Salah Baazizi is a 46-year-old software engineer and bird photographer based in Orange County, California. Originally from Algeria, he became interested in wildlife photography about a decade ago, after a visit to the Bolsa Chica wetlands — a reserve in the city of Huntington Beach — where he spotted many different bird species doing incredible things: black skimmers gliding just above the water, pelicans dive-bombing for fish, terns doing aerial acrobatics, raptors demonstrating their fierce hunting skills on rodents, fish, and reptiles.
“It was a treat. I thought I was watching the Discovery Channel in open air.”
Completely self-taught, Salah learned about nature photography from Internet tutorials and interactive groups, most impactfully through Flickr, where he found different groups of like-minded photographers willing to provide feedback. But he wanted to take his photography a step further. “To be able to move to a more advanced level, I had to develop some unique techniques and physical skills that could only be accomplished on the field,” he explained.
Salah says skills and observation are very important in bird-action photography, as animal behavior is unpredictable. “Momentum builds up when birds feed or interact with each other, and being ready to click the shutter button at the right time can lead to a great photo opportunity,” he explained. “Sometimes a great opportunity presents itself and skills are of prime importance. Just like in any game or sport, muscle memory kicks in to deliver the proper coordination with the brain in order to achieve something unique.” Some pictures, however, are the result of pure luck, and he has no problem admitting such. “Dumb luck is always welcome.”
Elegant Terns are Salah’s favorite bird species because everything they do — flying, fishing, mating, fighting — they do gracefully. “I owe all my skills to these birds.”
He shoots with a Canon 7D series DSLR and a prime 400mm f5.6 L lens. “I prefer to shoot handheld and avoid any extras on myself while photographing birds.”
The Bolsa Chica Wetlands is one of his favorite spots for wildlife photography. “Each season provides an array of migratory birds, and some come in abundance. Most Herons and Egrets are residents and tend to be more active during the breeding season—Spring; Terns usually come back in large numbers for breeding in April. Ducks, Grebes, Pelicans, Shorebirds and Raptors visit us during Winter time.”
Salah is part of the Birdshare (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and Audubon Magazine ornithology groups on Flickr. Check out his Flickr Photostream (bmse) for inspiration! And if you are a bird photography enthusiast who happens to live in California, be sure to visit the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, BIRDS of Orange County, or San Jacinto Wildlife Area Flickr groups!