So You Want to be a Better Wildlife Photographer? Part IV

Let’s take this concept of a species profile a step further. As I mentioned in the last part of this discussion, I create a profile for each and every animal that I decide I want to focus on. This doesn’t mean that I am writing my own book on the natural history of North American wildlife of course. Though I will take the opportunity to photography what comes my way, my ever growing notebook on this sort of stuff, concentrates on very specific species.

So why specialize? Why focus on certain key animals and not others? This gives my passion and energy direction. It allows me to focus and gives my days spent in the field purpose. If I do not have a specific species that I am looking for when I head out the door, then I wander aimlessly. Sure they may be times that I launch out in my kayak with no idea what I am going to photograph. I see moose, bears, waterfowl, eagles, and all kinds of stuff when I slip into the water like this. For me though, this is the exception to the rule. If you focus your energy on key species, learn their behavior, their habits, their ecology, then you will find that other interests and photographic opportunities will branch off from there.

In part II of this series I discussed what you might call the bibles of natural history for wildlife photographers. I mentioned that this was the very short list. Here, I want to elaborate on this list a bit. In order to create a detailed species profile, you are going to need more detailed information than those books are going to provide you.

Since moose were my subject in species profile that I provided with my last post, I will stick to this theme. For most species in North America, you can usually find at least one book that is dedicated solely to the natural history of that one species. These are great resources, and for moose, I prefer:

  1. Moose: Behavior, Ecology, Conservation. Valerius Geist. http://www.amazon.com/Moose-Behavior-Conservation-Valerius-Geist/dp/0896584224/ref=pd_sim_b_4
  2. Moose: Giants of the Northern Forest. Bill Siliker. http://www.amazon.com/Moose-Giants-Northern-Bill-Silliker/dp/1552092550/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y

Often times these types of books may be all that you will need. Personally, I have one for every species of hoofed mammal living in North America. However, once you begin to truly understand you subject, you will realize that a moose for instance, have very different habits and natural histories from one local to the next. Jackson Hole is quite different from Maine, which is very different from Isle Royal National Park, which is very different from Alaska. The basic biology is the same of course, but how they fall into their ecosystem, what type of habitats they use and when, what type of food do they prefer and when – will vary from region to region.

So here in Jackson Hole, though I may be personally interested in why Alaska moose are significantly larger than our native moose, understanding the day to day habits of a moose outside of Anchorage in the temperate rainforest does not do me one bit of good when I am in the high desert valleys of Wyoming.

To go beyond the general ecology books of a species however, we have to begin diving into waters that can be, at times, a bit, well, academic.

  1. Moose Ecology Study, Jackson Hole Wyoming. Douglas B. Houstan
  2. Ecology of Native Ungulates in Jackson Valley. http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Products/Publications/21199/21199.pdf

If you took a look at the species profile that I included with the last entry in this series, you will see that I really concentrated on food throughout the season. Remember, food and sex drive every living being on Earth. Understand what the animal is eating, and why, and you will understand one drives that animal and where it drives them to on a daily basis. Know this, and everything changes when you are in the field.

This is the sort of information that is missing in photo guide books (something my good friend Daryl Hunter has been tediously working to change). Though a guide book may tell you to keep an eye out for moose along the Moose-Wilson road in Grand Tetons National Park, it does not tell you why. The devil of course is in the details. The Moose-Wilson road is not the only place in the valley that you can find moose. There are far better locations for photographing these giants of the north woods. Have a general understanding of moose biology, how it is effected by temperature, food needs for the given season, etc. .  will give you the knowledge it takes to narrow things down to 4 or 5 really good locations to find moose.

All of this is replicable back home for you as well. Whether you are looking to photograph great horned owls feeding their chicks on the nest, black bears with cubs dangling from trees, wild horses on the beaches of the Outer Banks, or the heart stopping fights of prairie chickens in Nebraska (a personal favorite of mine), understanding the natural history of your species, and puting together in depth species profiles on your subject of interest will catapult you light years ahead of the game.

This entry was posted in The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Wildlife Photography.