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Photography 101: Wildlife Photography

Author: Collaborator - Printique by Adorama

Written by Jessica Kirste of Jessica Kirste Photography
When I started photography 10 years ago with a Canon superzoom point and shoot camera, I thought my photos were great but looking back I see I was looking down on everything. The top of a ducks head isn’t all that interesting. Exploring the local parks with my camera I one day decided to lay down at the water’s edge to photograph a wild wood duck that was hanging out with the mallards. The impact of that photo and the background that was much cleaner than my photos standing up, left me wanting to photograph more at eye level and get personal with my subjects. I would like to share with you a few tips on helping you create more intimate wildlife photos and also share a few examples of my own.

1. Safety First
When you’re after that perfect photo of your subject always make sure that you are aware of how that animal is acting. If an animal seems agitated or stressed it may not be a good idea to lay down in front of it. On the other hand, I have found that when you’re lower than eye level of an animal they feel safer and more at ease. In any cases, it’s best to pay attention and be aware at all times. Every animal is different and you can’t take the wild out of wildlife. I sometimes start out slow, laying down far away from the subject and slowly crawling up closer.
It is normal to find fawns on their own. The mothers will leave them in a spot and go to rest then come back to nurse them several times a day. I was able to see the mother of this fawn laying down in the shade while her little one was left in the sun in an open field. I slowly crawled up to the fawn little by little mostly when it was grooming and not paying attention. Mom had her eye on me the whole time but I could tell she was relaxed and knew I was not a threat. This little one allowed me to photograph it till mom came to nurse.
2. Be Prepared
Sometimes you have to willing to get a little or a lot dirty. But trust me it will be worth it! When photographing shorebirds at the beach you are dealing with sand. Storm jackets can help to protect your camera and lens. But you want to protect yourself too. I recommend wearing 100% breathable rain pants and a rain jacket. But when it’s too hot out for that, elbow pads are a must! They really help protect your elbows from getting chapped and raw from the roughness of sand. And while it may be too hot for the rain pants you could always lay on your waterproof jacket.
3. Patience
Practice patience! I have found that the longer you stay in the same spot the birds will often come to you. I find this more with shorebirds. If you just hang out you may find that your subjects will feel comfortable enough that they will end up being too close and you have to move back!
4. Background
Pay attention to your backgrounds. While being low will help you get some nice bokeh, you still need to watch your background. Line up and wait for your subject to move to a spot where there is nothing distracting in the background like a tree, rocks, or any other object that could get in the way of keeping your background clean. If your local park has a pond it could be the best place to practice. I photographed this wood duck a local, waited for him to move away from the rocks that were behind him into the duckweed to get a nice clean green background.
 Foxes are a favorite of mine and with this last photo concludes my post. Get out there and practice, remember to be safe for both yourself and your subjects and watch those backgrounds!
Thank you Jessica for your insight and fabulous photos! Looking to sharpen your wildlife photography skills even more? Check out this blog post about photographing wildlife at night! Click HERE.