From time to time I get reflective and think about what real motivates me to get out of my [oh so comfortable] bed, and while I’ve pursued many hobbies over my life, the one consistent one has been photography. I got my first camera in first grade, and have been happily snapping since.
My ‘day’ job doesn’t allow for much creativity, my written notes aren’t meant to be creative. In fact brevity and details are praised much more than creativity and embellishments. This blog [and its predecessors] was started as nothing more than a creative outlet. I like being a writer and photographer; I also like saving lives. My ‘day’ job requires me to talk to people all day long, and for a natural introvert, that’s hard. Writing and photography are more solitary pursuits and combined with hiking, these are the passions that have stuck with me throughout my life.
I love storytelling, and I love being creative. I thrive on taking risks, stepping into the unknown and exploring new places, and if I end up inspiring others to do the same, well that’s just the icing on the cake. I would never call myself an ‘artist’, but in some way I think all photographers are artists to some degree. I may not be able to draw a straight line with a ruler, but perhaps I can see things in a different way, and that may inspire someone in some way.
I do almost no post-processing. I used to use Flickr a bit, but they had some issues last year, and I do love the new flickr. However, I have nearly 4000 photos on the site so I still visit it from time to time. I’ve never used Lightroom or Photoshop but I’d like to learn . This is what I’ve learned in 30+ years of snapping photos
Animals are where it’s at
I don’t like taking pictures of people. Maybe it’s because I live alone. My entire family could fit inside a thimble. I don’t want to take photos of strangers, and I don’t want to be one of those self-obsessed selfie taking insta-grammers either. So yeah–people aren’t my favorite subject. But animals. How many people say that they do not like animals? Almost no one. And those people who say they don’t like animals, well I probably wouldn’t like them either.
Glance at almost any travelers’ bucket list and you’ll see animals predominantly featured. Maybe not explicitly, but ask anyone who has listed African Safari on the list what part of the African Safari they’d like to see, and most will respond ‘Lions’ or ‘Elephants’. My point being, the animals are the draw. Same with visiting the Arctic. The main draws for the frozen tundra are northern/southern lights and polar bears, grizzlies bears, penguins and puffins. I mean even I’d brave the cold for a chance to see that.
I think seeing wild animals is a great appeal to travel. And for me it certainly makes a good story. How can you begin to compare seeing a lion sleeping in a zoo with tracking a pride of wild lions on safari in Africa? Or seeing lemurs on fake tree branches versus seeing them in the wild of Madagascar. And most of the time, animals carry on about their business paying you no attention so you can shoot to your heart’s content. And after about 100 shots, you may just get ‘the one.’
2. Have the right equipment
Despite what people say, there is no “right” camera. The best camera is the one you have with you. Growing up, I would have sold my soul for a Nikon D90, but I never got one. Instead, I once I had enough money, I went to the local pawn shop and bought two Pentax camera bodies and 3 lenses. I learned a lot using those cameras, and some of that knowledge sticks with me today. I’ll shoot with whatever is in front of me. I used to be staunchly anti- camera phones, but have been in situations where that was the only camera I had available. I’ve used all sorts of different cameras and lenses over the years when shooting wildlife and I have only one piece of advice – get a good zoom.
Using a telephoto lens, I’m talking more than 100mm or its equivalent, is something I feel strongly about; I’ve seen too much bad behavior concerning wildlife and personal space. For example, National Parks have signs all over the place telling you what distance to keep between you and animals, but do people listen? Nope. They do not. And then they wonder why the bear takes a swipe at them.
I currently use an Olympus Mirrorless 4/3 camera set-up, and one of my favorite lenses for animals in the 150-300mm. I can safely keep my distance, yet get up close and personal.
3. The right time, right place, and lost of patience is key. On that note, be proactive and eager.
You can’t force wildlife photography – that means being in the right place at the right time. Whether you plan your trip around a specific event or make sure your schedule is flexible enough to accommodate spending extra time here ort her, it’s up to you. Also make sure you’re prepared with all the equipment you might need including enough memory cards and batteries. You can never have too many batteries.
Always take more photos than you mean too. Always. When you are out in the elements looking at the tiny screen on the back of your camera, it is really hard to tell what’s in focus, what isn’t, and if you have it composed how you want to, and if it’s properly exposed if you are in a harsh environment or if the animals are on the move.
If you are really passionate about wildlife, then it’s easy.
4. Practice and focus
If I know that I am going to be snapping animal photos, I like to use my portrait lens. It’s a Olympus 25mm [50mm DSLR equivalent] and I wish it was the first lens I ever used. It’s perfect to learn on. Because you can drop the aperture down to 1.4 (which is really big) and you can get the most beautiful portraits with stunning depth of field. This means that the face is really sharp and focused and the background is blurry.
In fact, if you are shooting at f/1.4 it’s so sharp that you have to focus on the eyes because the nose will blur a bit and vice versa. Learning to shoot focusing on the eyes is hard, especially with animals and takes practice – the details are always in the eyes. In fact, shooting wildlife in general takes practice because you have no control over their behavior and you have to be fast and prepared for anything.
So if you have any pets, practice taking their photos. I’ve spent hours practicing with my new lens on my cat. Anad not just my cat either. I take pictures of friends’ cats and neighbor’s cats too. I want to get as much practice as possible photographing animals that aren’t familiar with me so that when I encounter animals in their natural environment. For me, the hardest thing is getting the focus right so I practice as much as possible whenever I can.
To me, wildlife photography is essentially the same as portrait photography, except animals don’t listen and might eat you given half the chance. Kind of like photographing children, I guess.
Wild animals are in fact wild animals. They deserve our respect and when we are in their territories, we should play by their rules. We live in a world where people are obsessed with the perfect selfie or snapping the most amazing photo ever–consequences be damned. But if an animal bites you or scratches you, then you are at fault and have no one else to blame when you end up in the hospital for months receiving IV antibiotics. Be patient, give them space, and let the animals come to you. Unless it’s a bear. Or a lion.
6. Keep learning, be open
Just when I think I’ve mastered the art of taking photos, someone shows me something I never seen or even thought about before. So much of what I have learned has come from talking to other photographers, asking questions, trial and error, and watching video tutorials online. Even now I still download courses and am always Googling photography tips trying to get better.