Wildlife at a distance

Wildlife photographers crave (sometimes secretly, sometimes openly) frame-filling wildlife photos. I think it’s like trophy hunting, a mark of expertise and daring to be so close.

It was best to photograph this drumming grouse from a blind

It was best to photograph this drumming grouse from a blind

Getting close to wildlife requires skill and patience together with expensive and heavy telephoto lenses and occasionally a certain degree of risk.  Tracking and camouflage skills, time spent in a blind, along with a knowledge of animal behaviour and ecology plus a 600 mm lens are all prerequisite elements for achieving successful frame-filling animal photos.

Getting close risks modifying the animal’s behaviour to the point of stressing it during periods of hardship. For example, a photographer approaches a starving snowy owl and spooks it off its perch in wintertime. Obviously there is a potential risk to the photographer who gets too close to dangerous animals like bears.

This grizzly bear was photographed from the safety of a boat, using a 600 mm lens, with an experienced guide

This grizzly bear was photographed from the safety of a boat, using a 600 mm lens and an experienced guide

Not all wildlife photos need to be close-ups. I again realized this notion a few days ago when I was composing a landscape image with a 70-200 mm lens. A mink popped into the scene and its dark body stood out clearly against the bright ice of its river shoreline habitat. Now I would love a close-up photo of a wild mink. They are small and elusive and not too common. But I quickly realized I had a nice environmental portrait that included the mink’s natural habitat along with the recognizable shape of the mink silhouetted against the ice.

Canadian Winter Landscape (Ontario)

I felt fortunate that the mink was hunting in this area at the same time I was there.

To pass muster as a good environmental portrait, the distant pictures of animals need to succeed on a couple of levels. First, the habitat needs to be interesting as well as being typical for the animal. It should be able to stand alone as a landscape image. Second, the animal needs to appear to be behaving normally within that environment. Third, the animal needs to be positioned so that it stands out and is recognizable, although that need not be a hard and fast rule. Finally the photographer needs to respect principles of composition, such as having the animal moving into or looking into the landscape.

Can you spot the arctic hare?

This is one of my favourite elk photos from Yellowstone.

Humpback whale diving.

For me I would rather have an environmental wildlife image with an animal in an interesting landscape hanging on my wall as a print rather than a trophy close-up.

How many wolves can you spot?

The sense of risk and danger  to the young goat (perhaps youthful confidence too) is emphasized by including a lot of its environment.

About Dawns _Images
I (Don Johnston) am a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Lively, Northern Ontario. My work is represented by All Canada Photos (Victoria), agefotostock (Spain), Interphoto (Germany), PhotoEdit (USA) and Alamy (England). I am widely published in books, magazines, calendars as well as advertising media and decor. My personal stock photography website www.donjonstonphotos.com has over 10 000 images in galleries plus a search feature. Like many other nature photographers I am self-taught beginning with film in the 1980s and continuing through the 21st century with digital. I taught high school biology for thirty years, retiring in 2003 to pursue photography full time.

2 Responses to Wildlife at a distance

  1. amazing pics!! congrats!!

  2. John says:

    Don, nice images and good discussion about the value of capturing images of wildlife in their environment. Your blog is a good reminder to use both long and short focal lengths when photographing wildlife.

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