and habits. From the smallest European birds – the Goldcrest and the Firecrest – to the bulky Mute Swan, from the colourful Kingfisher, Bee-eater and Roller to the superbly discrete Wryneck, Snipe and Nightjar, from the darting turtle-dove to the slow-flying Purple Heron – each of the birds has a character.

Whilst inviting you to buy your copy of the book, I hope that whilst flipping through its pages, you will enjoy both the photos featured and the experiences shared. Let us all do our best to protect what is left of our natural heritage, a priceless treasure that we are duty bound to protect for our future generations!

Click here to purchase Aron’s book from our online shop. You can also participate in this online event being organised by BirdLife Malta’s Events & Activities Committee in which Aron will be doing a presentation about his new book and bird photography in the Maltese Islands.  

By Aron Tanti, BirdLife Malta nature photographer