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Learn about your wildlife subject first

Knowledge leads to good pictures & safe practices


Getting this close is NOT recommended. It's dangerous and frankly stupid.
Getting this close is NOT recommended. It's dangerous and frankly stupid.

Why would you want to photograph wild animals any differently than the top professionals? These people study everything there is to know about their wild animal subjects before they go out in the field to photograph them - what the animals eat, how they find food, when they mate, their needs, their typical habitat and so on, including where to find them at a given time of year.

ARM YOURSELF WITH INFORMATION

Get to know your subject before you point a lens at it to improve your chances for success. Visit the library or search the internet for information on the animal’s behavior, particularly for the time of year since the activities of many species are seasonally-related.


Many serious nature photographers have trained themselves as naturalists and have become very familiar with their subjects.

Learn about habitat, breeding practices and timing, foods, aggressiveness and behavioral patterns. Learn how to identify their markings, tracks, food remains, scat and other signs of their presence.

It’s a good idea to also find out about other animals living in the same environment so you won’t have unpleasant surprises should you have a chance encounter.

 A 200mm lens captured this scene
A 200mm lens captured this scene

 Thinking of butting heads
Thinking of butting heads

Obtain a good field guide that is small enough to pack with you.

Be sure to visit the zoo or wildlife park in your community to observe the manner in which animals interact.

Finally, if you are entering a park or game preserve, talk to the rangers or wardens who are familiar with the habits, character and location of the area’s wild creatures. The information could be invaluable. For example, a park ranger may be able to direct you to a watering hole or natural salt lick where animals are known to go at certain times of day.


Many wildlife parks and preserves have literature (pamphlets, postcards, guide booklets and informative displays) that provide invaluable information about the place’s inhabitants. Sometimes, this material contains tips on locating the animals, the best time of day, the behavior you can expect and even hints on taking their pictures.

A number of community wildlife rehabilitation centers encourage visitors, and the staff there can provide a good deal of helpful information on animal behavior.

 A telephoto lens would have brought this grizzly close
A telephoto lens would have brought this grizzly close

The good people who run wildlife rehabilitation centers can be a source of valuable information about the behavior of a variety of wild animals.
The good people who run wildlife rehabilitation centers can be a source of valuable information about the behavior of a variety of wild animals.

Another place to obtain valuable information about animal behavior is your local video store. Check out their section on animal documentaries and wildlife videos. You will be surprised at how much you can learn from the work and observations of photographers who specialize in wildlife and from trained naturalists and scientists in the field.

Not only that, but such videos often provide further sources of information in their credits and will usually name the locations where the pictures were taken. Such information can be helpful when searching the internet for facts, or when planning a wildlife photography trip.


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Related topics...

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Tips for zoo photography

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