When diving in Bonaire, we’d walk downtown for lunch each day after our two-tank morning dives. The sidewalk was about 10’ above the shoreline, and we passed this iguana on the rocks below us several times. After taking several tourist shots (from the walkway looking down), I realized my images were very mundane. On the third day, I climbed down the rocks and approached the iguana from the ocean side and at his eye level. The iguana was very habituated to people and my presence did not bother him. Plus, using a zoom lens, I was able to keep a respectable distance so as not to disturb him. First, I tried full body shots, which were very horizontal and not that great. Then, I focused in on just the head. In the wild, iguanas can live 10 – 15 years, if they do not end on a local or tourist’s menu. Iguanas may live for more than 20 years, reaching a length of 5 – 7 feet and weighing up to 18 pounds.
To get inspiration for good images look at what professional wildlife photographers are showcasing. Study their images to get a better idea of animal behavior, composition, and lighting. Websites and galleries are superb for viewing great images. When visiting SW Florida I came across several really great images in a gallery from a professional photographer of pairs of egrets in the air in a dance-like formation. To emulate this composition, I visited the Audubon Rookery in Venice, Florida. Although the herons and egrets were spending most of their time working on their nests, from time to time there seemed to be a courting dance between different birds. I positioned myself and camera in an area where I could hopefully capture the ritual with a very neutral background. Being this focused on what I was hoping to achieve caused me to miss other opportunities, but finally the dance occurred in the right area and I got this shot.
I am fortunate to have a photographer friend outside Minneapolis that lets me use his blind on the edge of a large slough. A few days ago while photographing from the blind, I saw these two Wood Ducks preening each other. Although I have seen males and females preen each other, it was the first opportunity I had to watch to two males preen each other. Preening is a bird’s way of grooming its feathers to keep them in the best condition. While preening, birds will remove dust, dirt and parasites from their feathers and align each feather in the optimum position relative to adjacent feathers and body shape. The Wood Duck is one of only a few American ducks that can perch and nest in trees. They will also use man-made nesting boxes in areas where tree cavities are scarce. They tend to build their nests within one mile of a lake shore, river bank, or other body of water.
There are no shortage of superb wildlife photographers or great images. To set your wildlife photography apart from all the rest, consider a specialty or focused theme. In addition to my regular wildlife photographs I strive to catch “feeding” shot of birds. The feeding shot is much tougher to achieve and takes a ton of patience. I’ve watched great blue herons go for 30 minutes or more without catching a fish. What I have learned to do, is watch the behaviors that telegraph an impending lightning-fast strike. With herons it tends to be them lowering their head slightly and then freezing all motion. For such shots you need a high shutter speed such as 1/1000 second or higher and shot in the cluster mode to get maximum frames per second. Once the heron spears the fish, you have two to four seconds to capture the shot before the bird swallows the fish. I especially like this image as per the eyes of the speared fish. Not only are the eyes of the heron important, but sometimes the eyes or expression of the prey as well. As a side note, after watching and photographing numerous herons do this, I learned that a heron spears a fish with its beak, it does not catch the fish between the upper and lower bill. But, once speared, the heron will flick the speared fish and then grab it between the upper and lower bill before swallowing it.
One of the most frequent mistakes I’ve seen with wildlife photography is photographers who get too close to the subject. Often times their lens is not long enough to get a good image so they try to make up for it by moving too close to the animal, which in turn often spooks the animal into running off or birds flying away. Some of this photographer behavior borders on the line of harassment. There are few set guidelines for proper distance, but always error in the favor of the animal. If the animal is looking at you intently, he is probably wary and ready to bolt. If your proximity causes the animal to take flight, you got too close. This is very important for animals feeding. I’ve seen careless photographers spook an entire flock of geese by moving in too close. The birds exhibited signs of distress, but the well-meaning photographer kept moving closer. All animals, especially migrating birds, need to feed to refuel for their long treks. Scaring them off a feeding or resting ground is a great disservice to them. Likes always appreciated.