Photographing nature and wildlife can be the most challenging and most rewarding branches of photography. There is nothing like being hunkered down behind a bush for hours waiting for a bear to cross your path as you listen to the chattering of the squirrels, singing of the birds, and just breathing in the moment.
However, there is an awful lot that happens even before you find yourself in that exact bush, at that moment, waiting hours for a bear. You’re not just going to sit down behind a random bush hoping a bear is going to cross your path – well, you could but if you did so you’d probably be less likely to glimpse a bear.
Beginning Wildlife Photography and Interacting with Nature
Whether you are looking to just do it as a hobby, or are aspiring to become a professional, the most important thing is the animal’s well-being and our impact on the environment.
A report by the United Nations found that one in four species face extinction. Currently, Mankind is making a catastrophic impact on wildlife and the environment through pollution, habitat loss, overfishing, illegal wildlife trade, animal agriculture, pillaging the earth’s resources and so much more which has contributed to the climate changing, and the decline and extinction of over 60% of birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals since 1970. As a result, experts warn that further impact on wildlife leading to their extinction threatens the existence of human civilization. As, I’ve always said, “Mankind is both the plague upon the Earth and its cure.”
Let’s dispel two myths right from the beginning; in order to enjoy wildlife and nature photography you DO NOT need to own expensive camera, lenses or gear nor do you have to travel to far off distant lands. This is the simple truth; you can use an entry-level DSLR and a Kit Lens and get great photos and for some types of shots – your cell phone can work phenomenally well.
That said, the best place to get started is local to where you live; your backyard, neighborhood, local parks, and lakes, nature and hiking trails, and so on. You’ll find that there are plenty of subjects not too far from home to photograph from birds, reptiles, insects, rodents, and a plethora of other animals to aim your lens at.
Begin Nature and Wildlife Photography in Your Own Local Area
The fact that certain animals are found locally to where you live means that you can frequent these places often and take time to study the species that live near you with which you can have ample time photographing or attempting to photograph them as you learn. This is also beneficial because it will give you time to learn your camera, the capability of your lenses, and improve your photography knowledge and skillset.
You’ll eventually be able to try more creative shots like animals in motion where the animal is in focus and everything around it is blurred or where the feet are slightly blurred and everything else is in focus. You may even find yourself near a little waterfall, river or stream where you can set up a tripod and attempt to get that popular blurred water effect.
One quick thing to mention, before we go too far, is to get in the habit of having your camera near you at all times. You never know when you might find yourself in nature, driving or walking along, and see something you want to photograph. Nothing stings worse than having those experiences and wishing you had your camera with you. However, that said, the opposite is true; sometimes you find yourself with your camera in a photographable moment and yet you don’t take the shot because you’d rather appreciate whatever is unfolding before you. That’s one of the huge joys of photographing nature and wildlife – sometimes, you get caught up in these magical moments that are just for you to experience and in an instant, they are over.
In the beginning, you’ll raise your camera to photograph whatever interests you and in doing so you’ll notice that by the time you get your camera pointed, focused, and on the right settings the moment is over. You see, with experience, you’ll learn whether you are in one of those moments or not. If you desire, you can capture moments like that with proper planning and a whole lot of patience
Research is Essential in Wildlife Photography
Do your research! Let’s say you live next to the Florida Everglades and want to head out to do some photography there. First, I’d start with a Google image search of “Florida Everglades” and look through the images for inspiration. Are there any particular shots that you really love? What is it you love about it? The angle? The lighting?
You might be wondering why this is important and I’m going to tell you; if you want to be a great photographer you need to become a student of the art of photography. That means looking at photos from an entirely different perspective – not just, “I love this photo,” but “Why do I love this photo? What is it about it that I love?” Perhaps, you’ll find out that you like how real or surreal it looks, you may like the way the light hits the subject of a photo, or perhaps you’ll find out you love certain images in black and white. The list really becomes endless as you see a photo in a much different way as you become a masterful student of light, photography, and post-processing.
Next, you’ll need to figure out what your target subject will be and then do your research about that subject; what’s the safe distance for you and the animal to photograph, do you have the appropriate lens to operate at that distance, what’s the behavior displayed if that animal is agitated, annoyed, or angry, etc. You want to have some ideas of the shot you want to get or the story you want to tell within your photography.