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Underwater photographer discovers beauty of birds during lockdown

He’s renowned for his stunning underwater images of South Africa’s marine animals. But, being under lockdown with the rest of the country has forced Cape Town photographer Steven Benjamin to find the beauty of nature elsewhere – in his own garden. 

Shift in Focus

Benjamin has shifted his focus to his Kalk Bay garden where he has been taking stunning pictures of the Mother City’s birdlife.

With his home being near Table Mountain, he has embraced the challenge of photographing these feathered creatures as a way to bring joy during uncertain times – and the results speak for themselves.

Also read: The Lockdown Collection raises much-needed funds through art

“I’m a wildlife enthusiast with a background in zoology and have worked as an underwater photographer focusing on sharks, whales and dolphins,” he says. 

“During the lockdown I’m focusing on the birds in my garden and the surrounding suburban gardens.”  

Steven Benjamin

A passion for birding

Though it had not been the focus of his photography before now, Benjamin’s interest in birds began in childhood.

Birding, he says, trains one to observe nature’s sounds and pay attention to the little things.

“Birds are all around us doing something in huge diversity. All you have to do is stop, look and listen and they tell you who they are and what they are doing – whether it’s marking a territory, nesting or feeding… they are always busy. 

Challenging subjects

“They are so beautiful but incredibly difficult to photograph, because they are shy and extremely fast. 

“Photographing birds is a challenge but it creates a mental space to observe and admire nature.”

He says he always wanted to try photographing birds, but never had the time. He even had a bird feeder at home but often forgot to fill it and so, when the lockdown started, he put sugar in the feeder every morning and enjoyed seeing the birds come calling. 

“I started thinking more about how to create a setting where I could capture simple yet interesting images that highlight the birds’ beauty.”

Steven Benjamin

Lockdown Project

“I also wanted to use this project as a way to be creative and escape the confines of the lockdown by enjoying the freedom of the birds.

“Sharing this on social media helped inspire others and prompted me to keep adding to the project, bringing digital joy to those watching.” 

Also read: Farmers and the public help to look out for Karoo’s vulnerable birds

Benjamin uses high shutter speeds of over 1/2000th of a second to “freeze” the birds, which also makes the background dark, showing the birds in a new way. 

He uses lights mounted separately to backlight the birds and bring out details in their bills and feathers – almost like creating a studio setting for wild birds, only they are free to come and go as they please.

He confesses if it wasn’t for the lockdown he’d never have done these images. 

“I archived all my past wildlife images, worked on a book, did all the gardening possible and brushed my dog a lot! Finally, I settled on this project, which I work on every day. It’s made the days fly by!”

His bird project has planted the seed for an  exhibition after the lockdown, but in the meantime the prints are also for sale.

For more about Steven Benjamin’s work, or to find out more about the images available for sale, contact Steven on email steve@stevenbenjamin.co.za, Instagram @animal_ocean, or visit his website.

Watch Steven filming life underwater:

Share your Covid-19 #lockdown experiences on our Facebook group, Lockdown Diaries South Africa.


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