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Ten Minutes With Orinda’s Famed Wildlife Photographer

View Elaine Miller Bond's work at the Uncharted Festival of Ideas in downtown Berkeley.

Acorn woodpecker, Pinnacles National Park

by Elaine Miller Bond

The Uncharted Festival of Ideas in downtown Berkeley on October 16 and 17 features some of the world’s top speakers taking on issues such as celebrity health fads, the future of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the metaphysics of The Big Bang Theory. Also, author and wildlife photographer Elaine Miller Bond, who lives in Orinda, will present her stunning visual diary of a hummingbird’s nest. 


Q: You seem to gravitate toward positive stories or present them in an uplifting way. What inspires you to do this?

A: In my experience, people usually work the hardest to preserve the things they love. Fear, hatred, and anger can only motivate a person so far. And the brave, forward-thinking men and women I have known—those who dedicate their lives to science and advocacy—do so because they love prairie dogs, or they love redwoods, or they love the deep blue sea. That’s why I gravitate toward the positive; I feel it could ultimately make a bigger impact.


Q: What's your process for finding and photographing wildlife? Any favorite East Bay haunts?

A big part of my process comes from being an East Bay native, who grew up in Kensington on the edge of Tilden Regional Park. I spent countless hours exploring the park, searching creeks for newts, shaking coyote brushes until their fluffy white seeds took to the air. 

Now, I live in Orinda, on the “other” side of my favorite childhood park, and I can often be found with my camera out on the Nimitz Trail, looking and listening for wildlife. I also enjoy shooting in gardens—like Heather Farms in Walnut Creek and the UC Botanical Garden—and I have a new affinity for Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in San Ramon; that’s where I got to photograph the exciting release of a golden eagle. 


by Elaine Miller Bond

Q: Any scary encounters with wildlife?

A: It’s funny: I’m not afraid of photographing animals. With animals, all I have to do is keep a safe, respectable distance or not wander out alone at night. With people, I worry what they might think.


Q: You took photos for the book The Utah Prairie Dog: Life Among The Red Rocks. What's the most surprising thing you learned about the Utah prairie dog?

A: I was surprised by the prairie dogs’ sense of community. They kiss. They groom one another. They bark out warnings when danger is near. Some extraordinary mother prairie dogs will even engage in “communal nursing,” offering their milk to pups who aren’t their own.


Q: I assume patience is a virtue for a wildlife photographer. Tell us what has been involved with some of your shoots?

A: That’s very true. Some shoots involve the patience to wait a long—and what’s worse, an uncertain—amount of time for the action to start. Once I waited 8 hours, on my belly, in the snow, hungry, with a full bladder to get a photo of a fox charging at a prairie dog. More often, though, I find myself waiting for birds to take flight from high places. My arms might shake as I hold my camera, and my mental focus might wane. But I’d rather exercise patience than shoo a bird to make the process go faster.


by Elaine Miller Bond

Q: What's your advice for budding wildlife photographers?

A: My advice is to shoot. Shoot a lot. Shoot flowers in your garden, pigeons on buildings, the moon. Be curious and research the animals you encounter. This will help you anticipate shots. And finally, take your camera everywhere.


Q: You're giving a special popup presentation at Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas. Without giving too much away, what can people expect?

A: An intimate look at a sweet, little family of hummingbirds.


For more info on Uncharted and to register, visit BerkeleyIdeas.com