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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Extreme Wildlife

Jim Oltersdorf works on the edge to get wild and unique photographs of wildlife and nature as a whole

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Green vine snake, Monteverde, Costa Rica
When he wanted to photograph the deadly snakes and poison dart frogs of Costa Rica, Oltersdorf hired a guide and in the pitch-dark of the night, headed into the swamps of the jungles. Earlier, a woman was killed by a fer-de-lance snake in the village where Oltersdorf was married. While on his guard in the inky-black jungle, he was absolutely delighted to get the pictures he had dreamed of for years.

Shooting Techniques
Oltersdorf believes that unusual perspectives create interesting visual presentations to the viewer. They also present a host of challenges, especially in his work. “While I may find a scene interesting as I stand on the ground, I often find myself wondering what it would look like if I climbed a tree and shot it that way,” he says. That “widening of thought” takes him even higher as he’s well known for his work in aviation magazines.

Red-eyed tree frog, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Working With Wildlife
Noise and quick movements are the two elements that seem to destroy otherwise wonderful opportunities to photograph wildlife. Try to keep talking to a minimum, and if you need to, do it in a whisper.

“Quick movements attract the attention of wildlife,” Oltersdorf explains, “so attempt to be slow about how you move, and chances are, you’ll have much more success in your photography. An example is, if I have to scratch my face. I’ll take maybe at least 30 seconds to bring my arm up to do so. Yes, that might be difficult, especially if you have to scratch it now, but it’s better to do it that way than to scare off the animal and lose your only shot for the day.”

Adds Oltersdorf, “If you need to get closer, try walking slowly and parallel to the subject instead of directly at it. Avoid making direct eye contact as well because that can be interpreted by wildlife as provocation or a threat.”

Oltersdorf uses longer lenses such as 300mm and larger telephotos. He says, “It’s simple—some birds and animals are extremely skittish, and no matter what you do, it won’t be good enough unless you have these more powerful lenses.”

Gray wolf, Bitterroots, Montana
Respect Behavior When Afield
Always respectful of the wildlife he photographs, Oltersdorf says, “If you begin to spend a lifetime of studying wildlife, you’ll never graduate from it. I’m constantly amazed what I learn each time I’m out after more than 50 years of being outdoors. Encroaching upon the animals’ territory is the single most common mistake many photographers and nature lovers do. Disruption to the animals’ lives, whether intentional or unintentional, reflects upon either poor knowledge or being disrespectful. A wonderful tip: When you first encounter the animal, carefully watch what it’s doing. If you make a slow approach and it changes any of that behavior, you’re most likely pressuring it. It’s without question a wonderful experience to stay your distance, photograph it regardless of how good or bad the photograph is and then walk away with it still undisturbed. Always try to keep in mind that the experience is the most rewarding part regardless of how the picture may turn out.

“Outdoor photography gives these kinds of experiences that make it so worthwhile to live for,” concludes Oltersdorf. He awakens to every morning with the exuberance of a child, and he can’t wait to get going on whatever project it is at the moment.


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