An Introduction to Wildlife Photography
Posted on Jul 09, 2013 by Graham Uney
How it All Started
People often ask about my introduction to wildlife photography. I suppose it really came about by a chance meeting with another photographer. At the time I was working as a freelance journalist, writing for a bunch of outdoor and wildlife magazines. I’d completed a story for a well-known glossy walking magazine, and was really pleased to see the stunning photography they’d sourced to illustrate the piece, and the even better news was that the photographer whose work they’d used was a friend of mine. We met up over a beer, and it transpired that he’d actually been paid more (quite a bit more!) for his two published images than I had for my 1500 word feature! I bought a second-hand camera the next day, and set about teaching myself how to use the thing.
Make Mistakes but Learn from Them
It goes without saying that I made a lot of mistakes, and still do, but surely that’s what learning a new skill is all about? The key to photography is that you can read as much as you like about the subject, but to really get to know what works in a photo, you need to be out there taking the shots. Make mistakes, but learn from them, and when it comes to wildlife photography there’s even more opportunity to make a hash of things than with practically any other subject.
Getting to Know Your Subject
In those early days I remember stalking (and I use the word loosely!) a herd of red deer in Glen Etive. I was with my brother, and as we drove down the glen we spotted a group of about ten wild stags on the hill about two hundred yards from the road. I can see now that in that last sentence alone I’d made two mistakes. First, those ten stags actually turned into a herd of about 80 beasts once we got out of the car and started the stalk, and second, these animals were anything but ‘wild’, otherwise they wouldn’t have been hanging around near the road. We didn’t know this at the time, because we hadn’t really put any effort into getting to know our subject.
So, we cunningly drove on past the deer, got around a corner out of sight, and parked up. We quietly got out and closed the car doors with a gentle push so as not to make too much noise, then started out up the hillside. We made the most of what cover there was, running between hillocks, and crawling through bracken, bog and burn where necessary. Eventually we each found ourselves just ten or fifteen feet from a stag we could photograph, both of us sprawled flat in the mud with the ‘unaware’ stag looking down at us with that ‘Don’t suppose you’ve got a carrot I could eat?’ expression that only fed deer can have. Dave and I finally conceded that these deer has sussed our presence. We got out of the mud, and just walked among the herd taking all the photos we wanted.
Do Your Homework
So, there’s a good lesson. Study your subject. Know when they are behaving naturally (unnatural-looking shots are almost as bad as photos of spooked animals!), and take away from every wildlife encounter a lesson learned. Knowing where wildlife can be found is another good tip. I wish I had a pound for everyone who’s ever told me ‘I’ve never seen a puffin!’. When I ask if they’ve ever been to one of the well-publicised puffin breeding colonies (and there are plenty around – think Handa, Canna, Caithness cliffs, Marwick Head, Sumburgh Head, or Hermaness) and they answer ‘no’, I just can’t think where else they expect to bump into one! At Waverley Station?
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Now, I know it sounds a bit flippant, but do your homework first, then go to the places where the wildlife is. You’ve a much better chance of seeing capercaillie in the Cairngorms than in Callander, or mountain hares in the Monadh Liath than in Motherwell! If you lack the time to do the homework yourself, that’s what walking and wildlife guides are there for. Let them worry about where the killer whales are feeding, or the Manx shearwaters are breeding. That way all you need do it turn up, point your camera and marvel at the amazing shots over good food and drink!
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