5 Wildlife Photography Tips

Watching, observing, and photographing wildlife can be very rewarding. Capturing images in a natural setting, while the critters are demonstrating natural behavior, are just a few of the challeges us photographers are faced with.  This week I am going to cover 5 wildlife photography tips that have worked for me.

1) Be calm! Calm nerves has defiantly worked for me.  I truly believe animals can sense excitement, anxiety, fear, etc. Prey animals know they're in danger. Being stalked, even though they can't see the predator, they know something isn't right and they flee. Many of us see an animal for the first time and our hearts start racing, we panic and miss our chance at a good image. Similar to when a hunter gets "buck fever". It also makes our subjects nervous and more likely to look for an escape route.

2) Know your subject! If you know the behaviors of your subject, you can stay one step ahead, and capture the great moments. Instinct plays a key role in animal behavior. If you know when and how an animal feeds, mating rituals, nesting arrangements, all these and other factors will give you a leg up and help you capture a critter doing everyday natural activities.

3) Take Cover! Most animals are familiar with humans. Most animals are familiar with cars and trucks. Whatever the reason, they are less threatened by a vehicle. I photograph most wildlife from inside my car. Critters are less concerned about me and more concerned about their next meal. The opposite would be true if I were outside the vehicle. If you are really into it, there are all sorts of camo outfits for you and your camera gear.

4) Get a Long Lens! Sometimes you need the right tools for the job. If you are photographing mid to large sized animals, than a 300mm or 400mm reach is a good starting point. If you are into birds, than I would say 600mm is where you want to start at. When it comes to birds I don't think there is such thing as too much lens. These lenses aren't cheap, but it's essential to get those award winning captures.

5) Be patient! It takes time to make a wildlife image. Hours, days, sometimes weeks if you have an elusive subject. Don't expect to run out, grab some images and come home. Expect the opposite. Expect to go out, sit for 3 hours and see absolutely nothing.

This weeks post image was taken in the delta region of Arkansas. I sat by this swamp for an hour or so in mid morning. I was watching some birds and ducks when I seen this guy headed towards me. He was looking for some breakfast. I stayed calm, I had my 70-200 with a 1.4 extender attached, I was in my vehicle, and I waited until he was close enough for me to photograph him. He was about 10' away and wasn't even bothered by my presence, even after I ripped off a few bursts from the 7D.

Baeolophus Bicolor


What's a Baeolophus Bicolor? Well it's the scientific name for a Tufted Titmouse. Ok so what's a Tufted Titmouse? It's a bird! In Cherokee legend the Tufted Titmouse are regarded as messengers. They live in areas with a decent amount of rainfall approximately 24 inches or more a year and most live their entire lives within a few miles from where they were born. This weeks post picture was taken at my home here in Michigan.

We finally got some snow this last week and after the storm rolled through the birds where out at the feeder quite a bit. This guy was sitting in the tree waiting for an opening to get to the seed. Many other bigger birds where occupying the feeder and he was waiting his turn.

I took this photo using my 70-200 2.8 II with a 1.4 extender III. I used a 580 EX II  for fill flash and a catch light.



Elephant Seals

This time of year the elephant seals are ashore in Central California. Just north of San Simeon and Hearst Castle, there is a spot off HWY 1 where many people gather to see the hundreds of Elephant seals. December starts the breeding season. The breeding starts once the first males come ashore. Some of the more dominant males are 14-16 feet long and can weigh up to 2-1/2 tons. These big males take part in violent battles to establish dominance. The more dominant bulls do the majority of the breeding. Also starting in late December the females come ashore to give birth to their pups, which were conceived the year before. The females are smaller than the males. They are about 10-12 feet in length and weigh 1200-2000 pounds. The females give birth shortly after reaching the shore, and they nurse their pups for an about 30 days. The pups in this time frame can gain 200 lbs. The Elephant seals milk is 55% fat, which helps with the rapid weight gain in the seal pups. Some pups will actually feed from several different female seals and can reach 600 lbs in this short time frame.

So with all this going on I wanted to go see the pups and see if I could catch an epic battle between these beasts. I have been to this spot a couple of times before, not much going on except a bunch of seals laying on the beach. Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was all the seal pups. The second thing I noticed was the size of some of the dominate bull males. These guys are impressive. Honestly they look like big blobs or Jaba the hut. The dominate males had a few spats while I was present, but for the most part it was pretty calm, but you can see the scars and even fresh blood from their past battles.

All in all it's a sight to see. The look out is easy to get to and quite popular. The seals don't even pay attention the humans that spend time observing their behavior. I took my 70-200 for these photographs. I have seen several photogs with the big 500 and 600mm lenses but the 70-200 should be good enough. A tripod isn't necessary and with a big crowd it's almost impossible to set up a tripod.  The picture above is a Seal pup and the one to the right is a battle worn male. If you're in the area I recommend visiting San Simeon and the Elephant seals!