Bird's Eye View: The Photography of Paul Hayes
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Elizabeth Gracen:
This past couple years (and yes, maybe it's because of the pandemic), I've spent a lot of time under the wide branches of my neighbor's California Live Oak that reaches into our backyard. It's a great place to take online yoga or exercise classes, meditate, or simply sit in the shade and listen and watch the many birds that populate the tree—and there are a lot of them. There are Allen's Hummingbirds, Mourning Doves, the Black Phoebe, Spotted Towhee, American Robins, the Dark-eyed Junco, Oak Titmouse, Bewick's Wren, and many Crows and Ravens . . . just to name a few. I have a fantasy about becoming an official "birder"—taking flight into ornithology to learn more about the magnificent creatures flying above me. Truth is, I simply don't have time at the moment, so it remains a fantasy. However, I've replaced the bird urge with a slightly obsessive pattern of following wildlife and bird photographers on the socials. It started with the work of Jocelyn Anderson, and somehow I found my way to the exciting photography of Paul Hayes.
A self-taught photographer originally from Dublin, Hayes now calls the historic town of Kells, Co. Meath, Ireland his home—where the historic Book of Kells was found. A long-distance cyclist who suffered a broken hip after a cycling accident in 2016, followed by a spate of physical challenges, Hayes sought a new hobby to replace the necessary mentally therapeutic outlet that cycling and the great outdoors provided him. He gravitated toward nature photography, and with the help of YouTube tutorials and good-old trial and error, he quickly learned the mechanics and techniques of the art. His work conveys a true curiosity and passion for nature—especially for birds.
I reached out to Paul to ask him about his passion for nature and his life as a photographer in Ireland.
Please meet Paul Hayes!
EG: Paul, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I post on Twitter from various accounts, but I don’t spend a lot of time there. However, I did see your wonderful bird and nature photography pop up, and I had to take a deeper dive. So glad I did! I love your work! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
PH: I’m based in Ireland, and I'm 58. I was late to starting photography, having only picked up a camera 5 years ago. Everything I’ve learnt is from the school of YouTube! I enjoy taking photos of wildlife and nature with a particular interest in birds, as it's a challenge. I have recently ventured out into landscape photography.
EG: I read that you were a cyclist and suffered a hip injury that deterred your riding. I understand that it was important for your mental health to find something to replace that passion. How did you decide that photography was the perfect fit to replace something that you obviously enjoyed so much?
PH: I just kind of fell into it actually. I got a camera as a birthday present one year, and it just took off from there—learning how the camera worked, how to get the best photos, how to edit photos, and eventually I just started posting them on Twitter. I think it was a natural transition from cycling to photography, as the camera allows me to still have the outdoor and social aspects that I had with cycling.
EG: You work outside for all your photography, so I’m curious how or if the pandemic had a big impact on you and how you create your art? What was your life like in Ireland these past couple years? The dynamics are changing rapidly, so I’m curious how you’ve adjusted and continue to adjust.
PH: When the pandemic began, there were a number of travel restrictions—we could only travel 5 km from home, this then increased to 20 km, and then we were allowed to travel anywhere within your county. The restriction didn’t hinder me too much, as I shoot locally. These days all restrictions have been lifted, so I am free to travel; however, I still tend to stay local, as I know where I can get the best shots.
EG: Do you photograph primarily in Ireland? Is there anyplace in particular you’d like to go to photograph nature—a dream destination?
PH: Yes, I mainly photograph Ireland and my local area. I’d love to shoot the Ospreys in Florida. I often watch Mark Smith on YouTube, who is based in Florida, and he gets some incredible shots of Ospreys.
EG: Why do you like photographing birds in particular? What do you learn from studying them and capturing stills of their lives?
PH: It's all the little details that capture me the most—like the iridescent feathers of a starling that you would not typically notice; the colours are incredible. We see birds every day, flying around, but when you stop to take pictures of them, you notice all the small details that make them a marvel—the colours, the details, and their personality.
EG: Your work displays such variety in nature. It’s just amazing to see these glorious creatures in action—it is inspiring to see their elaborately unique qualities in such detail. Do you consider yourself a “birder”? Do you have a favorite bird in particular?
PH: I wouldn’t consider myself a “birder,” as I take photos of a variety of things like landscapes and macro shots, but I do enjoy taking photos of birds. I'd say my favourite bird is a Heron. It's the first bird I ever took a photo of, and I’ll continue to take pictures of them no matter how many images I have of them!
EG: Can you take me through your typical day before, during, and after you shoot? Are you out there every day? Do you have a particular process that you like to follow? How many photos do you post a day?
PH: My day typically starts the night before when I check the weather, hoping for blue skies and sunshine, although living in Ireland that can’t be guaranteed! If it's not raining, I am out every day taking photos. Before I head out, I start my day with a coffee and spend some time looking through my photos to pick which photos I am going to post. I post between 15 and 20 photos a day. When I head out locally, I tend to wander between different spots that I know will get me some good photographs. I could do over 10,000 steps walking around looking for the perfect shot.
EG: You mentioned that you only post on Twitter. Any particular reason you aren’t on Instagram? It is such a visual platform—you’d fit right in! Why do you prefer Twitter?
PH: I actually tried Instagram, but I wasn’t a fan. I feel like with Twitter you can build more of a connection with those who follow you and those who you follow as opposed to Instagram, where it's just a quick like and you move on to the next thing.
EG: Okay, here is the fun part . . . please share and tell me about at least 5 of your favorite photos.
I’d been trying for 3 years to get a photo of a Kingfisher, and I ended up only having to go 5 minutes from home for this shot. It's a very fast bird, so the minute I saw it, I just held my finger on the shutter button and hoped I would get at least one clear shot. The bird ended up sitting on a branch and allowed me to take a few hundred shots.