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How to behave as a wildlife photographer

By PierreL | Content For Creators | 8 Jun 2021


Do you love nature, animals and photography? That's a very good start, but there are still some best practices and rules that you should observe if you want to grow your wildlife portfolio. What I will describe here is basically a list of dos and don'ts for what I consider is an acceptable behaviour for a wildlife photographer (or any person who ventures in nature for that matter) - no technical talk, gear recommandation or composition tricks. In a future post, I will cover basic techniques and actual shooting tips and tricks for you to take the best pictures possible, but this is more about your and the animals' safety .

 

What not to do

  • Do not feed wildlife. They're called "wild" for a reason, making them rely on humans for food hurts the entire ecosystem in the long run. They will also lose their fear of us and that can be dangerous for everyone: for them because they will be more likely to venture out of the wild and into cities and roads, and for us because say an alligator is used to being fed by humans, the next time he sees one walking around he will approach, hungry, and that is probably not going to be a fun experience. Also, since we're here, stop giving bread to birds please, they can't digest it.
  • Do not chase animals. If you want to get closer then move slowly, zig-zagging, go the long way, around the subject, take breaks, move when they're not looking and stop (and even back up) if you see them getting uncomfortable. If the animal feels threatened, best case scenario it's going to run away and you won't have your picture, worst case scenario it will attack. Again, probably not a fun experience.
  • Do not touch a wild animal. I mean... Yeah... I feel like it makes sense but it should still be here because it's kind of important. Same goes with eggs or nests.
  • Do not approach living grounds - especially nests and burrows. If an animal feels like its kids are in danger, God only knows what it might do to you. Another very possible scenario that is too often overlooked is that, upon smelling your presence, animals can decide to abandon their nesting grounds and move elsewhere, possibly leaving babies unattended, thus condemning them.
  • Do not pollute. Whenever I'm out in nature, I remember this famous sentence: "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints". And I would even add "leave it cleaner than you found it". I always carry a bag with me to pick up all the trash I can find. Any kind of garbage left behind by humans hurts nature and wildlife, and even the smallest piece of plastic removed makes a big impact.

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What to do

  • Study. Do you dream of taking pictures of a fox? Learn about their habitat and lifestyle: in what areas do they tend to live? During which season are they the most active? At what time of the day or night do they hunt? What kind of food do they eat? When is mating season? What's the average size of their territory? And so on... The more you know about an animal the easiest it will be to plan your shots and not simply rely on luck to find and photograph it. 
  • Be patient. As we just established, you can plan a shoot, you can put all your knowledge into play and go out with the highest chances possible to get what you came for. But at the end of the day, you just have to let nature happen around you and hope for the best. And yes, it can be long. Depending on what you want to photograph, you're going to have to wait hours, days, weeks, months or even years before getting the perfect shot. But that feeling when you finally get it makes it all worth it. 
  • Be silent. This goes is closely related to the one before. Find a good spot (based on your research) and wait in silence. On a related note, I also would not recommend listening to music with headphones: you might want to be aware of your surrounding at all times.
  • Dress appropriately. You don't have to go out in full camo gear, but something green, grey or brown will help you be less conspicuous than a bright red or blue shirt. Of course, this all depends on the environment and the season, if you're planning a shoot in winter, wearing white may be the best option.
  • Pay attention to the wind. I mentioned that before but keep in mind that animals can smell you, even if you don't see them, even if you feel like you're far enough, and even if you feel like you don't have a strong smell. For them you do, especially if you wear perfume or if you just showered with your fancy new shampoo. So do yourself a favor and don't walk/wait with the wind behind you, giving you away even faster. You'll have a lot more chances to not be spotted if the wind is blowing towards you and carrying your smell away from the animal you're observing.
  • Put your camera down. This last one might seem like a weird piece of advice coming from a photographer but it's actually a very important one. Look around, listen, observe, pay attention to everything, and learn. You will probably share some very precious moments with curious animals, so just enjoy the moment.

Finally, I wanted to share a quote by wildlife photographer Jessica Carter: "The shot is a privilege, not a right". Any picture you can take is a gift, based on luck or hard work, but keep in mind that animals do not owe you anything, so treat every occasion and every animal with the respect they deserve. Most importantly, enjoy the moment, because you might be living a once in a lifetime thing.

 

Until next time, stay creative! See ya!

 

 

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PierreL
PierreL

French video editor, wildlife photographer, amateur space junkie, sports and history buff and crypto enthusiast.


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