The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is hosting an exhibition that highlights the wonder of nature through photographs of extraordinary and often rarely seen animal behaviors. Read more about the “Unforgettable Behavior: Wildlife Photographer of the Year” exhibit here.
Bill Harbin is one the photographers whose work is featured in the new “Unforgettable Behavior: Wildlife Photographer of the Year” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 Contest for his image of a swallowtail butterfly puddling, “The Long Drink”.
Meet PHOTOGRAPHER Bill Harbin
There is beauty and intention in nature. Sometimes when you look really closely at the fine details you can see majesty in the most unlikely places. Bill Harbin captured the long legs, a hairy yellow body, a long proboscis and big black eyes that seem to look right at you.
Bill Harbin lived in the same community for 56 of his 70 years. He is both a participant in and observer of the area he know best. He records the fabric woven by the people, industry, and neighborhoods, documenting the changes, struggles, hope, and circumstances he comes across at each turn in these familiar roads.
Bill Harbin has participated in many solo and group exhibits across the country. He has also received multiple awards for his photography. We appreciate the time Bill Harbin took to answer our questions.
Interview with Bill Harbin
Adventure Family (AF):
What did you learn about swallowtails while photographing them puddling?
Bill Harbin (BH):
I began studying butterflies and their behavior four years before I took this image. I already knew about their behavior pattern of imbibing salts and minerals from moist soil and sand having observed it many times while pursuing butterfly photography.
How did you get so close to the butterfly? Do you stay in one place and wait for a butterfly or when you see a butterfly do you move to get a picture?
Excellent question. I almost always move in to get a picture whenever I see a butterfly. On a very few occasions I have waited by a flower for a butterfly to arrive, but this is usually time not well spent.
For this image, I first observed the puddling behavior with my binoculars and then slowly crawled on my stomach through mud and sand to get close. It is best to approach butterflies slowly, staying close to the ground and not letting your shadow cross over the butterfly as this will often spook them.
What characteristics did you have that make you a good wildlife photographer? Have you learned or improved any characteristics to become a better wildlife photographer?
I would not characterize myself as a good wildlife photographer; that is for others to judge. Since childhood I’ve had an enduring fascination with nature spending much time outdoors including collecting snakes frogs lizards and turtles as pets.
Since then I’ve spent many years studying and observing plants and animals. I’m constantly seeking to improve my photography and have learned a great deal from the work of other photographers and artists learning about light, composition and the mysteries of animal behavior.
Do you learn more about wildlife when you shoot it up close like the swallowtail or can you observe the same things with your eyes?
Before beginning photography, I spent 20 years as an avid birdwatcher/birder using binoculars and a spotting scope. With the study of butterflies, binoculars are crucial. For butterfly identification, photography is also essential because their movement is so fast, especially the smaller ones, you cannot appreciate or be sure of all the important markings and details unless you have a still photograph to document those features.
What do you like most about wildlife photography?
Spending time in nature in many different environments throughout the USA and other countries is what I enjoy most about wildlife photography. Watching wildlife in its natural habitat is very exciting and rewarding.
What is your favorite lens and why?
A macro lens is my favorite lens because it allows one to capture very fine and fascinating detail that is difficult to appreciate with the unaided human eye.
What do you think your photo adds to the conversation around our human relationships with nature?
I think a good nature image that captures an animals face fosters a human to animal connection increasing our understanding and appreciation of the natural world.
Thank you Bill Harbin for sharing your passion and dedication with us. We appreciate your time and expertise. You have inspired us to inspect the details of the world around us.
See the “Unforgettable Behavior: wildlife Photographer of the Year” Exhibit yourself
See the wonder, beauty and impact of the “Unforgettable Behavior: Wildlife Photographer of the Year” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The museum is located at 1000 Madison Drive NW Washington, D.C. 20560. Admission is FREE. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday 10 AM to 5:30 PM, except Dec. 25.