A Professional Wildlife Photographer Shares Photo Secrets

A top professional wildlife photographer shares some of the secrets of his trade, and his glorious wildlife pictures.

| May/June 1987

A top professional wildlife photographer shares some of the secrets of his artful trade. 

A Professional Wildlife Photographer Shares His Nature Photo Secrets

A common misconception among the uninitiated is that professional wildlife photographers spend most of their time stalking through the woods decked out in camouflage like so many photo-Rambos, clicking away at whatever species of animals or birds happen into their view finders. I stalk occasionally, but it's usually futile—wild animals have such keen senses that attempting to approach them generally nets nothing better than blurred shots of the south ends of northbound critters.

A far more productive technique—and one used extensively by professionals—is to concentrate on just one species at a time, learning all you can about both the animal and its home turf, then putting yourself in the right place at the right time and letting your quarry come to you.  

Hide and Peek

One of the most effective (and comfortable) ways to photograph wildlife at close range is to hide yourself in a blind. The trick to successful blind shooting is to set up in a location where your quarry is almost certain to appear—such as near a den, nest, water hole or feeding area.

Although some excellent commercial blinds are available (and an inexpensive camouflaged dome tent can be pressed into service), I prefer to roll my own. With a lot of help from my wife and her sewing machine, I've accumulated a closetful of homespun blinds over the years, each one unique and suited to a specific photographic need.

There are a number of important variables to consider in deciding where to place your blind. Foremost among them is the welfare of the animals you're working with. As a rule of thumb, if your presence seems to be altering the normal behavior of your subjects, you're too close. If, for example, you erect a blind near a nest of hatchling birds and the parents fail to return to care for their chicks, then you should move the blind farther back; if that doesn't ease the parents' worries, disassemble the blind and abandon the area. To avoid problems like this when photographing nesting birds or denning mammals, locate your blind quite a distance away. Then, over a period of several days, gradually move it closer, thus allowing your subjects time to become accustomed to its presence.

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