Winter is a testing time for all living animals, always remember when working with wild animals they come first and the last thing you want to do is to impose yourself to quickly or scare the animal you’re wishing to photograph. It’s also very important to know that calories are burned off more quickly during the winter months so fieldcraft and respect have to be the first priorities of any wildlife photographer.
If the subject has to move to avoid you and this carries on there’s no telling the animal will be able to recoup those “spent” calories and energy avoiding you which in turn means your actions may result in the premature death of your subject should it struggle to find enough food. From your action nature will have a reaction something everyone that enters their world should adhere too and understand way before you press the cameras shutter button.
In a time where there is great pressure on the natural world we need to step back , see the bigger picture and try not to impact on the subjects life. For many people the weapon of choice now is the camera, use this wrongly and you impact on the lives of animals that have no voice, that won’t be able to report your actions, it will be down to you on the ground to work in a way that gives the animal peace rather than stress by your presence.
Ethics and fieldcraft are two of the most important things in wildlife photography. Getting to know the subject, respecting them and their space, spending time watching, listening and looking, learning its behavior, its habits and calls. In turn all of this will reward you with a far better chance of capturing images that show the subjects natural behavior.
Regardless of the level of photographic skill your at or what make of camera and lens you use you will need to learn these skills in order to capture those images you see while among nature. With this though comes a great responsibility and integrity to your own work and your own foot print you’ll leave behind you when you leave the wildlife and go home.
Wildlife photography’s power rests on the belief that it represents an event that occurred naturally in the wild, something witnessed and recorded by the photographer with his camera at that given time. Clever use of friendly animals, hot spots, bait and the per-arranged perches or props along with digital technology has forced everyone to re-evaluate and question the validity of images they see now.
This is where your own integrity and transparency should come into play. Being honest about how you got the image and giving more information on its “back story” as I call it. Take your images as seen, try and not change anything. Stay away from the countless set up, pay as you go hides all offering the same, tired images in an already saturated market. You will learn nothing about the subjects behaviour really outside of that set up which wont help you or your own wildlife photography.
If you bait, build a set, place food out and get wildlife to perform for paying guests or your own images be honest and inform those that view your work. If you work with captive or tame species where your trying too make them look wild be clear with publishers and the public. Integrity and transparency are vital and will give those that view you work a real sense of how you got your image and how it was on the ground at that time. All forms of Live baiting should be banned and more action and enforcement by organisations set up too protect wildlife should take place.
I don’t use any bait or trickery within my own wildlife photography and I’m always honest in declaring this. You can read more about how I work on my dedicated ethics page on my website here
All living animals have feelings, emotions not to dissimilar to our own, tap into that whatever the subject maybe and you will see the real and true beauty of wildlife unfold in front of you. Apply your passion and respect on top of fieldcraft and the images will come. Many species of mammals and birds will allow you to approach them closely if you are careful and take your time, no fast movements and using the correct techniques.
Read the land for yourself, see what’s in front of you, in between you and the subject, use natural gully’s and shapes on the landscape to break up your approach. Never make the mistake of walking directly towards your subject as the chances are the animal will have long gone. All wild animals that have no or very little contact with humans are scared and fear man.
They see and smell us the moment we enter their world of which they are designed for and we aren’t. They have an in built fear of man and see us as a threat to their lives to put it bluntly. For me its how the person deals with that level of fear and stress using their fieldcraft that’s important. Animal tracks tell you so much about what’s happening around you.
It’s their highway, the way animals navigate their chosen habitat. Look for darkened earth a clear sign there’s life around. Just standing still for several minutes and look to see any natural lines, faltered grasses or earth moved or piled up. This then will give you a bigger picture of the main routes in and out of a forest say or farmland track leading to a wood and so forth.
Look towards the sun when studying tracks, you will see the shadows better. Footprints in soft ground will begin to deteriorate around the edges within 2 hours depending on the humidity, sunlight, and breeze giving you vital clues to what and how long ago an animal passed by that spot. The depth of the tracks and length of the stride can indicate the weight of the subject and the physical strength of the animal that made them.
Find out which way the wind is blowing making your approach better as most animals have a great sense of smell and it’s the first thing to give you away. The wind always wants to be blowing into your face, this will blow your scent away and remember to forget the aftershave or perfume along with soaps that are high in perfume as these will be picked up from great distances away.
It is also important to recognise and learn the signs of stress within the animal so you know when to stop and leave the animal well alone. The last thing you ever want to do is cause undue stress and disturbance through your actions in order to get the shot. Clothing, wind direction, covering the ground, shape, shine, staying low, can all help in capturing those moments in nature where you have to work harder with some animals than others.
Today people really want to see how you got the image and as a wildlife photographer you not only have a duty of care to your subject’s welfare but also to the general public who buy your work or follow you I feel. Showing and explaining how that image was taken, the skills you employed to achieve the image are paramount today.
The most important tip and piece of advice I can give in improving your fieldcraft is respect your subject, let wildlife live their lives without fear or stress from your presence. Apply all my tips from the article and the animal will benefit first and foremost and be able to carry on with their lives. Applying these tips will also allow you to capture images with a real story, many thanks.