Love Photographing Wildlife | Practice Is Key
I have always loved animals. Then after taking the one and only arts class I took in college I began to realize I could merge my love of animals with this creative side I never really thought I had. I dreamed of being a big game photographer.
Watching National Geographic and reading the magazine. Seeing the amazing photography and images of majestic wildlife. I wanted to do that.
As I began to explore photography I quickly realized I didn’t live in an area where opportunities to photograph the subjects I desired would be plentiful. For me those opportunities would be quite rare. But I still wanted to make sure I was ready for when those opportunities arise.
If you want to photograph subjects like Bears and Moose and Elk, but you don’t have those types of subjects where you live. You want to make sure you are able to take full advantage of any opportunity that you have. You want those few and far between opportunities to result in some really nice images.
Learning to photograph wildlife
This means practice. You may say, “How can I practice Bear and Moose and Elk if I never see them where I live?” That is a good question. But there is a simple answer.
You don’t have to master photographing Bear and Moose and Elk as specific subjects. You have to master photographing wildlife in general. Many if not most of the skills you develop as a wildlife photographer translate to any subject you want to photograph. Practice photographing whatever local wildlife you have easy and frequently available.
I started photographing birds, mostly seagulls, because they were abundant and I could practice photographing them at any time. If you can track a seagull as it dips, dives, and swerves in the wind then you can track most land mammals. I also practiced photographing squirrels and rabbits.
Then when you have the opportunity to photograph a bear or other large rarely seen wildlife you will have many of the skills necessary to create great images.
The next key to photographing the much sought after big game wildlife is to learn about them. Learn as much as you can about whatever wildlife it is that you want to photograph. Learn where they live. Study how they live. The behavior and daily life that animals lead will lead you to first of all be more likely to find the wildlife you seek and secondly be ready to create the best possible photographs.
One large animal we do have in abundance in my area is deer. So those are the species of animals I have the most opportunities to photograph. And to be honest I often squander them. I have not taken full advantage of all the potential opportunities to photograph deer that I could.
And often the reason for that is a lack of planning and preparation. But the fact that deer are often around does allow me more opportunities to photograph them even without planning. And that allows me the opportunity to try and create some more creative images.
Then there are opportunities that you can specifically seek out. If you learn about the wildlife in your region or whatever wildlife you are interested in you can seek out the best opportunities to photograph them. Elk are no longer present where I live in New York. But a few hours away in Pennsylvania there is a well established herd of elk.
Learning about the elk herd and where they live I learned that there is a specific area where they can be viewed regularly. And there are are also specific times of day when they are most likely to be seen.
I have made the drive there on a couple of occasions and it has been one of the coolest wildlife experiences I have had. There are many opportunities to photograph the elk. I was able to photograph the herd in groups or close up as individuals. And hearing the elk bugling was so cool.
Travel for wildlife
Another way of photographing the wildlife you seek is to simply immerse yourself in a region that is a little more wild than where you live. If there isn’t a lot of wildlife around your home turf take your photography on the road. I often like to go on trips to camp and explore. These trips open up opportunities to photograph wildlife.
I don’t often go on trips specifically looking for wildlife. But I do go out looking for wildlife. I always try to be ready to photograph wildlife if the opportunity should arise.
There aren’t many if any moose in New York. Especially not where I live and do most of my photography. But seeing and photographing a moose has always been high on my bucket list.
Several years ago we took a trip to New Hampshire. We knew that seeing a moose in New Hampshire was a possibility. I didn’t really know how likely it would be but I was excited to know it could happen. I wasn’t there to photograph moose specifically, but I was conscious of the possibility. So if and when the opportunity arose I would be able to take advantage of it.
Moose and bear
And the opportunity to photograph a moose did present itself. And thanks to my practice photographing a variety of wildlife at home and my awareness that this was a possibility I was ready and able to capture some images. I wouldn’t say they were the best photographs ever, but I was really excited and happy that I was able to make the best of the opportunity that presented itself.
During the same trip where we saw the moose we also saw a black bear family. Maybe a little too close for comfort in fact. A mother bear and her cubs made passage in and around our campsite on multiple occasions while we were camping.
We made sure to keep ourselves and our dog a safe distance form the bears. This was the bears home, not ours and we let them have their space. When the bears were a safe distance away I was able to use my telephoto lens to capture some images of the bear cubs.
It was really dark in the forest so I had to dial up the ISO on my camera to be able to get any type of exposure. But thanks to my practice at home with a variety of subjects and conditions I was familiar with my camera. And I was familiar with different lighting conditions. So I knew how to make adjustments to capture some images.
These probably weren’t the best photographs. Photographing in the dark shadows of the forest and having to really raise my ISO is less than ideal. As well as being surprised by the emergence of a family of bears at camp all made for a challenge. But thanks to my practice over the years I was able to come away with some images I enjoy to remember this exciting experience.
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