WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE
What It Takes to be a Wildlife Photographer
Unlike a painter, sculptor or any other artist who creates art by hand, documenting the process that leads to a wildlife photographer's final photographic image is more difficult. For most photographers, the actual downloading and editing of an image takes mere minutes. However, if your subject is wildlife, the work to capture that perfect image can take days, weeks, months or even years. This is especially true for a wildlife photographer who captures wildlife in their natural habitat - the landscapes where they roam, bringing to life the essence of the animal and its behaviors as seen in nature - not from a zoo, wildlife farm or wildlife safari.
Caption 1: Pictured above on the left is me set up on an Osprey nest in Colorado (Photo credit - Scot Bealer). I returned to this nest several times a week over a few months trying to capture special moments over the cycle of nesting.
Caption 2: The result is a series of photographs of an osprey couple and their young. Pictured above is the couple taking care to maintain their nest in preparation for their young using branches from nearby tress to build the structure. Given the size of the nest this pair have nested in this location for years. The natural habitat brings an earthy, natural feel to the photo.
You may be asking, how do I get my pictures? It all starts with research. A wildlife photographer must learn about habitat and behaviors of their subjects. Understanding when is the best time to capture your subject is important as some wildlife are more active at certain times of year and for birds many are migratory and are only present during certain months. For example, the osprey will summer in the North and winter in the South because they need open water to be able to catch their primary food source which is fish.
Caption 3: The key to capturing this "Special Delivery" of a brown trout was to locate an angle where my view was at the same level as the nest. I had to climb a steep ridge with my camera gear to get the angle I wanted with out being so close to disturb the osprey family. Once I had my location picked I was able to determine the best time of day to have the sun hit the nest area with the sun behind my back.
Knowing when mating rituals are likely to occur as well as when young are born is of particular interest to me as these make dramatic and or sweet moments to capture. Of course weather and other unforeseen circumstances may alter their behavior from year to year so I have to be able to adjust plans accordingly. Spring and fall are my favorite times of the year because of all the activity. Since I can not be everywhere at once I have to pick and choose which species I want to focus my efforts on each year and what behaviors I wish to capture.
Caption 4: A bull elk bugling during the rut is a common sound and sight in the fall. This is one of my limited edition prints titled " Wake Up Call" which I captured in September of 2022. Click on the picture to see sizes and pricing.
Super Mom (Broad-tailed Hummingbird)Did you know that the female of the species is the sole provider for the young from nest sitting to feeding? They often nest in the same spot year after year.
Caption 5: A broad-tailed hummingbird sits on eggs. Did you know that the female of the species is the sole provider for the young, from nest sitting to feeding? They often nest in the same spot year after year. This limited edition print which I captured in May of 2020 is titled "Super Mom". Click on the picture to see sizes and pricing.
Winter time brings a different kind of opportunity to find wildlife through tracking. While I am not an expert, I have learned to pay close attention to the tracks I find in the snow. Being able to identify a species by the prints it leaves behind is important, but being able to determine the direction of travel and time elapsed since the print was left behind elevates the potential to locate your subject.
Caption 6: Pictured above is a wolf track. This is known because of the size of the print, the shape of the print and the stride. The size is larger than a coyote and the stride while not pictured was very direct not random or circular like a pet dog would create. The timing of the print was after the latest snow fall which happened the night before which is why paying attention to when you have fresh snow is important.
Tracking is not limited to winter time as muddy areas will preserve animal tracks. I pay close attention to muddy banks along lakes or streams to find signs of who stopped for a drink recently. Other signs like rubbings on trees, nibble marks, scat piles and even diggings can point to what animals have visited an area. So not only am I a wildlife photographer but I am also a naturalist and a detective in search for the clues I need to capture that next great shot.
By far the largest component to capturing wildlife pictures is just spending time on the ground in prime habitat day after day.
Thank you for coming along on my journey. Until next time.
Lea Frye - Wildlife Photographer
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www.leaf-images.com | Lea Frye, Wildlife Photographer | Helena, MT
Wild Animals / Wild Landscapes