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Camera Allergy

It's the doing of the thing that makes for good work; the sharing of it that makes for good times.

Taking photos of a thing can affect its behavior. This introduces a number of ethical conundrums in the line of psychological studies, anthropology research, and photography subjects. There are those who make it a point to avoid falling under observation. Birds, especially, have evolved a defense against the pop culture practice of fixing all things digitally*; that is, they avoid it for the good of their health. I call this camera allergy and it is one reason why wildlifers make absolutely no money until, maybe, they nail that one-in-a-million shot and make a great lot of money in a single go.

Much like cholera, camera allergy is especially difficult to treat in birds. Clever devils that birds are, they have recently developed (pun intended) a special pseudo-eye just under their bills**. It resembles a similar photoreceptor in cockroaches, who have a multitude of false eyes around their true eyes***, allowing them to detect certain waves of light before their true eyes can, and then tell their brain to move their legs in a scuttle before that light falls upon them and a shoe heel squashes the parts attached to those legs and eyes. In birds, this pseudo-eye allows them to detect refracted light bouncing off camera lenses, permitting them to hurriedly blur themselves before the observer snaps a decent shot, and therefore getting what it wants. In the animal kingdom it is rarely a good thing for a smaller animal to see that a larger animal has gotten what it wants, usually because that attention is fixed on the smaller animal. And so, the evolutionary justification behind this new discovery checks out.

Ultimately, this explains why bird biologists are rife with "fishing tales" of marvelous birdies doing impossible feats of agility and anthropomorphic quirks that we are incapable of proving because -although we swear it happens all the time in the field- no photos memorialize it. That's camera allergy for you.

In my days biologizing prairies about & between abandoned farmsteads and many, many dead things, I have managed to combat some cases of camera allergy. Despite these efforts, though, there have been a number of unprovable natural delights that I can only describe for you, here. Please, enjoy these photos I have been able to take while imaging in vivid technicolor the following scenelettes from this on-going season of diligent biologizing.

~ A pair of Northern Harriers courting, culminating in the female sitting prettily in the couch of a hay bower-like structure, watching the male flourish his small jack rabbit prize, and then give it to her with a grateful screech from both of them, after which they mated, then air-danced together before the lady bird drove the male off to score another, notably larger, prey item for herself.

~ An Upland Sandpiper landing atop a Black Angus sow, piping with eye-crossing effort and then scratching its face with its little foot while the sow smiled, I assumed, at the wall of thunderstorm clouds arching toward all three of us from the west; adding a layer of weatherized drama to their untaken portrait's backdrop.

In conclusion, camera allergy is inextricably real, just ask anyone who looks around their world with camera in-hand. One cure is simply to share the fun you do have.

Be good,


*refers largely to the "Pics or it didn't happen" phenomenon: AKA, Hawthorne Effect

** this is not true

***this is a disconcertingly well-established fact

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