How to photograph wildlife better!
You spot them. A deer and a baby doe, just barely peaking out from behind mom. The
sunrays are beaming through the branches, and the autumn colors at their peak. Oh…this
is going to be good. And you shoot (with your camera, of course), do a little celebratory
dance (as the deer run away) and check your LCD. What do you have? Overexposed
leaves, underexposed trunks, and a couple of blurry dark dots in the middle. What
Lisa Langell’s message was that moments sometimes happens after hours – hours of
preparation, watching and waiting. Her message was about Bringing the Vision and the
1.) PREP – What’s going to make your photo outstanding? Google the animal(s) you expect to see. What do the other 1,243,467 photos on Flickr look like? What can you do to make yours unique?’
2.) WATCH – Observe the animals and it’s behaviors enough to anticipate it’s
movements. Lisa’s example involved hummingbirds. They usually fly in a circle – from
point to point to point. Pick a point, and wait. My own experience happened just this past
weekend shooting the Monarch Butterflies at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Wait long
enough, and they will open their wings.
3.) WAIT – Look around. You’re studying the animal anyways, might as well study
your surroundings. Is the animal going to move into better light? Is the light going to
get better? (There’s a cloud coming up to compensate for the harsh sunlight.) Can you
reposition yourself for better light or composition?
My personal advice is be very careful when approaching something that has a body
part bigger than yours (mouth, nails (claws), teeth, etc.). A few months ago, there was
a javelina in the wash near my house. Of course, I stalked it. But luckily, I had seen
an episode of Survivorman and learned that javelinas cannot look up. So, as long as I
positioned myself on higher ground than the javelina, I was safe. (I really don’t know if
that’s legit, but I convinced myself that it was true at the time.)
According to Lisa, lots of wildlife are less threatened by cars than people. I would love
to get wholeheartedly behind this statement since, at my age, it’s easier to leave carbon
footprints rather than hiking boot footprints. However, she also had a number of great
tips for those who prefer to get out in the great outdoors.
1.) Eye to eye – get eye level with your subject, but don’t make eye contact. Most animals
will consider that an aggressive move. (See above about animals with bigger body parts).
2.) Zig-zag as you approach the subject. (This is easy if you have a few mimosas to start
off your sunrise shoot).
3.) Mirror the animal’s habits – pluck grass, stay low, relax. (I so want to take photos of
the photographers preening each other in front of a group of chimpanzees.)
4.) Get close – whether its physically or by your choice of a lens. Use the surroundings
to camouflage yourself. Wear neutral colors (not red orange, white or yellow – except
during hunting season, of course).
Pishing is the sound that a bird in distress makes and may draw other birds in. It sounds
like this: “shhp, shhp, shhp, shhp.” Give it try. Call me if you do. I want to listen.
BEST ADVICE OF THE NIGHT – SHOOT THROUGH THE SCENE
This applies to anything animated – animals, kids, street scenes. Put that camera on
continuous shoot and go! Catch the right tilt of the head, eye contact, body movement.
Heck – it’s digital – IT’S FREE!! This is the moment to capture THE moment. Go for it!!
Without a doubt, there are shoots where timing is everything. With wildlife, patience is
everything. Enjoy the scenery, enjoy the day, enjoy the experience. And if you don’t get
the shot, be thankful that you can return to that same place enjoy it all again! And if you
can’t go back – at least you nurtured your soul.