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Photographer of the feathers

Johnstown resident’s pictures of birds drawing publishers’ eyes

November 14, 2010
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

The first time Brian M. Henry went into the woods to photograph birds, it did not seem like the sort of thing that he would do again.

"I was bored to tears," the 58-year-old Johnstown resident said.

However, Henry said, over time it became something he enjoyed. He has had nearly 650 photos published, in magazines such as Time and Adirondack Life.

Article Photos

Brian M. Henry, center, looks at a piece of camera equipment belonging to his friend Warren Greene at Henry’s home in Johnstown on Thursday. Henry has had nearly 650 bird photos published in a variety of magazines.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney?Minor

"When the bird comes in, from that moment on, your mind is not on anything else," he said, as an explanation for why he started enjoying the hobby more.

Henry grew up in Gloversville, graduating with the Gloversville High School class of 1970.

While growing up in Gloversville, one of his good friends was Warren Greene, who has had numerous wildlife photos published.

Greene said he and Henry were fishing buddies when they were younger. Then one day in 1983, Greene took Henry on that fateful bird photographing trip.

"Brian has his own style. He does a good job," Greene said. "[His success] has been absolutely terrific."

Henry is quick to credit Greene for helping him succeed.

"Without [Greene's] constant encouragement, always-upbeat attitude, and his help lugging equipment over the years, the number of my photos published to date would be zero," Henry said in an e-mail.

For Henry, bird photography is interesting for a number of reasons.

Perhaps foremost, the sheer diversity of bird species and the different looks they present keep him coming back for more, he said.

As he points out, there about 10,000 different species of birds in the world. In his opinion, Henry said, he has managed to get images that are "publish-quality" of just 100 of them in about three decades. "Bird photography isn't easy," he said.

For all the photos he has taken that he has kept, there are hundreds more pictures that have been thrown away, he said.

As an example, he talked about a photo he got of an owl swooping down to grab its prey. When the owl swooped down from the sky toward the ground, he started shooting.

Henry got a photo of one of the owl's wings and another - which would later be published - of the owl about to grasp its prey. As for the others, more than a dozen photos, they were no good, he said. The owl had moved too fast and gotten out of the shot.

"It's been a great journey over the years, but a journey of far more tossed than retained photos," Henry said in an e-mail. "Such is bird photography."

He also can stay within the Adirondack region for his work, or he can travel.

"The Adirondacks, to me, are so beautiful," Henry said.

Henry noted about half of his published photos have been taken at one place - Rogers Family Orchards in Johnstown.

"They have embraced Warren and me from day one," Henry said.

Todd Rogers said he has known Greene for a long time, and it has never been a problem having them at the orchard getting photos of all the birds.

"Those two guys are great guys," Rogers said.

An added bonus is that bird photography can be done at different times of the year. From mid-May to mid-August, there are many different bird species around to get photos of, he said. However, while many bird species migrate south from here, others migrate here during the winter, such as the snowy owl. Not too mention the types of birds that do not migrate.

Photography also connects him with the hunting trips his dad used to take him on, Henry said. Photography actually is similar to hunting, he said, instead of using a gun, he has a camera.

Of course, bird photography is not always easy. Henry said the main problem tends to be that birds are generally uncooperative when it comes time for them to get their picture taken.

There also is a difference between birds. While chickadees are generally more tame than hawks, certain types of chickadees are more willing to go close to people and have their pictures taken than others.

Henry, who has cerebral palsy, has trouble doing flight photography because his hands shake a little too much. However, his tripod that attaches to the camera allows him to get the shots he needs.

While he has started using digital cameras, he and Greene both have a certain distaste for it. The idea of someone taking a photo and then using a computer to significantly alter the image afterward, leaves both aghast.

Henry said it may be a product of his age. It might also have to do with his love of hockey, a sport he embraced while attending St. Lawrence University years ago.

In hockey, he said, if a shot is too wide of the goal, it's just too wide. There is no repeat chance given to hit it.

"You either got the shot or you didn't," Henry said.



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