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Wildlife photography is rewarding and a challenge. The reward is gratification knowing a special moment occurred with a wild animal. It may also provide notoriety, as great animal shots are always in demand. The challenge comes in being able to make the image in the right light, capture the decisive moment, have a clean background and encounter a good specimen.
1) RESEARCH YOUR SUBJECT: First and foremost, find out where and when the animals you wish to photograph appear in the greatest number. For example, snow geese and sandhill cranes are found in the thousands during the winter months at Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico. Going there in the summer and expecting the same turnout would be disappointing. Learn what behaviors the animals display. Learn what conditions the animals favor. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to anticipate the animal’s actions.
2) SUNRISE & SUNSET: Schedule your main shooting times around sunrise and sunset. The quality of light is far superior to mid-day. The color is much warmer and the light is softer. Not only is the light better, the animals are more active due to cooler temperatures and their desire to feed.
3) LOOK FOR A UNIQUE ANGLE: Rather than just aim your lens at an animal from a standing position, do something different to make your shot unique. Lay down on the ground to get on the same plane as your subject to produce a better shot. Shoot through an out-of-focus foreground to produce a wash of color to frame the animal. A skylined effect whereby the animal is set against a clear blue sky provides a clean background and great angle.
4) CARRY A LONG LENS: Long lenses get you closer to the action. Additionally, they’ll keep you safer and stress your subject to a lesser degree as it won’t feel as threatened by your presence. Don’t feel as if you need to spend thousands of dollars on a super telephoto in the 500-600mm range. A 200 or 300mm lens will get you great shots of species that are more tolerant of people. Ducks and geese in city ponds make wonderful subjects and are often approachable. Let your equipment dictate what types of animals you photograph with the telephoto range you own.
5) PHOTOGRAPHER’S COMFORT: Make sure you’re equipped with the proper gear and clothing to maintain your comfort. Dress for the elements. Layer your clothing if shooting in the cold weather. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes so your feet don’t ache. Bring rain gear, insect repellent, snacks, and plenty of water. The more comfortable you are, the longer you’ll stay in the field and increase the chance of getting a great shot.