If you have ever photographed some where that attracts a lot of other photographers you will recognize this behavioral pattern. It happens all the time in Yellowstone but it could be at any national park, wildlife refuge, or any other place where photographers gather.
If there is something to photograph, photographers will be spread out across an invisible line waiting for the action to start. Then, someone always has to get closer. Usually it is because they think their camera lens is too small to do the job. They are probably right, but that person seems to think that because they have a smaller lens, they should be entitled to move up! First of all, that person is likely then to be in front of and in the shot for a great many other photographers, but secondly and more importantly, there is a REASON everyone else is hanging back – regardless of the size of their lens. If that person would stop to think, would it occur to them that everyone would like to be closer? Ethical photographers hang back because the subject needs space. How much space depends upon the tolerance of the subject. If any one photographer closes in on the subject they are likely to spook it, particularly when there is a crowd. The subject is very much aware of our presence, moving in, breaking the line, only serves to make it nervous and very likely to spook. When that person moves in they are thinking only of themselves, without respect for the subject and or their fellow photographers. That person won’t get the shot because the subject will spook, but they will get a reputation among the other photographers for being a jerk or worse. Please, don’t be that person!
Grizzly sow guarding a carcass mostly underwater
There are three basic types of wildlife photographs. The portrait, the behavioral image and the environmental image. Each can be spectacular. Beginners shoot the documentary “I saw this”. Usually the image is too far away to be a good portrait and no attention has been paid to story that might have been told. An intermediate is beginning to understand his or her camera operations and how to use them creatively, but they are still primarily trying to get the portraiture head shot. An advanced amateur has begun to understand the concept of a “sense of place” and seeks to tell a story with his or her images and to provided behavioral context or environmental context to their images.
The only difference between an advanced amateur and a pro is time in the field!
All of the various composition rules/guidelines can be categorized into five concepts:
1) Placement of the subject;
2) Lines within;
3) Suggestion of movement
4) Color change
5) Depth of field
There are various rules and guidelines for each one of these categories, but I think it is helpful to take a step back first and think about the proverbial “big picture”. As you learn about the individual guidelines, remember that an image is even stronger if you can combine them. An image, for instance, that has both good placement of the subject, leading lines within it and color change will be great regardless of the subject!
Approaching Winter Storm
Spring is undeniably here in Wyoming! Redwing black birds have returned and so have the Sandhill cranes. Warmer days are punctuated now by snow squalls, not the other way around Many of you further south may have tulips by now, but our grass is only now starting to show tinges of green. Grazers are delighted, heads down and mowing! Spring is my very favorite time of year as it is time for babies of all sorts, shapes and sizes to be born!
You may have an image which is completely and totally correct in all technical respects, but if you don’t have good composition, you don’t have a great image. Compositional tools are guidelines that speak to what our mind and eye find most pleasing. There are lots of ways to create great compositions and any combination of ways will make the image stronger yet.
Why aren’t my images sharp? Let me count the ways! You are using a tripod aren’t you? That just the place to start, there are many ways you can improve the sharpness of your images. Stay tuned!
Many people who would love to be wildlife photographers will freely admit that they don’t have enough patience. You do need patience and a lot of it. Fortunately, patience can be developed or learned. Sometimes a super image materializes right before your eyes and you barely have time to shoot one frame. Usually though, you have to rely on your skills as a naturalist and intel from various sources just to have some idea where to start to look.
Got a lead on a badger den in area known for badger activity? Even if you know exactly where the sett/den is, you might wait 4-8 hours just to have the mother return and in a nano second disappear down into the sett.
I spent 4 full days waiting at the little lake in this image for several otters to wake up and hopefully show us some great behavior. The opportunities were few, but great when they happened. It is the reward that you get for your patience that gives you the tenacity to wait again the next time. Pretty soon you begin to realize that it is a priviledge and a luxury to share their world for a day, or a week or more!
Naturalists seek to understand the natural environment and why critters do what they do. Learning about a species will help you to get closer to them physically, but also help you to understand and anticipate their behavior so that you will be ready to take the best shot.
Ethics do matter. They matter to the subjects you photograph and the environments they inhabit, to your fellow photographers, to the communities you work within and they should matter to you.
This image is of a strong back light on heavily frosted grass. It was a very cold November day in Yellowstone and I headed into the woods, looking for something total different. While looking around the sun light came through the trees and fell on the ice crystals clinging to this grass. It was just as if someone had plugged in the Christmas tree! A phenomenal moment, one I will never forget, but one I almost missed if I hadn’t looked to the light!