“I’m willing, more than most people, to go through some discomfort.”
That’s how American photographer Tim Laman ended up with water rising above his knees in a marshy river delta at midnight, his camera gear floating by his side. “I found myself in a situation,” he admits.
Laman was in Venezuela’s Orinoco Basin, looking for scarlet birds curling up among the tangle of mangrove roots and sticky mudflats at dusk. He wanted to photograph the birds in the evening and the morning light — which meant spending the night on a fixed plywood raft in the middle of the river. But the tides he used were incomplete, and as the sun set, the water rose above the raft.
“I spent the whole night standing on the platform, waiting for the tide to go out, which it finally did by morning,” says Laman. “The sun came out and I took out my camera and took more pictures of the birds.”
“I think it was worth it, all in all,” he jokes. This adventure was the worst, he says, although after spending three decades photographing birds, he put himself in many precarious positions in search of the perfect image.
Laman’s dynamic photographs give insight into how birds live and move — like this rhino carrying a mouse to its nest in Thailand. Credit: Courtesy Tim Laman
“When you freeze the moment of a bird in flight, takeoff or display (mating), you are capturing a moment in time,” says Laman, who hopes his work will inspire people to care for birds and their habitats .
“It’s one of the most charismatic and easily observed types of wildlife that people can see whether in the city or in the countryside,” he says, adding: “Getting people to appreciate and pay more attention is one of the goals my. “
544 days and 40,000 photos
Laman visited New Guinea five times for the article, presenting photos of about 15 species for the feature spread. But he wanted to do more and made it his mission to photograph all 39 species known to science at the time (that number has since grown to 45).
This massive effort gets an entire chapter in the book, revealing the birds’ dramatic and colorful mating displays.
This rare blue bird of paradise forages on its favorite tree in the Tari Valley in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Tim Laman
“Once you find their location during the breeding season, they usually come every morning,” he says, adding that he spent up to eight hours a day in a “blind”, the camouflaged shelter used by scientists and photographers to observe the wildlife up close, waiting for the birds.
In one case, Laman’s work confirmed a DNA study that identified a distinct species of paradise. “Once we recorded his behavior and revealed the shape of the plumes of the displaying male, it was really clear,” says Laman.
A kind of flagship for the forest
Laman is a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers and his work has played a critical role in conservation.
The image of a larger paradise at sunset has become the face of a successful conservation campaign in New Guinea, which prevented a vast area of rainforest from being converted into a sugarcane plantation.
Laman’s photo of this largest bird of paradise in Indonesian New Guinea became the face of a conservation campaign to save the rainforest. Credit: Courtesy Tim Laman
However, plans for industrial logging, mining activities, palm oil plantations and major infrastructure projects threaten the integrity of these forests.
Laman hopes birds of paradise can be a flagship species for New Guinea and “bring people’s attention to this important forest that we have to try to protect.”
He’s also eager to show people that beautiful wildlife doesn’t just exist in faraway places: “Bird Planet” showcases the majesty of birds in his Lexington, Massachusetts backyard, like blue jays and pileated woodpeckers. Laman hopes readers will connect his book’s photos with the wildlife they see every day and take action to protect pockets of nature wherever they exist.
“Birds are everywhere, from Antarctica to the Arctic to the tropics,” says Laman. “If we can protect habitat for birds, then it’s a great way to protect habitat for everything else.”