I’ve always noticed that most people that were in to Landscape photography, tended to be in to nature / wildlife photography as well.
For years, though, that wasn’t me. I would actually sit in the car or put my camera away if I was on a landscape shoot and saw wildlife.
Then… about 4 years ago things changed for me. It was my first trip to Costa Rica and I started to get hooked.
Up until that point, I felt that the “camera” and “settings” part of photography had gotten simple. I’m sure part of it was because I had a lot of experience under my belt. But you can’t deny that, with landscape photography, getting your camera in front of a good subject… in good light… and good composition, is 90% of the work.
The other 10%, which mostly involves camera settings, is fairly repetitive. Once you learn the formula for the camera settings, you know it, and there’s not too much room to change.
But with wildlife and action photography, you tend to push your camera to its limits in a very different way.
I remember one of my first wildlife trips and I actually said to my wife,
“Wow… I never realized how much I don’t know about my camera!”. I then started sharing with her how I had never really been so challenged photographically. And it wasn’t my creativity that was challenged. It was my camera technique and usage. I never knew just how many things I didn’t know about using my camera, since I was so used to taking photos on a tripod of non-moving subjects.
It’s actually what eventually got me to create one of my favorite and most impactful courses “Sharp and In Focus”. Because I got to see firsthand all of the things many people miss in their cameras, and how their eyes light up when they realize what’s available to them.
This was something I always wondered about. In each iteration of a camera, the marketing speak always talked about more focus points, faster focus, better tracking, etc… And I never got it. I always thought, “well, landscapes aren’t moving and I never seem to have a problem focussing or waiting to focus. So what’s all the hype about?”.
As I got more and more into wildlife photos, I realize where and why all of these improvements happen. Of course they’re not just for wildlife photos. Sports and other action based photography benefit from them as well. But it gave me a new appreciation for the “stuff” that goes in to these cameras to make them work for us, and make our job easier so we can concentrate on getting great photos.
A Look at a Different World
As I got more in to wildlife, I started to realize one of the things that was fun about it was that it gave me a look in to a different world. Things that you would never see without a camera. For example, I knew there were some monkeys up in a tree on one of my trips, but it wasn’t until I got the photos on the computer that I saw this moment.
The more I photograph animals, the more I see and the deeper look I get in to a world I never knew existed. And for me, that’s fun. It’s different and it keeps me interested, engaged and involved in photography.
It’s Not Just About Sunrise or Sunset Anymore
One of the best aspects of being more immersed in photographing wildlife is that it extends the hours I can shoot. I’ll admit it… with my landscapes I’m a light snob. But with wildlife, for the most part, they’re not active until the light gets to the point where a landscape photographer would put the camera down.
Just last week, I got to shoot sunrise at Sparks Lake in Oregon, and as we finished up, we saw a group of Ospreys flying around dive-bombing the lake looking for some breakfast. I stood there for 2 hours photographing them and my quick sunrise shoot turned in to a full morning photo excursion.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises to me, and one that ties in to how I started writing this article, is the challenge. I think people love a good challenge. As we grow and get older, sometimes those challenges change in form.
Back in my 20’s I wanted to conquer the challenge of running a 26 mile marathon. In my 30’s and early 40’s I practiced and competed in Taekwondo. Today, I do various activities that keep me challenged. And I think many people are like that. We’re always looking for the next “thing”. Something to keep is moving ahead and motivated to get better. Sometimes that challenge is raising a family, or moving up the ranks at a job, and sometimes it’s a hobby.
For me, just as much as photographing wildlife has been a fun and rewarding experience, I find it’s the challenge that makes it super interesting as well. It’s always changing, and the constant unpredictable and moving nature of the subjects, makes it one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced in photography.
As I wrap this up, I think my goal is to help put some perspective on this type of photography. I often have people look at a bird photo and laugh… they say “It’s just a bird… who cares”. And I get it. I was actually one of those people years ago.
And it’s somewhat difficult with wildlife photography because if you post your photos in Instagram, you’re never going to get the traction you’d get if it were a big landscape. Like it or not, Instagram LOVES big landscapes. Even better if there’s a person in a red jacket with there arms stretched out or a yoga pose in front of it 🙂
But my hope is that putting some perspective around this area of photography, helps people feel comfortable in their skin. It’s not always about what social media likes or the person next to me looking at my photos. It’s about what keeps me moving and growing as a photographer. For me lately, it’s been wildlife. For you, it may be something totally different.
But whatever it is, I hope you stay involved, challenged and engaged in it because I think that can lead to some of the most rewarding experiences in photography.
And if that challenge happens to involved wildlife or any type of action photography, I put together a very affordable and short course that I think can really help you out called “Sharp and In Focus”. I hope you’ll swing by and check it out.