Travel to see and and photograph wildlife is becoming one of the most desirable types of travel in the 21st century. Spotting an animal in the wild, then capturing it can be rewarding and exhilarating.
Wildlife photography is a genre many photographers aspire to do well. Unfortunately, many photographers out in the wild for the first time don't have great success. While they may have experience photographing animals in zoos, photographing animals in the wild is different and far more challenging.
To help achieve success in making great wildlife images, I've developed the “Twelve P's of Wildlife Photography™.
- Preparation — The more you know about your subject, it's behavior, routine, how it moves, diet, locales where it likely lives or migrates, and the “lay of the land” you're visiting, the better your chance at spotting an animal, and the better its photograph will be. If you're going to a wildlife refuge or national park, for example, stop in the office to ask about recent sightings.
Before shooting, make sure you have all the gear you need such as an extra memory card or two, a spare battery, or perhaps a polarizing filter if you're shooting over water. Bring a monopod or tripod suitable for the camera and longest lens you'll be using. Make sure you're dressed appropriately with no bright colors which might enlarge the “circle of fear” of the animals you approach. Bring enough to eat and drink.
- Passion — To make great wildlife images, you need passion for the natural world you're photographing. While you're shooting, don't forget to look out from behind your lens to see the wildlife with your own eyes. Photographing animals is great fun, but don't miss making images of flowers, fungus, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, other insects, amphibians or reptiles. Do you snorkel? Don't miss fresh and saltwater fish, plants and other sea-life.
- Propaedeutics — This is essential introductory and basic learning, and instruction in arts and sciences. Photography is both art and science. Composition and the choices you make to create an image is the art, while the physics of light which defines your exposure settings to a large degree is the science. In wildlife photography the science is also the study of your subjects. The more you know about all, the better your images will be.
- Patience — Wildlife photographers need the capacity to endure when they don't achieve success quickly, in order to achieve success eventually. For example, several years ago, I wanted to get some outstanding images of tree swallows feeding their young. It took me almost two hours near a bird house in a pond containing three recently hatched chicks to get a satisfactory image. Sometimes it doesn't take hours, but days, weeks or months to get images sought after.
- Persistence — Closely akin to “patience,” persistence is the trait you need to have the necessary tenacity to continue after failure to achieve success. In the wild, unlike at the zoo, you never know what you're going to actually see, or precisely where or when you'll find a particular species. With great preparation, you can improve your odds of success, but not guarantee them, and certainly not in short order. It often takes repeated visits to locations over time to make successful photographs of particular wildlife.
- Perseverance — The willingness to continue to your goal, even when encountering difficulties is important for wildlife photographers. Many years ago, while photographing in Baxter State Park, Maine, we encountered a freak August snow storm above the timberline. It got slippery, then the fog rolled in. We were prepared, but the four hour easy hike turned into a difficult and wet twelve hour odyssey, but we got some terrific images. Often, perseverance can take much, much longer.
- Peruse — Before beginning to shoot, without your camera, scan the scene before you and block out your shots. Check all around you and all possible angles to your subject(s).
- Pano-Proximate — When blocking out your images, look at capturing both long view environmental shots which show context to help you tell stories as well as close-up images. While close-ups can be amazing with their detail, don't miss the big picture.
- Paint — Use light to its best advantage to bring out the scene. Literally paint your images with light. Understand how the “golden hours,” dawn and dusk, and the noon sun paint your images' colors and brightness.
- Presentation — Learn what appropriate composition rules lend themselves to showing off wildlife well in mages, then be willing to throw out the rules, as needed.
- Pancake-Pedestal — A photographer's eye-level is often above the wildlife being shot. If so, don't hesitate to pancake, get low. For a different interesting view, or for taller wildlife, consider getting up on some kind of pedestal such as a tree stump.
- Practice — Frankly, if you can remember only one of the P's, make it the last, Make it “practice.” Only by going out regularly to encounter and photograph wildlife in a variety of locales and environments will you improve and produce the high quality wildlife images you seek to make.