Tip #5. Look for something out of the ordinary

I’ve been to Yellowstone twice, both times with our oldest son Slade, a professional photographer/videographer. Each time I swore I wouldn’t take another image of a bison. But when I saw this one rolling in the dirt, I couldn’t resist. Wallowing is when bison roll on the dry ground in a “dust bath” to relieve skin irritations caused by shedding a winter coat or seeking relief from biting insects. Rolling on the ground also creates a layer of dirt on the bison’s body that forms a defensive barrier from ticks and lice. The wallowing behavior of bison creates wallows; bowl-like depressions. Wallows were once a common feature of the Great Plains before European settlement and changes in land use. Across the Great Plains, it is estimated that there may have been five or more bison wallows per acre. With a historic extent of 500,000 square miles, the Great Plains could have once been marked with over 1.5 billion bison wallows.

Tip #4. Capitalize on the unexpected

When we did a scuba diving trip to Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, I knew it was a great opportunity to photograph flamingos. But, when I heard a fellow diver mention the bats outside his room every night, it caught my attention. I went to the area of his lodging, in the middle of a large complex, and sure enough bats were flying around a blooming agave. Although there was a little ambient light, the area for the most part was very dark. At first, I tried to focus on individual bats, but unlike a hummingbird which will spend two to three seconds feeding at a flower, a bat spends about one second. It was like trying to photograph bullets. I noticed the plant had about 10 blooms, so I focused on just one of area. In theory, if that area was in focus so should the bat when he flew through it. I had to use a tripod to hold the camera steady to focus on the small spot. The next problem was that in the dark, I could barely tell when a bat approached and having to photograph with a flash allowed me just one image at a time as the flash needed to recycle. If this were done in good light, I could have shot in the cluster mode and got 7 images per second. I spent several hours over a couple of evenings at the location and took hundreds of images. Luckily a few were taken at just right moment. 1/60 sec., f/3.8, 24 mm, ISO 320, Nikon D7200, Manfrotto tripod with a Gimbal-style head.

Tip #3. The eyes have it

When photographing wildlife, I will whenever possible focus on the eye of the subject. If the eye(s) appear clear in the camera’s eye piece, chances are the rest of the animal or at least the head will also be in focus. If the eyes are out of focus or lost in shadow (dead eye), the personal connection of the photograph to the viewer will be lost and the photo tends to be less attractive. I took this shot at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona. The shot was taken early in the morning. The sun was at my back and shining onto the side of this ring neck duck. If this shot were taken near sunset with the light on the back side of the duck, the eye would be duller and the photo less enticing. Since I can’t always position myself to get the sun at my back, I will focus on the eye and then wait for the animal to turn its head so its eye catches the light.

Tip #2. Lighting

Shooting during the golden hour. The first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset is what photographers refer to as the golden hour. The sun is low in the sky during these periods and more diffuse as the sunlight is filtered for a greater distance through the earth’s atmosphere. Photographing during the golden hour you avoid the harsh shadows visible when the sun is highest in the sky. This photo of a trumpeter swan was photographed in early spring in central Minnesota from a blind at the very edge of a large slough. The image was taken just after sunrise. To get this shot I had to be in the blind at least 20 minutes before to sunrise. Notice the beautiful lighting on the preening swan. Thirty minutes later and the golden hues would have disappeared. When photographing in Yellowstone, my son Slade and I often leave Gardiner, Montana around 5am to be in Lamar Valley prior to sunrise.

Tip #1. Networking

This might seem an odd tip for successful wildlife photography, but for me it has been the most valuable. I network (bs) with a lot of other
photographers, friends, and even strangers to learn of areas with a strong potential for wildlife photography success. For example, when photographing in SW Florida and having mediocre success at locations like Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and Audubon’s Corkscrew Sanctuary, I mentioned to a fellow photographer I was new to the area and not sure where to shoot other than the highly touted areas I had already visited. He replied with the advice to visit the Audubon Center and Rookery in Venice, Florida, about an hour’s drive from where Sham and I were staying. I visited that location that very afternoon a few hours before sunset and took over a thousand images. I was so impressed I made the two-hour round-trip drive another two times the following week. This wasn’t a highly touted area or one I would have known about had it not been for a friendly stranger’s recommendation. Shown is just one of the images from this location.

See my SW Florida online gallery for more images from this trip.