Friday, January 01, 2010

Trusting Animals: Photographing Wildlife

Photographing wildlife is no easy task, the beauty of the creatures, their environment and photographing their interaction is what keeps drawing me back time and time again to photograph God’s untamed creatures in their free roaming habitat.

Snapping a picture of a wild creature sometimes is easy and other times not so easy but making a Photograph is an entirely different situation. A studio photographer typically is in control of his subject, the lighting and the background environment but in wildlife photography all of that control is out the window.

For lighting we are strictly at the mercy of the weather and the animal’s whims. Even if we do find our subject during the very best light of the day, if the animal or our observation post is not properly positioned to take advantage of the beautiful light, our efforts are in vain. Sure a picture can be snapped to show what we saw but a real photograph, one such as you might find on a magazine cover will be impossible if we cannot change position to take full advantage of the situation.

Backgrounds are another issue. With wildlife the animal chooses where it will be and when it will be there. Sometimes the encounter is perfect with a great natural background and other times; oh well just another snapshot to be deleted later or kept as a reference to show what was encountered, unless the photographer can move to a more advantageous shooting position.

The value of trusting wildlife for photographic purposes cannot be overstated. With wildlife that does not become overly alarmed by human presence the success of the photographer as well as of the casual viewer is greatly enhanced.

It is no secret among wildlife photographers that many if not most wildlife photographs found in publication are photographs of trusting animals. These animals normally live in areas protected from hunting pressure. Areas such as National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and other protected areas as well as pen raised animals are utilized extensively by wildlife photographers.

Whether the subject is a songbird conditioned to human presence by feeding or a mature whitetail in a National Park there is no shame in photographing trusting animals, this is what we need to be successful. The challenge is not in the hunt but rather in using all of the tools, our knowledge, and our creativity to produce a beautiful memorable photograph that celebrates the beauty of nature.

Wildlife images featured on my blog, Country Captures, for the most part are of wildlife that has a certain amount of trust or tolerance for humans. With some subjects tolerance can be built with only a few quiet non-threatening visits while others require a considerable effort be expended acclimating the animals to human presence, sometimes years!

One of the great values of the Pennsylvania elk herd is the almost total lack of fear of humans. The elk found around the traditional viewing areas are accustomed to human presence. Seventy years of protection and the influx of tens of thousands of visitors each year has conditioned these animals to such a degree that they simply go about their daily business regardless of human presence.

With the current tiny no kill zone the quality of available animals has been eroded over the years of the hunt and perhaps their trust will be the next to go. Some do not see the value in preserving this unique experience that thousands enjoy and consider the changes brought on by the hunt to be positive.

In my opinion reducing these majestic trusting free ranging animals to a trophy hanging on the wall, a set of number in a record book, and a hunting story does nothing positive for the image of hunting or of hunters and nothing positive for this unique Pennsylvania Treasure.


Heather said...

This is all very true Coy! I lived in Montana and never had a big game animal allow me to get anywhere nearly close enough to observe or photograph them in the way the PA elk herd does. Their demeanor in PA has been priceless for not only my photography but for the development of my very young daughters absolute adoration for the herd. Although my 1 year-old still points and yells out "duck" when she sees an elk on our trips, my 2 1/2 year-old is quick to correct her. The times we share with our children in Elk Country have been the most amazing and most memorable of all... I am so grateful those elk allow us into their world long enough to learn and admire them the way they do.

You should re-post this in the SPE blog as well, I think the readers there would appreciate your message.

Les Barr said...

Even though I've never really attempted to try photographing wildlife, I would like to try my hand at doing so. Since I really do not have a expensive wildlife Lens, I will have to try it with what I have in my equipment.

I am told that there are 2 Eagles over at the Ontellione Dam that is not far from here. I am going to try and photograph them, if I can find out just where they are. What I should do is call the local Game Commission. Maybe they know something about them.

Using my Pentax K100D with a Telephoto Lens and a 2X Doubler should do the trick. I do have a Tripod, but it's not a real expensive one. It seems to work fairly well.

Keep your Posts comming. I read them and learn from someone that knows more than what I do.

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

I am always impressed by the pictures you share.I realize that most of them come as the result of considerable effort.Jake and I have often said that it is a lot easier to shoot an animal with a gun than with a camera.

Chris said...

Hi Coy,
Yes, fairly true, we should trust and use this trust to get our nice shots, of course as long as we do not perturb them ;-) Beautiful shot again!

Montanagirl said...

Beautiful shot Coy. And I agree with all you said. Well done.

imac said...

Great info Coy, as well as getting that great shot too.

Brad Myers said...

Well said Coy. It is easier to photograph acclimated animals but it still requires a skill with lighting, settings. You have that skill and I always enjoy looking at your photos and reading your post.

I think the inclusion of the twigs and grass enhance to bird photos in your newest post.

Tim Rucci said...

So true, Coy. I very rarely have the opportunity to view wildlife in its native habitat, and when I do the only thing I carry is my camera. I certainly could never pull the trigger on a gun when viewing these beautiful animals.