Photography aids observation: some thoughts

I get requests from people and groups asking me to take them with me while I photograph. I am truly honored at these requests — highly honored that they like the photos I have taken well enough to want to come along. However, I have to tell them that this “led safari” type of situation is not what I do. I take walks by myself or with my husband, and I have a camera. What I have come across I find by being outside and exploring. You have to love to be out in nature and be part of it, and you have to spend many hours in the settings where animals live. Ultimately, it is the wildlife that is so thrilling — the camera is a tool which enhances my participation in nature. Photography enhances my ability to see wildlife. It focuses my concentration and awareness. I bring it home where I study the details. It serves as my notebook. When I’m done, I post some of my “stuff” so others might enjoy what I have been able to observe. Right now I’m engaged in a study of coyote behavior, less for its usefulness than for my own curiosity and understanding. Practically, though, I might find something that could ease the coexistence issue. There are aspects of this issue, including dog and human issues, that have not been looked at thoroughly enough to reveal much understanding.

I do my photographing alone, because I try to become part of the space I am working with, actually studying situations and behavior, and I can’t do so with others next to me. Also, with fewer people around you become less intrusive for the animal. It is very important not to intrude on an animal you decide to photograph — you have intruded if you have caused it to change its behavior, flinch or flee. Also, to protect the animals, I never give the locations of any of the animals I photograph.  My ultimate goal is to try to photograph beyond what could become a “pretty picture” and grab the behavior, personality or character of what I find — it takes plenty of time and lots of awareness. I try to capture what the animals reveal to me about themselves, and I’m not always successful. This is not something one can teach someone else. One learns by being interested.

My suggestion to everyone who wants to photograph wildlife is to simply take walks and find your own mode that works for you. This way you will be growing into something that is exclusively yours. Start with any wild animal you see — even common starlings. Work with one animal, never interfering with its behavior, and try to learn its ways and capture this on film. I never took any photography courses — I just plunged into doing what I wanted to do and saved what I liked. Except for a good zoom lens, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, you just need to love what you do.

I like to crop my photos considerably — because I like framing them as “portraits”. The photos have to be really sharply focused if you want to crop. However, sharp focus can only be achieved when you have plenty of light. The left-hand images are versions of the same photo taken in fairly low light — notice that there is not a lot of detail. The photo on the right was taken in very good light, and the cropped version shows lots of detail and is sharp. Photography is about light. A lot of animal activity occurs during twilight hours, when the light is not good. When there is a distance involved, a flash does not work, and anyway it would be intrusive to the animals. Anything that interferes with the light, such as fog and haze and twilight, makes it harder to achieve a sharp photo.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Peter
    Jan 16, 2011 @ 01:53:50

    Just a note to say I love your blog.


  2. Chris
    Jan 08, 2012 @ 11:19:27

    So well said, I couldn’t agree more with your comments and I certainly share your approach to wildlife photography!


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