Tips for Wildlife Photography

MuleDeerTupperAnselBlakeUSFWSpubicdomainThe picture is brilliant. A massive buck at the edge of the field in the late autumn sun has the colors highlighted in the late afternoon natural sun. You planned for this photo, with every bit as much effort as a hunter after a trophy animal. The biggest difference is the photographer captures the image and the animal walks away.

There are entire books and many websites that include photography tips of getting the lighting right, proper framing of the subject and a great deal of technical advice that generates photos that win awards and money. However tips for wildlife photography must include that plus packing large amounts of patience and sometimes luck. There is the chance of pulling into an area and having a whitetail deer walk within 300 feet of the vehicle where you can get off several shots without getting out of the car. I had this happen at a state park but it is definitely not the normal luck!

There’s the chance of pulling up to a stream and a herd of elk just happen to walk up to drink. More common is hours of waiting for nothing to happen and being happy to capture a hawk that happened by or the squirrels digging in the leaves at the base of the trees. These can be bonus pictures in some ways and are shots you wouldn’t get if not after the big shot.

Lighting can be difficult in the changing landscape that wildlife is often found in. Any list of wildlife photography tips can focus on the mechanics but not as much focus on the subject. Wildlife, be it a goldfinch or a deer, doesn’t flee if it’s safe. If you’re patient and a non-threatening part of the landscape you can often get a better shot as they are not on edge. They will appear more natural. Sit quietly at the bird feeder, for example, until you are “part of the scenery” and have the camera in your hand. A minute or two can make all the difference between a great shot and a missed shot.

Move slowly and if you must approach don’t do so directly which is the way a predator approaches prey. Again non-threatening and acting normal. One of the biggest tips for wildlife photography is simply get out and shoot! The more you shoot the better your chances of getting the shot. Always have a camera near your reach. A squirrel navigating the fence 7 feet outside the kitchen window would never have normally let me that close but shooting through the window it was not disturbing him.

An easy way to practice is using the resources at a zoo or wildlife preserve. This allows multiple shots that, depending on your camera, might be close up or full body shots. It helps you practice catching movement in a somewhat controlled setting.

The obvious difference is photographing predators in the wild. A well known wildlife photographer on a trip to Alaska got some spectacular shots of a grizzly that drew the interest of wildlife officials. They informed him that it was illegal to get that close to wildlife there, and he showed them his camera system. A long lens and zoom allowed him to appear to be within 15 feet of the bear while the reality was he was fully a quarter mile away, far from danger or from influencing the bear’s natural movements.

A note on digital photography tips is allowing for the brief pause some cameras will have – plan for it. Study wildlife and know their reactions and you will be rewarded with photos that are earned through patience and some luck.

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