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.

Practice and Be Ready

Practice and be ready. Ready for what you ask? Your moment. Your time.  I am a big sports fan and this year has had many great sport moments but I am going to talk about two of the biggest sport related stories this year and how they relate not to just photography but life in general.

Many of us know how Tebow took the nation by storm this past football season. Now Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks are making all the headlines. If you haven't heard of Jeremy Lin let me fill you in. He was undrafted out of college, picked up, waived, dropped down to the developmental "D" league, and finally found himself on the New York Knicks. During those times, he had every reason to quit, give up, try something else. Lin is a Harvard grad, I am sure he could find himself a good job.

So what does all of this have to do with photography? Well it's more of a life lesson. Many photographers are trying to make it, in this changing industry. Many of us fail on a daily basis. Many of us have every reason to give up and do something that "makes more sense".

We can learn from Lin and Tebow. Practice and be ready. This weeks post picture is from a project I have been working on, about backyard birds. Birds are very difficult to photograph, at least for me. I have been getting better and learning things along the way, but I won't get to were I want to be, unless I practice.

Sometime in our lives we will have a moment, a chance to "make it". It might only be for a split second, but I believe we all get our time to shine. It might be running into a book publisher at a trade show, someone important reads your blog, a gallery gives your work a chance. These moments don't come often if only once in a lifetime. Practice and be ready for your moment. Hard work, consistency, perseverance, practice.  These are all needed to capitalize when you have your chance to prove yourself. If you choose not to consistently work hard and practice, it's likely your moment will end in failure. Someone else will be ready, ready for their moment.

Lin and Tebow were presented with their moment, their chance. You see what happened.

What will happen when you get your chance?

Mormon Row

Mormon Row is located in the Antelope Flats area of Grand Teton National Park. Mormon Row is a rural historic landscape including the construction of the Moulton Farmsteads. These farmsteads and may others were constructed by a settlement of Mormons from 1908 to 1950 henceforth the name Mormon Row. To get to this Moulton barn you will head north past the Jackson Hole Airport, then turn east onto Antelope Flats Rd. Then turn back to the south on Mormon Row. It's a dirt road with a turn around at the end by the barn.

This location in the park is one of the most scenic. The peaks of the barn roof match the peaks of the Tetons. In the fall the fog and low clouds tend to hide the Tetons, but in this case it worked out. The best time to photograph Mormon Row is at sunrise. The sun will rise striking the face of the barn and in turn the Grand Tetons Mountain Range. Be careful of your shadow. The best spot to stand will be on the south corner of the property at an angle from the barn, otherwise your shadow will be in the image and many other photographers will give you evil glares.

I was one getting glared at but quickly realized what I was doing and moved. So when you arrive and wonder why all the photographers are standing in one spot its worth investigating and may save yourself from one of those embarrassing oops, sorry, moments.

This weeks post picture was taken on a cloudy morning with a tripod mounted 16-35mm at 27mm @ f8. I used a ND grand filter handheld to balance out the sky and foreground while triggering the camera with a remote release.

Mormon row is worth the trip to the park alone. It's a must see right behind Schwabacher Landing.


Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is located about 30 miles from Moab Utah. I stayed in Moab to visit both Canyonlands and Arches National Park. This is the best place to stay when visiting these two parks. Many different accommodations and things to do. A quick google search of Moab is all you really need to find what, where, how, and when.

First off I must say it was HOT. It was near 100 f during the day in mid July. When it dropped down to 85 f at night it actually felt a bit chilly, that's how hot it was midday. If you plan on visiting these parks during the summer months, please take this into account.

Canyonlands have very unique geological features that are carved out by the Colorado river. My first impression of Canyonlands was that it looked a lot like The Grand Canyon. Canyonlands National Park also has many features that rise above the horizon which give it a unique feel.

The main reason I wanted to visit Canyonlands National Park was to get a shot of Mesa Arch at sunrise. The underside of Mesa Arch glows when the sun hits it and you can look through Mesa Arch and see the canyon below. It's a beautiful sight! Moab being 30 plus minutes away and it's July so the sun rises early, you have to get up well before the crack of dawn to see the sunrise. I made my way out to Mesa Arch and being that I was a little behind I may or may have not drove really fast to get there in time. Shh don't tell anyone.

When I arrived to the trail head parking lot, there were about 7 or 8 cars already there. The path to Mesa Arch is about 1/4 mile and being how light it was already, I  dang near ran to the arch. I got there and already a string of photographers were set up photographing. It was funny though because there was a spot open almost like they knew I was coming.  I wedged my way in with my tripod and started photographing. As the sun came up shortly after I got there, my fellow photogs and I just started saying ooo and ahhh. For a moment we all stopped taking pictures to enjoy what we were witnessing. The excitement and comradery is great in places like these. I have heard stories of photographers getting into fights over the "best" position but I have yet to witness this and actually my experiences have been exactly the opposite. Respect can go a long way, and I end up talking and making friends.

This weeks post picture was taken at f16 so I could get the "star burst" effect. I was using my 16-35mm lens at 16mm, tripod mounted with a cable release. This photograph was the best of my trip and I am glad I was able to witness a Mesa Arch sunrise.

As far as the rest of Canyonlands, it was ok. I defiantly enjoyed Arches more, and if I were to do a "canyon" trip I would go to the Grand Canyon instead.

I recommend visiting Canyonlands National Park just based on the fact that Mesa Arch is a must see!



HDR Photography

HDR Photography has an ongoing debate among the professionals. Photographers either love or hate HDR Photography. Those of you that don't have a clue what HDR is, it's the blending of multiple exposures into one photograph. This process usually takes place in a software program such as Photomatix or Photoshop. This isn't going to be a tutorial just an opinion on HDR. To learn more about HDR  check out the king of HDR Photography Trey Ratcliff.

The people that like HDR photography the most seem to be the average person that has no idea what HDR Photography is. The people that hate HDR the most is the photography purists that believe that it has no place in photography and believe its more a graphic art.

I myself don't really care one way or the other as long as the photograph looks good. This weeks post picture was taken handheld using the HDR technique. In a situation like this I would normally use my ND grad filters to darken the sky a bit so I could get the exposure I was looking for but in this case I was driving when I happened upon the scene. Instead of getting out my tripod, getting out my filters and making this a long drawn out ordeal (besides I was trying to get to a spot for sunset) I decided to use HDR.

You can see what I was faced with in terms of the back lighting and the bright sky with the dark foreground. Not very appealing

HDR photography is just another tool in the photographers toolbox. Whether you choose to use the HDR "tool" is up to you, but for me it's a tool I will always have in-case I need it.