Monday, June 4, 2012

Wildlife photography

Buffalo photo taken from the car with
a pocket digital amera.
The great Northwest abounds with wildlife: deer, elk, moose, antelope, bears, mountain goats and coyotes, to name a few animals. The area has many national parks (think Yellowstone) and forests where it is easy to see animals in the wild. It's also not uncommon to see deer and other animals grazing in farmers' fields as you drive through rural areas.

Sometimes the animals are as close as your yard. One time I was visiting my sister in northwestern Montana when I heard a strange sound outside the window in the middle of the night. I looked out to see two deer snacking on her shrubs. Another time a bear cub took up residence in a tree about 20 feet from her house. After a couple of days the mother came and "talked" it down.

Parks, forests, farms, and mountain roads all provide opportunities to get photographs of wildlife. Getting great photographs of wildlife in something else. When I was in Yellowstone last year, I met with Pam Talasco, an up-and-coming West Yellowstone wildlife photographer who has taken some pretty fantastic photos of Yellowstone wildlife. She offers two tips to get good wildlife photos:
  • Be patient. Study the animal until you can anticipate its next move, She sometimes watches an animal for an hour or so until it is in just the right setting.
  • Be mindful of your safety. Take photos from your car. If you do get out, keep your distance from wild animals. You never know when they'll come after you.
I can attest to the second tip. When I lived in Alaska, I was always looking for the perfect moose picture. While driving one evening, I saw a moose grazing in a pond about 100 feet off the highway. I stopped my car, grabbed my camera and got out. I watched the moose for awhile and when it didn't lift its head toward me, I yelled, "Hey! Moose!" which was not a very bright thing to do as it lifted its head and charged toward me. Luckily, I was not very far from my car and had left the door open so I reached my car before Mr. Moose did.

Patience is a virtue also extolled by Judy Shuler, author of the Alaska Travel Planning Guide, which contains a chapter on wildlife photography. She advises photographers to move slowly or just sit and blend into nature; after awhile, the animals will ignore you. IN her book, she also gives tips on how to tell when an animal has sensed your presence and doesn't like it. These signs  include the animal looking directly at you with ears alert on hair raised.

Buffalo from a distance, photo taken with
a pocket digital camera with telephoto lense.
Camera equipment
Pam Talasco uses 35mm digital cameras with high-powered telephoto lenses to capture her animals. If you want pictures you can enlarge to poster size that's what you'll need.

However, you can get acceptable photographs with pocket digital cameras, as long as you realize their limitations. Their built-in telephone lenses don't have a very far reach, so you won't be able to get decent photographs of animals that are far away.

I am a big fan of pocket digital cameras. I held out a long time before getting one as I didn't want to give up my 35mm cameras and telephoto lenses that I'd invested thousands of dollars in. However, I never used some of the lenses that much because I didn't like hauling everything, including a tripod, around. I was forced into digital when print film became nearly impossible to find or have developed. I got a small digital camera as an experiment, and four pocket digitals later, I would never go back to print or the 35mm digitals and auxiliary lenses.

You can get good wildlife photos with a pocket digital, many of which will enlarge quite nicely. I've had enlargements made from a 5.1 mp camera big as 10" x 13" inches, and the detail is incredible. You can see every fine silken hair on a butterfly's wings. Of course, it helped that I was about nine inches away from the butterfly when I snapped the picture. But I've also gotten some pretty good photos of buffalo at Yellowstone and deer at Wallowa Lake in northeastern Oregon.