I will stay clear of the usual benefits of pursuing a hobby and dive straight into what it’s meant for me and how it helped me stay sane during this pandemic season. I will also say straight up that activities like listening to music or watching movies don’t qualify as a hobby for me. They are stress relievers or activities to pass time. What qualifies are things that add to your skill at some level. You learn something new, use it to enhance your daily life, or to improve your career, or you even make a living out of it.
I’ve always played sports – ranging from cricket to hockey, basketball, tennis, ten-pin bowling and badminton. Along the way, I also learnt painting/ sketching, making stuff with clay, carving out things from chalk, playing the tabla, photography, magic tricks with playing cards, and so on.
While I have been passionate about photography in the last few years, I never really took it up seriously. During this pandemic, when all my sport sessions came to a halt, I just had to do something to keep myself going. It was easy to feel depressed about the situation and waste all the free time. Instead, I tried a new form of photography – focused on birds.
Fortunately, the place where I live is blessed with an amazing number of bird species. With very little or almost no knowledge of bird photography, I started out with just my kit lens during the second week of April 2020. And in three months, I managed to capture over 60 species of birds.
It is important to realize that bird photography is much more than just the camera or the lens. It definitely pays to have a good telephoto lens. Makes it easier to photograph birds that are shy or are perched up high on trees. But, the lens itself cannot help take a great bird photograph.
Here’s an example of a not-so-impressive shot.
A few key factors that help me take a good shot are:
- Quality and direction of light – mornings are the best, and sometimes just before sunset is right too.
- Composition – very important to frame your subject, look for things around and visualise if they are worth having in the frame.
- Knowledge about a particular bird and its activities – you have to know their schedule and understand their behaviour if you want to capture some great stories.
- Background and your position with respect to the subject – avoid clutter, try eye-level shots as much as possible.
- Knowledge of your gear and its settings – the settings on your camera/ lens should almost become muscle memory as you may not have the luxury of time to look at and change various modes while shooting.
- Patience and perseverance – extremely important for bird watching and photography. Almost everything is a variable here, so you have to have the patience to get your dream shot.
While I took this up as a time-boxed activity (meant to last only for the period of the first lockdown in Bangalore), I continue to be passionate about clicking birds. The fact that I’ve gotten better at photography overall keeps me going.
So, what have I learnt so far with hobbies in general?
- They make you interesting. You have new things to talk about and great stories to tell. I love performing my card-tricks during social gatherings.
- You develop new skills. While card-tricks taught me the art of misdirection and sleight of hand, bird photography has taught me a lot about birds, their behaviour and really helped me get better at using my camera.
- You learn to be patient. Almost every hobby I’ve had so far, was never easy in the beginning. Things got better over time.
- Reduce boredom and screen-time. My days are packed despite things around me slowing down and I’m not glued to streaming services.
- Challenge yourself. Hobbies usually take you out of your comfort zone. If you don’t find your hobby challenging, then you also won’t find it engaging, and it will be less fun.
- Can be time-boxed. You don’t have to look at a hobby and ask, “oh, will I do this for the rest of my life?” I took up bird photography as a clear 2 or 3 months activity. I haven’t yet invested in anything new, hence continuing with this. Happy with what I learnt, the shots I took, the experiences I had, and the sheer joy of people liking my work.
So yeah, like the famous poet named Anonymous (it’s not funny; in school, I used to think ‘Anonymous’ was a poet) once said, “You’ve spent an infinite number of years not being born and will spend another infinity being dead. So, go out and play!”