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Wildlife Photo Tips and Suggestions Part I

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Wildlife Photo Tips and Suggestions Part I

Nature has a habit of being pretty bloody photogenic, and a lot of people have noticed as much over the years (and by “years” I mean the history of man). You’ve probably noticed too, and if you’re a bit ambitious and interested in challenging subject matter you’ve probably tried your hand at some wildlife photography. It’s a big niche, but a difficult, sometimes unforgiving one. And therein lies the reward. Wildlife photography is largely about capturing a fleeting moment in a world most people seldom enter or fully understand, even if that world is right next to them. A lot can be asked of a photographer in order to capture that moment at its most dynamic, but it tends to be worth it when you do, especially because so many elements are out of your control. For this very reason there are two imperatives when going out on a wildlife shoot: 1.) preparedness 2.) luck.

We’re going to break this topic into two posts, as there is a lot of ground to cover, but know that these posts are about helping you cover that first one: preparedness. Luck is all on you and nature.

This first post will cover how you should go about acting in the wilderness as a photographer. The second will cover some technical points in the form of techniques and equipment. Now lets get to it.

There is a lot to keep in mind when shooting just about anything, but that list can grow quite a bit when you’re in the wilderness photographing wild animals. The first thing you should be conscience of is you and the impact you may or may not have on your subject. Let’s call this-

ETHICS:

If you are going on a wildlife shoot, you are going to essentially be invading something else’s private space/home. You weren’t invited into your subject’s home, but you are certainly trying to enter it, and you’d better respect that fact vigorously. I would never dictate what your photography should or should not be about, but I will say this: wildlife photography isn’t about capturing an animal’s reaction to the discomforting presence of a person with a camera. It’s about the subject in its natural state, and the only thing that would take it out of that is probably you. Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to maintain a healthy, safe distance from your subject, for both your sakes.

– Don’t chase anything. At all. And don’t make noise or otherwise meddle in the life or habits of an animal.

– Always approach animals slowly and indirectly. Give them time to get comfortable with your presence, moving closer slowly and incrementally. When you are actually moving towards them, veer wide, diagonally towards the animal, stopping to read the animals reaction. Ideally, you should be situating yourself ahead of the animal so that they move towards you. This, again, should be done slowly and incrementally.

– If the animal reacts to your movement, stop and wait until they stop looking at you and relaxed. If they sense danger they’ll give a sign. This could come in the form of raised ears or their tail could move back. Just stop when that happens.

– With smaller animals and birds it’s good to stay low to the ground. Get dirty, it’s ok.

– With larger animals (large cats, wolves, bears, etc.) stay upright. If you appear smaller to them, they might think you’re prey. You DO NOT want to look like prey.

– Keep a safe distance. Yellowstone National Park, for example, recommends you get no closer than 25 yards for most animals, 100 yards for bears.

– Wear colors that will help you blend into your surroundings.

– Don’t bring anything along that will jingle, like loose change or that might make any other unnecessary noise.

– Don’t bring shiny things, like bottles or even your glasses.

– Don’t ever make eye contact or look directly at the animal(s). A lot of animals will interpret that as an act of aggression. You should not come off as aggressive.

– Try to shoot during mating season, as animals are typically less on guard during this time of year.

As a final note on how to behave around wild animals: do your research. Figure out what kind of animals you’re interested in shooting and where to find them or what you will likely encounter wherever it is you’re going (be it a national park or something foreign and exotic like a rain forest) and learn about their behavior and what you can and can’t do around them, specifically. Lemurs are very different from African lions. They all have safe distances you should respect that are specific to the species. Be studious.

This post continues in: Wildlife Photo Tips and Suggestions Part II

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