Photographing wildlife, big or small, can be an uncertain venture, or we can stack the deck in our favor.
Here are some productive methods to help us get that special image.
1. Learn the behavior of the species your wish to photograph.
Follow the advise of Frans Lanting, National Geographer Photographer, studing the behavior of shore birds, before even picking up the camera.
If we just sit and watch their particular routine for about 10 minuets we’ll notice a pattern develop. Then we’ll be ready to anticipate their moves. It will also give us a clue about which equipment to use.
This snowy egret, often found in a rookery, allowed us to get closer than usual. He seemed perfectly content with people walking by so we become part of the crowd. A compact Panasonic Camera with an adjustable LCD screen was used for this image. I got down on my knees and lowered the camera to beach level.
I’m not suggesting months of study. That’s up to you; but, the better we can anticipate their behavior the more effective our photos will be.
2. Using a tripod.
It slows us down and helps us become one with our prey. Keeping the eye glued to the eye piece of our camera keeps our eyes from making contact with our subject.
Great blue heron, as an example will take flight as soon as they notice eyes following them. When I need to get closer, sometimes I can walk around, slowly, like I’ve lost my keys, only glancing up occasionally as I move closer. Become part of the landscape.
You’ll know how close you can get. Respect a subject’s space. Each specie is different. A snowy egret will often allow us to get closer than a Great Blue Heron.
My lens of choice for a Great Blue Heron is a 300mm lens. If you wear glasses you may have to take them off to see the subject in your view finder. Years ago I had to acquire a special eye piece to match my prescription. Today, most camera bodies come with an adjustable diopter that can be dialed in, to match one’s prescription.
3. Be on location when the specie is active.
For birds it may be early morning when they are feeding.
For elk it may be when they are active in rut.
Including their rut behavior can move your image to another level.
4. Learn where the wildlife will be and when.
Wildlife adapt to their environment.
This wood stork was photographed near a fish cleaning station on a pier. It was so oblivious, focused on getting a handout, he could be approach close enough to make the portrait, although a 200mm lens was also used to help separate the subject from the background.
When birds breed, their coloration can change dramatically offering a unique and often a different look, like this wood stork
Then of course, there are those times when were not quite sure what situation may develop.
If not sure what equipment the situation may call for, I opt for an 18-200mm lens. In this situation we came upon a pair of Great White Heron and having the variable focal length allowed for quick adjustment for changing behavior. The camera was mounted on a monopod jammed between the drivers and passenger seat, shooting out the open passenger window, using the car as a blind, as traffic woodshed by. It later became the subject of a story.