One of the most important tools in wildlife photography is fieldcraft. Getting to know the subject, 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 you will need to learn fieldcraft to capture those images you see while among Mother 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.
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 gulley’s and shapes 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 recognize 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. Some species will accept human presence quicker, taking only hours, where as other more sensitive subjects will take weeks if not months.
It’s the way I work while capturing wild animals in their their natural habitats while working very ethically alongside nature. Composing the wildlife to show others how they go about their lives,where they live and conduct their lives. So correct fieldcraft is an integral part to the way I work as a wildlife photographer. Being at one with nature is amazing and with time and effort and applying good fieldcraft everyone is capable of capturing those beautiful moments I am blessed with seeing each time I enter the natural world.
In July’s issue of Practical Photography I give my top ten tips and advice in order to help you, whether you’re just starting out or more accomplished in regard to fieldcraft the article is written passing on my many years of experience in this field over the years. Fieldcraft is the foundation to my work and style as a wildlife photographer today and has been since the moment I picked up a camera.
Look at the Foxes ears below, he couldn’t see me, but he could just make out the faint noise of my shutter noise from my camera. Each ear is facing in a different direction, one facing forward and the other facing towards where he heard the noise. He’s doing this to locate the sound in a bid to locate me, wonderful animal behaviour you can learn to read by using your fieldcraft skills.
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. Leaving little or no disturbance from the photographer is the best piece of fieldcraft you can learn and apply.
People then can see your fieldcraft and subject knowledge behind that particularly image. Learn the basics of fieldcraft and you can implment these to any real time situation within the amazing world of nature you will come across. I hope you enjoy the article which you can see by clicking here, many thanks.