I am astounded that aspiring wildlife photographers aren’t lining up to acquire my tried-and-true methods for making better wild critter images. It’s almost like they suspect I don’t follow my own advice! Wherever do they get this idea?
This lack of interest in no way dampens my enthusiasm to share them anyway. My only caution is not to use them all at once!
1. Rise with the sandhill cranes
Every great wildlife photographer knows the best time to find wild creatures is just after sunrise. That means stumbling out of bed early, leaving while it’s dark and shivering in cold, wet grass or snow – all part of the price you pay for getting photos almost as good as the next guy.
I take this to heart and get an early jump on sunset since no one can really tell the difference in a photo. This doesn’t interrupt my sleep and it turns out there are two golden hours every day. I like to think of myself as an early rising night owl.
2. Get wet and dirty as a hippo
You have to go where the action is! There are sacrifices to be made for getting good shots and that means getting down in the muck for a critical eye-level perspective. No mud – no photo.
It turns out I don’t particularly like being wet or filthy. Yet despite this natural bias, you wouldn’t believe how dirty my shoes get and I think I even got my pants smudged a few times. I may not be physically lying in the mud (that ground seems a lot further away than it used to be) but some sacrifices must have been made.
3. Train your eagle eyes
This is really good stuff so you might want to highlight it. You can’t shoot what you can’t see. The trick is focus (camera focus helps too). You need to be able to identify a lot of different shapes. Some of them might turn out to be hawks!
Of course when references to bats may be more appropriate for my eyesight, I do what I can. Thankfully my thick glasses help me detect motion so I can fire away in the general direction of activity. It’s all about the camera anyway.
4. Sneak around like a chameleon
If you want to make good photos, you need to get up close and personal with wildlife. This means head-to-toe camo, hiding in blinds and becoming invisible in nature.
I have learned to keep my camo hat in the truck though it’s rarely used. I am surprised how often I can wander around in my four-wheel blind and the animals don’t seem to care. The alternative is trying to sneak up on a hawk with eight times better eyesight than humans. I mean who’s kidding whom?
5. Study behaviour like a predatory fox
By carefully watching creatures over the years, you can develop special powers to predict their behaviour. We are all creatures of habit at our core.
After years of studying hawks I now recognize some patterns. I know they will fly off exactly 0.8 seconds after I look down to adjust my camera and ease the searing pain from a shoulder cramp. As for outsmarting the creatures, I try to keep that to a minimum. I’m not sure I want to lose a battle of wits to a creature with less than 5% of my IQ.
6. Wait like a snowy owl
The best wildlife photographers are like snowy owls. That means you need to keep sitting out there for a day, or a week or a month in all kinds of weather – just waiting for the magic moment. What a life! Legendary photogs’ have incredible stories of their long waits and wear them like badges of honour. Each retelling seems even more incredible.
That all works great unless you have my boredom gene. I need to be careful not to use up all my patience in one spot, especially a blind. It’s hot, boring and, speaking from vast experience of waiting minutes in one place, the animals never come to me. There might be a message buried in there somewhere.
7. Act crazy like a fox
The key to winning this wildlife search is sharpening your unpredictability skills. It starts with using confusing expressions such as crazy like a fox that no one really understands.
This is a special talent I have honed over the years. I have fine-tuned the art of not knowing what I’m doing or where I’m going. My theory is that wildlife doesn’t have a clue where to hide when I could show up anywhere. I’ll let you know how it works when I find something.
My conclusion? There are days I am astounded that I have managed to get any photos at all!