So you want to be a better wildlife photographer? No problem. Learn your camera and get a big lens. Did that already? Still don’t understand what your missing? Yeah, its a bit more complex than what you might think.
There are a lot of challenges to being a wildlife photographer. There are even more if you want to be a good one. Of all the obstacles that we face each and everyday there is one that transcends all forms of wildlife photography and must be overcome each and every time we walk out the door with our gear. It doesn’t matter if your Frans Lanting, Art Wolfe, or someone who just bought their first telephoto lens with big dreams and romantic aspirations of giving gallons of blood to mosquitoes while sitting in a blind for hours on end.
The transcendent challenge that we all must face on a daily basis is simply finding the wildlife to photograph. It doesn’t matter how well you know your camera, how technically precise you are with exposure and focus, or if you have the most mind blowing light ever to fall upon the Earth. If you can’t find, approach, and set up on the wildlife you want to photograph, then your camera skills and that sexy light aren’t worth a damn.
Wildlife can be found all around us. You don’t have to live in or travel to a national park to find a large diversity of subjects to photograph. Whether you live in a Chicago, Atlanta, the Outer Banks, or Jackson Hole, there is plenty to shoot right where you live. Even in a national park you still need to understand how to find your subject though.
I think that Jackson hole is a good case study for this. A lot of photographers come to the valley for moose. This is the place in the Rockies if that’s what your looking for. Only problem is, moose aren’t just standing around out in the open most of the year like the bison are. Most photographers understand and expect this much of course because they know that deer (yes moose are deer) tend to be out early and late (what’s known as a crepuscular species).
But why? Why do they prefer dawn and dusk, and why at times can they be found at 9am on some mornings but others they have all disappeared by 7:30? Adding to this, why can you find the moose standing around out one open all day long during certain times of the year, but not others?
Furthermore, the vast majority of Jackson Hole is an endless ocean of sagebrush. This is not exactly prime moose habitat. Or is it? Come spring and summer, you will be hard pressed to see moose out in the open sagebrush. In the fall and winter however its quite common, but only in certain areas.
We can even take it a step further and ask questions based upon particular photographs that you wish to create. The classic depiction of a moose is a monster bull in waist deep water raising his head up as water pours off him. I love these types of photographs. But, is this even something you are going to have the opportunity to photograph in Jackson Hole, or the Rockies in general for that matter? Or perhaps, if this is your shot that your looking to create, would be much better off going to Maine or Alaska instead? Its not for a lack of water. Water and wetlands are what make Jackson Hole so productive for finding and photographing moose.
This is the sort of stuff you should know if you are looking to photograph moose. Of course, you could drive around for hours on end in search of one and maybe get lucky, but knowing the inner workings of a moose will consistently provide you with far better opportunities. And that’s what this is all about of course, becoming a better wildlife photographer.
Ever wondered why it is that certain photographers always seem to find the best subjects, the best action? Do you look at your photographs and get frustrated that you never find yourself in those situations to photograph? Well when it comes to having animals in front of your lens, there is no substitute for doing your homework and learning all that you can about your subject.
Simply put the better naturalist you are, the better wildlife photographer you will become. It’s like being upset that you never seem to get a good photograph of a polar bear when you have never attempted to travel to the arctic to photograph them in he first place.
To be continued. . .