Photographing Wildlife

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If you’ve ever been to Jasper National Park in Alberta, you know that during spring and fall the elk abound.  I’ve seen elk wandering the streets of Jasper.  Bear and deer are also seen frequently.  What an awesome opportunity to photograph wildlife!

There are some things to be aware of when photographing wildlife so you won’t become wildlife dinner!

  • All parks suggest a safe distance to be away from any wild animal. They give these distances for a very good reason—to keep both you and the animal safe.  For bears, it’s 100 m (328 ft.). They can move very fast.  For other large species, it’s 30 m (100 ft).  For coyote, fox and wolf dens, it’s 200m (650 ft).
  • Photograph with a long lens so you can easily keep these distances— change to a 200 – 400 mm lens will work fine , depending on the size of the animal.
  • In Jasper, you’ll often see animals beside the road and feel a huge desire to jump out of the car to get a good shot. Don’t!  I have seen people, some with young children in tow, out on the road within 10 m (30 ft) of a mother bear and her cubs.  Another woman and her young child were about the same distance from an elk and moving towards the elk.  She had a big smile on her face, until I started gesturing for her to get back into her car. Then she realized what she was doing. It is possible to get good shots from inside your vehicle, as you can see from this shot of the elk.

  • If you are not in a car and a wild animal is at the proper distance, be quiet and move slowly, or not at all. A startled animal is fearful and will either run away (there goes your photo) or attack (not much fun and to be avoided at all costs).
  • Take your time. There’s no need to rush. If you work quietly and slowly, the animal will likely stay put.  We’ve been to Africa a few times to photograph wildlife and it’s been our experience that if you’re quiet and far enough away, they get used to you being there and just keep eating, drinking, or sleeping.  You do have time for some great shots. Cats, in particular, sleep a lot, whether they’re house pets or massive lions.

  • Wear neutral colors. A fellow was photographing bighorn sheep when his girlfriend took off her jacket because of the heat, revealing a bright-coloured shirt.  One of the rams obviously didn’t like the color and took off after her.  (Photo Life Aug/ Sept 2015 Vol. 40 No. 5 p43).
  • Be tuned in to the animal. If it starts to act annoyed, which will be very obvious, move away slowly..
  • A good place to practise photographing wildlife is a zoo. If you’re planning a trip to Africa or China to photograph wildlife, practise at your local zoo.  You’ll be glad you did.
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