Wildlife Photography Tips
Hiking in untamed territory, surrounded by nature, seems to be a perfect photography adventure. Insert a bear, moose, elk, deer, wolf, coyote, or other wildlife into the scene, and you have the makings of some stunning images. It sounds idyllic, and it can be, but there are some important aspects of wildlife photography that must be considered. While wildlife photography covers vast areas of the world, this information is specifically about forest and mountain wildlife in the United States and Canada.
How to Take the Best Photos
Wildlife is most active just after sunrise and at dusk. For photography purposes early morning is the best. You can occasionally get some nice silhouette images at sunset. Rainy weather is usually a washout, so plan your photo shoot according to the weather. Wildlife seeks shelter during a snowstorm, but a light snow shower on a pleasant winter day can add a nice touch to images.
Safety First: It’s easy to get lost in the woods, and any number of minor mishaps can occur. Always check the weather forecast for the time you plan to be gone. Never go alone. A companion will be able to help set up shots and keep an eye open for potential danger. Let someone know where you are going, what time you plan to leave, and when you expect to return. Keep the following items in your pack on every outing.
- Cell phone (may not work in some areas)
- Map of the area including trails
- Flashlight with fresh batteries
- First aid kit
- Waterproof matches and tinder
- Trail mix or other energy boosting food
- Rain gear
- A chart of animal tracks
Understand the nature of the animals in the area you plan to visit. You are venturing into their territory, which makes you the intruder. Animals in the wild are as protective as humans when it comes to their home, territory, and offspring. Enter their world with respect and caution.
Whitetail deer are very common and tend to be creatures of habit. They create trails and follow them. Locating a deer trail and placing yourself downwind can result in a very productive photo shoot. The best time to get buck images is in mid to late fall during rutting season. Because bucks can be very aggressive during the rut, use extreme caution. Mid-May to mid-June is the perfect time to find sweet little spotted fawns. You may be fortunate enough to find one lying in the grass. Don’t get too close. The fawn’s natural instinct tells it to remain still unless approached. Use a telephoto lens to capture some beautiful close-ups.
Moose are great models if you allow them a little space. Learn to identify their tracks, and watch for mud wallows or bogs where they like to eat the water plants. Moose, when not startled or bothered, may stay in one small area for an hour or longer while they eat. This affords an opportunity for many great images.
Bull moose shed their antlers in late fall and early winter. When the antlers grow back in the spring, they are covered in a soft skin called velvet. Fall is the best time to photograph the big bulls with a full rack. It is also the rutting season, a time when bulls can be very aggressive. Always give them plenty of space, and use a telephoto lens for safety. Spring is the time to photograph cows and babies. The babies are a rust color for the first couple of months of life. Be aware that cow moose are dangerously protective of their offspring.
Bison (buffalo) are a fascinating animal. Seeing bison in the wild brings to western movies to memory showing buffalo stampedes and narrow escapes. This amazing animal was the Plains Indians' source for food, clothing, and tipi coverings. The skins provided warmth in the cold winters and the dried meat of the bison provided food. Stay a minimum of seventy-five to one hundred feet away from the bison. Have an escape plan ready in case it decides to charge you. Always use a telephoto lens when photographing bison, for safety purposes. It's very common to see bison on the roadway as you drive through Yellowstone National Park. Always give bison the right-of-way. Respect the animal, do not crowd it, do not blow your horn, and do not leave your car. Not getting injured and not causing the animal stress or harm are your primary goals, and you may get some great photographs.
Fox kits are born in late March or early April. Since the fox is a monogamous animal, both parents help raise the five to ten kits. The young kits rarely leave the den before seven or eight weeks of age. Start looking for a den in late March. Once you locate it, stay a respectful distance away and monitor the activity. It takes a little planning, but if you are patient you can capture progressive images from when the kits first peek outside the den until they start learning to hunt.
Wildlife Ranches and Compounds
There are a significant number of private wildlife ranches that offer accommodations and photographic opportunities for those interested in shooting wildlife images. These provide relative safety while providing ample opportunity to shoot wildlife images in natural settings. An online search will provide you with a list of game farms and ranches in your choice of location.
Remember: Never go on a wildlife photo expedition alone. Do not follow animal tracks you have not identified. Unless you have a guide, avoid unfamiliar territory. Do not assume you will not need water and food. Weather can change unexpectedly, especially in mountainous areas. Take appropriate clothing for heat and cold. Judge your time carefully, and allow enough time to return to your car before nightfall.
Wildlife photography is exciting and gratifying and will provide you with amazing images everyone will admire. Never take chances. No images are important enough to risk personal injury. Patience, respect, and caution are the key ingredients to achieving success with wildlife photography.
© 2019 Judith Hayes