Wildlife Basics

This is Short Face. He got that name from the biologists that have watched him over the years at McNeil River Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge was set up decades ago as a bear wilderness with the purpose of watching and studying Grizzly Bears. With the natural salmon run that goes through the preserve, hundreds of bears flock to the river to fatten up before winter. It is an ideal place for bear viewing and bear behavior science.

When most people think about Bears, especially Grizzly Bears, they think of a scary creature, one that attacks all the time. But that simply isn’t the case. Like all creatures, they have boundaries that nature has put into their biology that tell them what is okay and what isn’t in the world around them. When a person upsets one of these boundaries that’s when something can happen. Bears are truly great at doing two things, eating and sleeping. That’s what they do. They get fat and then go to sleep. Of course, there is more to their lives than just that but that is their primary focus. The misconception about bears is what makes them scary.

Bears are a great example of the realities that Wildlife Photographers face on a daily basis. What people believe about the species and what the reality actually is. We have to educate people and that’s not always easy to do.

So how do you get started in Wildlife Photography? This is a question that I have heard many times. It is a proven fact that people get a sense of joy and calmness when they see good photographs of wildlife. Kind of like when they see images of cats or dogs but usually those are more fun than reality. No, with wildlife it is the sense that there is more out there in this world than just ourselves, and that feeling makes us happy.

This fact prompts a lot of photographers to want to start. Two important facts to remember when it comes to Wildlife Photography are one, like all fields of photography it isn’t easy and two, unlike other fields gear actually is important. Let’s address the first one. Wildlife Photography is all self-motivated. Unlike other fields, say wedding photography, where you do one photoshoot and make a new contact or use the images to meet a new client, with wildlife you have to constantly be pushing yourself to get new images, selling those images, and then repeating the process. You can’t get a referral from a Chipmunk. If you’re lucky enough to work with a biologist then there is the potential to make more happen but that’s not always easy to do. Your reputation and photographs will both have to be of the best quality to make those sorts of opportunities happen. Now going back to the original question of how you get started with this new information in hand, the best way to get started and to keep going is to first take a lot of pictures and then find outlets to get published. Notice I didn’t say paid outlets I said outlets. This does not mean the web. The editorial marketplace is your best friend as a Wildlife Photographer and even though it is competitive you have to keep trying. That’s how you’re going to grow.

Now the second point I brought up is in reference to gear. Well, when you’re starting out you probably won’t be able to afford the best gear. The number one mistake photographers often make is overbuying because someone said you need it. The best option is to buy what you can afford and then learn how to make the best use of it. You can accomplish a lot with a 70-300 and that’s a very inexpensive lens. You just have to practice one of the most important lessons of Wildlife Photography and that’s getting close physically. Over-dependence on long lenses and not moving is a common mistake and often leads to uninteresting photos or lots of post-processing. Eventually, you will have to go out and purchase a long lens. I have used the 600 f/4 for many years now. It has served me well and continues to do so. A long lens is really needed for isolating background, working with subjects you can’t approach, and especially bird photography where the subject is constantly moving. Another way when you’re starting out is to use a medium-range lens, like a 70-200, and then purchase a teleconverter. This will increase your focal length but you will lose a stop or even two stops of light depending on which lens you’re using it with. Keep in mind with a teleconverter you have added a second joint in your setup so proper technique is a must because any vibration can make the image fuzzy.

To sum up, if you’re starting out don’t buy the best, buy what you can afford. Practice all the time even if it’s in a park, out hiking, or a birdbath/ bird feeder scenario. Take that practice and put it towards editorial work and keep pushing. The last bit of info for anyone who wants to be in this field is to read a lot. Study animal biology, behavior, psychology, habitat, weather, and above all photography. You need to know about as many variables as you can so that you can plan around them. This will help you get better photos.



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