Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
My animal pictures tend to be different than many people take. A lot of this has to do with spending a huge amount of time behind the lens. Truth is hard work yields results, and what look like lucky shots, a fact I don't dispute, happened because I put in the time, and I prepared. I think a lot about taking good photos, but more than anything else, I put in the time.
Now and then I have guided photographers around the upper Buffalo River area. This has given me the opportunity to see how they take photos, and when I compare what I do, with what they do, I have noticed some significant differences that I think result in improved chances to get a great image.
First, before I shoot one frame, I make very sure my battery is charged up and I have my largest memory card, empty, and in the camera. I also set the ISO, and I verify my basic settings. Generally because I am shooting in lousy light in Boxley Valley, that means at least ISO 800, and my aperture is wide open. I also have my tripod. I think about what I will face, and I prepare. I have a spare battery, and I have plenty of empty memory cards.
It would seem that the above is fairly obvious, but the flipside are mistakes that are made quite often. When you get in front of the animals, you need to be ready to shoot, and you don't want anything you can control in your way. This is just common sense. This qualifies in that general area of dumb mistakes I have made many times and finally learned to prevent.
When I actually shoot the animals I take lots of pictures. Lots and lots. Sometimes I will take 500 in a morning. Why? Because its free, and because often the picture I want is a momentary gesture that occurs while the animal is moving. This could be as simple as a pause so I can get a sharper shot, or as complex as an expression, or a particular body angle. Many people have the bad habit of not shooting a lot, and I think that is a carryover from years of shooting film. I do still remember visualizing quarters being spent shot by shot during my film years. That's history, get over it. Fire away.
I have noticed that I have a particular set of poses that I am going for. This is something portrait photographers do, except that they have "pose books", and we wildlife photographers don't. I create my own in my preparation, and I think about appealing postures and body angles that I want. This ties into the shoot a lot of pictures thing above. I have learned how to anticipate these poses by observing the movements that precede them. If you wait to shoot until you see you what you want. by the time you shoot it will be gone.
Another thing I do is observe the lighting carefully. I like cutting light, and light that comes in at a low angle across the body of my subject. Cutting light animates the body curves and creates dramatic forms. If you study painting composition, you will learn about dramatic light and how it creates emotion.
Lately I have been working pretty hard to wrap my wildlife photos in solid landscape compositions. Thankfully landscapes don't move around. I choose my angle of view, and think carefully about the backdrop, and how the animals fit in a landscape composition.
Last, I study the animals biologically. This includes online resources and talking to experts like the folks at the Ponca Education Center. Animals behave differently at different times of the year. There are different issues, and different opportunities. With elk there are many seasonal patterns, as there are with whitetail deer. Both are now rearing young born a month or two back. The bulls and bucks are in velvet. I will be writing about this.
Think about these things and you may improve your chances dramatically. I am pretty certain anyone can do what I do, but they need to plan, prepare, put in the time, and understand clearly what they are going for. This is a never ending learning process, and it is the surest path to better results.
Shameless Self-Promotion Department
My framed wildlife prints are on display and for sale at a number of locations:
Boardwalk Cafe/Arkansas House
Cliff House Inn
Point of View Restaurant
Jasper Chamber Gift Shop
Lost Valley Canoe Store
Villines Store (Boxley Valley)
Low Gap Store
Compton One Stop
Uncommon Grounds Coffee Shop
Notes to Entry:
Local resources like the Ponca Elk Education Center are invaluable to learn local wildlife patterns. A part of their job is to stay current on the seasonal changes and current goings on.
Photography is not so much about equipment as it is about method. A thoughtful approach is more important.
I think it is useful to observe your subject without a camera and learn how it moves and what looks good.
The fundamentals of good composition apply regardless of the subject.
Each species is a bit different though, with a differently shaped body that will change your approach.
If you can visualize what you would like to get a picture of, you improve your chances of anticipating it, and seeing it coming.
I like to look at wildlife sculpture as a model of what I might find. Of course, a sculptor can create what they imagine, we have to capture it.
Photographing Animals 101