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.