How To

Wildlife Photography: Part 2 – Tips to Get You Started

Exploring wilderness areas and viewing wildlife in all its varied forms is a thrilling experience. You have the opportunity to witness the intricacies of our natural environment and the interplay of species and habitats. What a delight! To capture any of it photographically is a special treat. No need to ask why I do it; no need to wonder why I tote camera bodies, lenses, tripod, extra batteries, along with the other essentials (water, etc.) while hiking. It’s simply that I love it and you will too! So remember to pack along your camera the next time you’re out exploring.”   – Deb

Here are a few tips to get you started:

      • Always be alert. Know what’s around you and educate yourself on what safety precautions you may need to take.
      • Know your camera. If you have to search and fiddle with the controls, you’ll miss the shot. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the difference it makes using your camera’s manual features instead of its automatic ones.
      • Remember that compact digital cameras have a lag time between the depressing of the shutter button and the actual release of the shutter. Work around this unique challenge by practicing on moving subjects and anticipating the action. Another approach is to simply hold down the shutter button; taking a series of shots. With luck you’ll have captured the action you wanted.
      • When you get to a location, really look at what’s around you. Though you may have stopped for that heron you saw earlier, there may be a magnificently colored centipede at your feet. Yes indeed, centipedes are wildlife too!
      • Wait for natural action. Be very patient and you’ll be rewarded with stunning opportunities.
      • If you’re using a compact digital camera, take advantage of the optical zoom capabilities but IGNORE the digital zoom feature which merely enlarges pixels turning them into unsightly boulders.
      • Don’t use flash. If you’re far from your subject, the flash won’t be of any use. If you’re too close to your subject, you risk startling it and being injured yourself.
      • Don’t feel compelled to have your subject fill your frame. Instead include components of the animal’s habitat thereby adding another layer of interest to the story your photograph will tell.
      • Focus on the animal’s eyes when possible. If they are sharp, then the entire image is more pleasant to view.
      • Select your shutter speed manually. Don’t defer to your automatic mode. You’ll want to be flexible. A running herd shot with a slower shutter speed made while panning produces breathtaking results. (Yep, you’ll want to use a tripod for this.)
      • Experiment with depth-of-field. An equally powerful statement can be made using a deep depth-of-focus as with a short depth-of-focus. It’s entirely dependent on what elements you’ve framed in your foreground, mid-ground and background.
      • Animals are not unlike high-energy toddlers. Neither stay in one place for very long so be prepared. Never chase them but move cautiously, slowly and smoothly. ALWAYS stay the recommended distance from any wildlife (as specified by the National Park Service or other expert).
      • Become familiar with the habits of different species. Enrich your understanding of what they are doing and where you might look for them.
      • Shoot when the sun’s angle isn’t straight overhead and harsh. Morning and early evening light are much more pleasant and reveal more of the subject’s texture.
      • Try to be level with the critter. This may require a bit more athleticism than you expected, particularly if you’re photographing that centipede. Remember, dirt is your pal!
      • Finally, go out on “bad” weather days. Some of the most interesting images are captured during inclement weather.

Happy exploring and have a memorable time!

Photo Title: Strutting Bull Elk – (Great Smoky Mountains NP)
Photograph and text: Copyright 2004-2019 Deborah Siminski Tappan. All rights reserved.

Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics

We’d like to thank the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics for allowing us to post their Leave No Trace Principles here. To learn more about how you can minimize your impact when visiting wilderness areas, go to: Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. – Cheers, DST

Plan Ahead and Prepare:

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups. Split larger parties into groups of 4-6.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces:

  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.

In popular areas:

  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Keep campsites small. Focus activities in areas where vegetation is absent.

In pristine areas:

  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Dispose of Waste Properly:

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find:

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts:

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife:

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors:

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature\’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

Printed with permission from the ‘Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics‘.