Top nature shooters share their tricks of the trade.
How do you take wildlife pictures as exciting as those in this magazine? We canvassed 19 great wildlife photographers (a list is on the last page) to find out.
Of course, these professionals generally use top-of-the-line gear, including DSLRs with fast burst rates (at least 5 frames per second, preferably 8), image-stabilized camera bodies or lenses, and the sharpest, fastest telephoto glass.
But the pros also shared their less-obvious techniques and strategies for finding, luring, lighting, posing, and coaxing photogenic behavior from their subjects.
Their advice isn’t always for the squeamish. Some get much closer than you may think wise. Some offer live prey to catch predators in action. And some enlist animal trainers to help them interact directly. Still, you’ll be able to apply at least some of their tips whether you’re photographing hippos on a safari or songbirds in your backyard.
Out for Bear
You don’t have to head to Alaska to photograph bears—but it sure helps. Chris McLennan, based in New Zealand, captured these two grizzlies fighting over a fishing spot in Katmailand, AK. He cautions, “While most wild animals are best photographed when unaware of your presence, with bears it’s advisable to ensure they know that you’re around. The most dangerous bears are those that you surprise.”
Indeed, every bear photographer we interviewed dwelled on safety more than photographic technique. And before attempting to capture bears on their own, many professional wildlife shooters take workshops such as those in Charles Glatzer’s Shoot the Light series.
Over the years, Glatzer has learned that bears are governed by two overriding obsessions: food and fear. “As long as you don’t scare the bears, they will concentrate entirely on food and ignore you,” he says. “If you move slowly, and don’t stand erect or make loud noises, you can often get within 100 feet. If, however, their attention shifts from food to you, you better back up as quickly and quietly as you can.”
Besides keeping a safe distance between you and the bear, he recommends carrying a can of pepper spray within easy reach in your backpack. Bear deterrents are so important for photographers and others getting close to them that manufacturers such as Counter Assault, in addition to selling sprays and other deflection tools, sell inert, practice pepper-spray cans to teach you the mechanics of the safety lock, the arc and reach of the spray, and other operational fine points.
In the wild, never place yourself between two bears or groups of bears. The best way to avoid this is by watching your subject’s body language, especially the ears. If a foraging bear twitches its ear repeatedly to the right, there’s a good chance it’s following the progress of another bear or group of bears to its right through the woods. Also, cubs are cute, but their mother is especially dangerous—even if you don’t see her, she’s probably nearby.