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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

5 Top Tıps For Autumn Wildlife

With the seasons in flux, fall gives nature shooters some of the best photography possibilities of the year

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There’s so much happening with fauna in the fall—bird migrations are in full swing, it’s the autumn rutting period for big game and even small animals are preparing for the imminent cold of winter. So we asked OP wildlife guru Daniel J. Cox to share some of his top tips for getting the most out of this dynamic time of year and composing more compelling wildlife images.

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BLACK BEAR: Nikon F5, 500mm ƒ/4 Nikkor
1) Where Do They Live? Habitat Is The Key To Survival.
Often, wildlife photographers get caught up in the idea that the only good wildlife image is a close-up of a wild creature. No doubt these are the images that most people see published and strive to emulate, but I’ve come to understand that there’s more to wildlife documentary work than headshots. In one word, it’s called habitat. Without habitat, there are no wild animals to take pictures of. This not only is an important element to remember as a committed conservationist, but it also can work to your advantage when searching for beautiful images to capture.

There are two techniques I enjoy using to help establish where an animal lives. The first involves pulling back to show the beautiful colors of the fall tundra as in the image of the black bear in north-central Alaska. It’s especially effective in this situation since most people don’t associate black bears on the tundra; it’s a little visual surprise. In the foreground, you can see the small black spruce. The background is a relatively thick spruce forest. With ongoing climate change, scientists have documented the northward progression of the northern forests. Showing a black bear in this unusual habitat, along with the forest in which it will need to prosper, tells a compelling story.

The second technique involves using a telephoto lens to compress the foreground, as well as using trees and bushes to add framing. This works well when capturing an image of an animal you might not be able to get as close to as you might like. Often, an image of this style not only is beautiful, but in some situations may be beneficial to the animal. Knowing how to make a good image from afar can be rewarding to you and the animals we love and strive to protect.

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BEAVER: Nikon F5, 600mm ƒ/4 Nikkor
2) Anticipate Behavior
Being knowledgeable about your subject is the key to successfully capturing images that stand the test of time. I’m not a trained biologist, but that hasn’t kept me from studying the animals I enjoy. To compensate for my lack of formal training, I reach out to trained biologists.

Being a diligent student allows you to predict specific behaviors your subjects may perform, for example, the image of the busy beaver. These semiaquatic rodents always have been a favorite of mine. They’re hard-working, and through their natural instinct of building a better home for themselves, they add lots of new habitat for other aquatic birds and animals. Fall is the time when beavers are most predictable. They’re busy stashing willow branches for winter feed, strengthening dams and adding to their houses. Through several days of careful, distant observation, I knew this little fellow was cutting willows in one spot and bringing them to a place near his lodge. He traveled this route dozens of times per day. I eventually set up a blind on the side of the pond, which allowed me to get his picture.

A brown bear chasing a salmon is another example of an animal’s acting predictably. I captured an image of a coastal Alaskan brown bear on a river known for its annual salmon run. I prefer working with these brown bears (actually, they’re grizzlies) since they’re much less stressed than grizzlies in the lower U.S. and Canada. I also was with a group in a designated viewing area, which allows the bears to become accustomed to humans watching from the bleachers, so to speak. Every fall these magnificent animals spend lots of time chasing their daily meals.


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