One of the most important tasks for a wildlife photographer is getting to know the subject, spending time watching, listening and looking, learning its behaviour, its habits and calls. In turn all of this will reward you with a far better chance of capturing images that show the subjects natural behaviour. Most, if not all animals show clues that can provide an advance warning of behaviour that will tell a story within your photographs, such as fighting, hunting, and mating. It is also important to recognize the signs of stress within the animal so you know when to stop and leave the animal well alone. The last thing you ever what to do is cause undue stress and disturbance through your actions.
By watching and learning about the subject you get to know their behaviour and any sudden changes so that you can be ready by just observing their behaviour and patterns, which can change in a second, from peaceful to action images in a instance. This observing approach can learn you so much about a subject which will be key to improving your wildlife photography and the images you capture.
There are two approaches when it comes to getting close to nature, the first is to conceal yourself so that the subject does not know that you are there, the second is stalking which takes more time and a lot more skill and patience to master. Many species of mammals and birds will allow you to approach them closely if you are careful and take your time, no fast movements and using the correct techniques. Read the land for yourself, see whats in front of you, in between you and the subject, use natural gulley’s and shapes to break up your approach. Never make the mistake of walking directly towards your subject as the chances are the animal will have long gone.
Your approach needs to be slow and low, watching and listening, as other birds and animals will give your position away should you be seen. Look for dry grass, leaves and gather a small amount in your hands and throw this into the air determining the wind direction. Once you see which way the wind is blowing you can determine your approach better as most animals have a great sense of smell and its the first thing to give you away. The wind always wants to be blowing into your face, this will blow your scent away and remember to forget the aftershave or perfume along with soaps that are high in perfume as these will be picked up from great distances away.
As many animals and birds are very shy and very wary of humans, as a wildlife photographer you need to take great care not to disturb your subject as your aim is to get close to photograph their natural relaxed behaviour, making for a much better image. Getting into place before the sun comes up is also a great tip as you will have been there for a while before the sun comes up and the animal will not see you. Using good fieldcraft skills that I have mentioned will allow you to be able to capture images showing what they are doing, as all animals and birds are most active at dawn and dusk. This image of two fallow Deer was captured just as the sun broke the horizon and I was in place in the dark, set up and settled, which then allowed me to have a view and window into their behaviour and lives.
Is camouflaged clothing really necessary? Many people have asked me this question and for me its part of the fieldcraft package, so the answer is yes. Your shape, white skin exposed, straight lines formed by your body all need to be broken up. It works by letting you blend into the habitat you are working in, so if its snow you need to be white, on the beech the main colours need to be of a sandy colour and so forth. My own experiences and skills that I learnt from my army days have been invaluable and have proven that they are transferable to wildlife photography.
The 3 S’s – Shape, Shine and Silhouette, these need to be broken up, disguised as much as possible changing your physical appearance when you are working the ground as I do within my style of photography. If you are working from a car or hide you still need to have in mind that the subject will still see and smell you, so the need to break up these 3 S’s is paramount in the field. Avoid materials that rustle and its always a must to wear a hat to break up your silhouette along with gloves that cover your hands so light isn’t reflexed back from your exposed bright skin.
Clothing, wind direction, covering the ground, shape, shine, stay low, can all help in capturing those moments in nature where you have to work harder with some animals than others. Some species will accept human presence quicker, taking only hours, where as other more sensitive subjects will take weeks if not months. Its the way I work while capturing wild animals as I like to show them in their natural habitats, composing them to show others how they go about their lives, so correct fieldcraft and camouflaged clothing are an integral part to the way I work. Being at one with nature is amazing and with time and effort and applying good fieldcraft everyone is capable of capturing those beautiful moments I am blessed with seeing each time I enter the natural world.
Alot of the great wildlife photographs you see are as a result of many hours of dedicated and skilled photography, knowledge learned about the subject, fieldcraft applied, patience and perseverance, however, there are many great images that are also the result of a lucky encounter, where fast reactions of the photographer have succeeded in capturing a beautiful moment in time with that added ‘wow’ factor. Regardless of the level of photographic skill you still need to be in exactly the right place at the right time, if you wish to capture a unique photograph from the wild. You will increase your chances of this by spending as much time as you can in the field, watching, looking and listening to mother nature.
That decisive moment when it comes will be very fast and then over before you know it. Where the subject is in the position or the action is at its best, might only be for a split second but by applying all the elements I have mentioned you will be in a prime position to capture that amazing image. By remaining alert at all time you will reduce the chance of missing that killer shot as I call it, and increase your chances of seeing and detecting some aspect of behaviour that could alert you to an impending opportunity.
Thorough planning together with learning as much as you can about the subject you are watching will result in a great improvement within your wildlife photography. Adopt a mindset thatyou must work with whats in front of you, use the ground to your advantage but above all else relax and enjoy. Don’t put any pressure on yourself and the rest will fall into place. Also never mislead people about what you have used to obtain an image, eg- fieldcraft, hide, captive or tame animal, bait/fed, workshop and so forth. A level of integrity and honesty should always be displayed with your work where your own rewards for putting the effort in will be well worth it in the end by developing sites and learning about the land and the animals it supports.
All of the one to ones, workshops and photo trips that I run touch on all of the aspects of improving your wildlife photography, where fieldcraft is one of the major factors in producing lovely images of animals that live in the wild. I wish you luck and remember always to respect wildlife the images are always second to their needs.
If you would like any further help or advice on any of the topics I have raised then please feel free to send me an email here
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