Do’s and Don’ts of Wildlife Photography

by Anna Morris
Lead Environmental Educator

photo by John Jones

In 2018, we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” November’s call to action is to “share your shot”, go out and capture a piece of the wonder of birds through the lens of your camera. Share your vision to inspire passion for nature in others around the world…

You may have heard the phrase, upon entering a wild ecosystem, “take only photos, leave only footprints.” In the age of camera phones, this has become a simple way to share your experiences with other people. One of the easiest ways to share your passion for nature with others who haven’t experienced it with you is to share your photos of the wild flora and fauna you encounter.

But even if trying to think through things like lighting, shutter speed, composition, and depth of field make you uneasy, there are some basic tips to help you take better pictures of wildlife. What follows are a few easy rules to help you photograph wildlife, and leave the landscape as beautiful and wild as you found it:

photo by John Sutton

1. Let the scene be natural. Don’t try to set up a specific situation, or bate animals to a spot by providing food. This endangers humans by letting sometimes dangerous wildlife get too accustomed to people, and endangers the wildlife in turn.

2. Don’t get too close, and don’t chase. This is especially important near nests, where your presence near new bird parents could cause them to abandon the nest. You wouldn’t chase your human subjects during a family photo-shoot, would you? Choose one spot to stay in, and let the wildlife come to you, if they choose. Remind you fellow-photographers of this rule often.

photo by Samantha Driscoll

3. Sharpen your observation skills. Going into the field with an understanding of animal behavior or just a willingness to learn will really help you get those amazing shots. What time of day does that groundhog come out? How long does it take that Red-tailed Hawk to take flight after it ruffles its feathers? The more you look at their world, the better at showing it to others you will become.

4. Be patient. Sometimes the best photos will come only after the animal has gotten used to your presence in their environment, has decided to ignore you and go about their natural behaviors. That can take time! Plan an afternoon outing of photography, and you won’t be disappointed.

5. Don’t be afraid to get dirty! Some wildlife may think you are less threatening if you are low to the ground. Plus, you can get interesting, different perspectives and angles lying on your back or your stomach with your camera. Try it out!

Join us and World Story Exchange at the VINS Nature Center on Saturday, November 24th to pick up and practice your new photography skills, then share your photos with National Geographic in their “Your Shot” Gallery:

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