I am not stalking the most dangerous animals in the world, but boars and deer can turn on you if you don't keep your distance. In today's tutorial, you'll get some tips for safer and better wildlife photography. Photographing wildlife is a fantastic experience, but unless you go to a zoo or in a guided tour, there's a lot of things to think about before starting your journey.
I won't be talking about gear today. I hope you already know what your needs will be. We'll be discussing some other things, like patience and being respectful of the animals needs. You'll need to have these ideas your mind if you want to come back home with great photographs and in one piece.
Being patient enough to sit down and wait for things to happen is a must if you want to photograph wildlife.
1. Sit Down and Be Patient
Watching and understanding wildlife is probably the most important tip to remember. Be patient. Although I stalk animals if they're on the move, I'm very cautious! I also sit down at a spot, sometimes for long periods of time, waiting for things to happen.
I recently sat for two hours near a pond to see some European tree-frogs. Not many did, but I had time to feel nature, and that's important too. It will make for a better understanding of the world, and sometimes a better understanding of yourself.
At moments like this, you have to know your camera well in order to react and get a series of shots.
2. Be Ready for the Unexpected
The picture of deer fighting during the rutting season is an example of the need to be prepared, know your camera and being able to get the exposure right in time. This was a lucky shot. I had been following deer for some days and never had the chance to see a fight, although I could hear them far away.
I would be in one extreme of a hill and would hear them fighting some miles away. This time I was passing close to a group of animals when these two started to fight. I got my camera ready and shot four or five images from where I selected this one, which is the strongest, in my opinion. Using a long 100-400mm lens let me play with the framing while keeping my distance.
A "hide on wheels" is a great bet many times. And it offers you ways to support your lenses.
3. Use a Car as Hide
Although I do walk a lot to find animals to photograph, I also use a car as cover. Animals feel less threatened by a vehicle, and besides being a great place to be when the weather is bad, it also works as a hide. Big animals and even birds will come close to a car, but run away as soon as you step out. I guess we look too ugly for them!
Also, when using a car as hide, you can use a simple way to get your camera steady. I use the coat hangers you find in most models to suspend a neck strap that goes around the lens barrel. It works fine and gives you total freedom.
The deer picture asked for patience, until a pair of them came close to the water and gave me a different shot aided by the symmetry .
4. Know Your Subject
The young deer reflected on the water are a result of patience and knowing my subject. Being aware of the behavior of the animals you're following helps you to get the best shots. But it also takes time to get things right.
I had to wait for a whole morning near this water area to get this shot. I had other animals showing up but it's the two deer side by side that make the image, a bit like a double reflection. My bit of luck for having patience to sit and wait.
You have to be ready to work fast to get wild boar playing or fighting.
5. Keep Your Distance
Wild boars are a fantastic species to see and photograph, but they can be dangerous. I've had some charging over me for no apparent reason and I had to find a shelter. They're also very aggressive towards each other, and a peaceful setting can suddenly become a pandemonium.
It's good to keep your distance and check the best route to move away if you need to. Try never to get close to newborn pigs and a mother sow. A simple distress call from a pig will get mother to come running, ready for battle. And the whole group can decide to give a hand.
A close encounter of the animal kind asks for some caution, but can be rewarding
6. Accept the Challenge
This picture represents a departure from safety conditions. The wild boar was curious enough to come close to me, an "eye to eye" situation that gave me a chance to take this picture. I had time to frame, compose and shoot more than one picture before the animal decided to move away and vanish in the vegetation.
I am always on the lookout for a sign of danger at moments like this, but I do think one has to measure each different situation and try to make the most of it. This time I got a nice portrait.
7. Stay Safe
I enjoy being alone in nature and I do think every photographer likes the solitude it represents to be by himself facing challenges. This said I am always very careful to not get in a situation that I might regret. Let people know where you are going and when you expect to return, be wary of wild animals and watch your step.
These are the best tips I learned from other photographers and I always keep them in mind when I am outside. Do you have any other tips that have helped you get better wildlife pictures? Share them in the comments.