Archive for the ‘Instructional’ Category

Regardless of where you live there are photogenic animals that are approachable.  I call these subjects the low hanging fruit of wildlife photography because by either their disregard for humans or being so incredibly photogenic or preferably both  you can’t help but capture a nice image.  Below are my three favorite low hanging fruit which may coincide with your own, but if not half the fun is finding the low hanging fruit in your area.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

If you live in North America you’ve probably come across a red-winged blackbird.   They are ever present and never more noticeable than in the Spring when the males find the nearest marsh, hopefully with cattails, and call in earnest for a mate.  You’ll hear them before you see them.   With such dedication for romance they tend to ignore everything else, including a photographer standing along the edge of a cattail patch.  Therefore if you stand quietly next to cattails one will inevitably fly over and land on the tip of a cattail for you.   Wait for the height of their call as their wings flare up displaying the red coloration and then fire away.   A nice photo for your collection will result.

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Like red-winged blackbirds, white-tailed deer are everywhere.  And everywhere includes light urban areas which annoys people with flower gardens but is great for photographers as these habituated deer are not skittish.  As mentioned earlier approachability is key because if you have to wait in a blind for half a day it certainly wouldn’t be low hanging fruit.  Does and fawns are usually more available than the more wary bucks, but that isn’t always the case depending on your location.   In the university area of Missoula, where I live, there are several groups of bucks that cruise down the residential streets and alleys.  You’d need an air horn to spook them.

I am not a huge fan of does by themselves, but I enjoy photographing the interaction between a doe and her fawn.  Tender moments are always around the corner, especially in the summer when the fawns are less independent.  Bucks are best captured during the rut (November & December) when they become less wary and are full bodied with a winter coat setting in.

American Bison (Bos bison)

To begin, bison shouldn’t be approached.  They appear docile, but they are very dangerous.  People die every year in Yellowstone because they underestimate the danger of bison.  Two years ago I was nearly killed when a herd stampeded towards me.  I was photographing the herd crossing the Yellowstone River, at least one hundred yards away, when a Park Ranger spooked them with a siren that caused them to stampede towards me.  So, you need to be cautious around them even when you feel like you have good distance.

Fortunately you don’t have to approach bison.  They are so big that with a telephoto lens or a 10x+ zoom point & shoot you can capture nice images from 40+ yards away.   And it’s hard not to take a nice image of a bison.  There is something magnificently sad about them.  Eyes that display such wisdom and solemnity.   Generally you’ll want to photograph from a low angle thereby capturing the vast habitat they regularly reside in.  Capture the strength of the bulls, the playfulness of the calves, and herd make-up of the cows.

Bison are not ever present like the blackbirds and deer, but they are in more places than you think.  There are several National Parks with major bison populations (Yellowstone, Wind Cave, Theodore Roosevelt) as well as in the National Bison Range (Montana) and Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Oklahoma).  You can even find private herds in less likely locations.  We have several around Missoula and there’s even one south of Dallas.

I took all three images in the last couple of weeks and all were taken while I was looking for other subjects.  Low hanging fruit, indeed!  Take a walk.  Ride you bicycle.  Or look out your car window for these subjects.  You’ll be amazed when you find a Red-tailed hawk that doesn’t mind your presence.  Great photos will ensue.

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I sell cameras to make a living while I build my photography business.  Since I live in Montana, where the natural world can be literally right outside the door, my customers are buying cameras often times to document the abundant and diverse wildlife they encounter on an everyday basis.  For these customers I usually recommend buying the longer zoom point & shoot cameras.  It’s the smart and practical buy –  you don’t want to be holding a 4x zoom point & shoot when a grizzly is 100 yards away.  However, there is a bit of a mental trap with these cameras because there is a tendency to zoom to the maximum range for wildlife in attempt to fill the frame.   As we will see, while a frame filling portrait can make an interesting and compelling image it shouldn’t be done exclusively.

Take for instance this first image.  I think it is a compelling image because it is a view we don’t often see.  Especially considering that the bird is uncommonly seen.  However, can we even identify the species from this image?  I’m not sure I could even with a bird identification guide.   Likewise, we have almost no sense of place with this image and we could only roughly guess the season based on the dead foliage.  An interesting image that doesn’t tell the complete story.

This next image tells us much more.  We can now identify the bird (a white-tailed ptarmigan – Lagopus leucurus) and we know more about the season (late Fall or perhaps Winter).  And just by looking at the image we start to know the animal.  The white of its feathers and the leaf-like markings show how the ptarmigan blends in with the environment.   If we were far away we may never notice him.  By not filling the frame I was able to tell more about the subject as I incorporated more of its life in the image.

My final image of five white-tailed ptarmigans (Yes, there are five.  Can you find them?) was taken without zooming at all.  In fact, it was taken with a slightly wider focal length than your typical point & shoot has.   Yet, I believe it is the strongest of the three images because it tells the complete story.   You can identify the subject with this image.  You know its habitat – mountainous – and you should be able to deduct that the season is sometime in Autumn as the foliage is dead and the snow levels are low.   And if you’ve ever been to Glacier National Park you probably could identify exactly where the photograph was taken.   The best images tell stories, in my opinion, and I think this image falls into that rare category.

Nevertheless, while I think the last image could stand by itself I think all three become stronger when grouped together, telling the complete story.  A diversity of perspectives expands the story for the viewer and I think telling stories is what ultimately compels people to take pictures.

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