I’ve run hundreds of nature photography tours across the United States, traveling to almost every state doing so. Since 2014, I’ve lead numerous photo safaris to Tanzania and each year the number goes up. I continue to add more at the request of my participants. I’m now up to four safaris per year with plans to increase that number as time marches on. (Yes, it’s a good life!)
The reason for the above introduction is that during every domestic trip I’ve run or photo safari I’ve led, I can’t fathom the number of times I’ve been asked at the beginning of each sunrise or sunset session, “What are we going to photograph today?” In the early years, I provided concrete answers based on my provided itinerary, but that often backfired due to multiple factors: weather, the light, crowds, how a given participant “felt” that session, how I adapted to the given conditions for the planned shoot and more. Based on the factors I listed above, in addition to those that don’t appear, I learned it’s impossible to predict what we’re going to photograph on any given day.
It’s with this in mind that I now look at things more practically, in an emotional way, with a perspective of deeper thought. I developed an introspective answer I always provide when someone asks, “What are we going to photograph today?” My response is, “I don’t know. What will we be given today?” My retort came about after leading numerous safaris to Tanzania. Participants wanted to know if we were going to photograph cheetah today, or leopards, or elephants, or lions… As with any wildlife, if our paths don’t cross, despite what the Itinerary states, how can that be guaranteed? The answer is, it can’t. Hence, “What will I be given?” came to fruition.
The specific circumstance that conceived my adopted response came as a result of a sunset session in the Central Serengeti. The area is known for its cats, especially leopards, and we went to all the “hot” places to find them. In continuing to drive the roads to find them, late light broke free from some clouds. The timing coincided with our driving past a small, still pond in which two yellow billed storks stood regally in gorgeous light. Was it the leopard we all wanted? No. Was it still a great subject in great light with a great background and calm blue water that created a pristine reflection? Were they displaying behavior, and was there a mate for possible interaction? The answer to all of these questions is affirmative.
I had our guide stop and we worked the two storks for the final 30 minutes of light. We all drove away with huge smiles on our faces. We set out to make pictures of leopards, but we were given one of the best sessions I’ve ever experienced with this species of stork. The realization that occurred that evening opened everyone’s eyes to take advantage of what’s encountered rather than pass it by thinking there may be something better around the corner. If what you have is good, jump on the photo opportunity.
Expect Nothing To Get Something In Nature Photography
Once an expectation is set, disappointment is the result if it’s not met. If you go out with an open mind, then all is good. If you go out with a specific species in mind and remain obstinate that it’s the only subject you plan to photograph, you may come back with nothing. If you go out with the mindset of, “What will I be given?” and take advantage of good fortune, you’ll return with great images, albeit, maybe not what you originally planned to photograph.
But what difference does it make if you still get great shots of great subjects in great light? Although this applies more to wildlife, it can also apply to landscape photography. If the light on the way to your destination is amazing, are you going to pass it by? Will clouds impede the sun and not provide first light on the Grand Teton? It’s very possible. If so, what else will you be given that can provide excellent photos? A macro at your feet, a lone autumn aspen or a dramatic storm cloud to the north? One never knows regardless of what the plan is for the day.
So what will you be given? Take advantage and you’ll never be disappointed!
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.