In wildlife photography, it is important to get lucky. Unlike doing photo shoots, taking landscapes photos, or working in any sort of controlled environment, wildlife is always on the move. We can do our best to minimize the amount of luck we will need, but in the end, there are still elements of the work that are completely uncontrollable. In this blog post, I will dive deeper into what that means.
The green frog picture above is what I would consider a successful photo for the finished catalog. The lighting is fantastic, the water perfectly clear, and the colors are vibrant. What you don’t see when you look at this is the work that went into capturing this photo and that is important to understand because it can make a big difference in the way we appreciate wildlife photography.
For this picture, I spent over half an hour patiently walking around the water’s edge an hour before sunset. This time of day is known as the “Golden Hour” as the light is bright but not harsh on the subject. This is one way I can minimize the amount of luck I need and instead try to control the environment that I am shooting in. But during that thirty minutes, there were countless photos that did not turn out how I wanted.
Here is an example:
What is blatantly obvious when looking at this photo is that the focus is not nearly as crisp as the other picture. You can also see that the colors are more subdued which results from a minor change in the camera settings (a slightly smaller aperture or faster shutter speed). But most importantly, and this is where the real “luck” component sets in, is the direction that the frog is facing. Since it is looking directly away from the camera, the photograph looks off. The subject does not grab the attention the way the previous photo did. The main reason for this is the way we see the eyes of the frog. In wildlife photograph, being able to see the eyes of the subjects is crucial. It makes the viewer look deeper and (hopefully) be more enraptured by the photograph.
Getting a photo of any type of wildlife can be difficult (let alone getting a picture where you can see the whites of their eyes) because they can be hard to predict . For example, every time I go down to the lake there is a green heron that always flies away as soon as I get near enough to see it. I have not been able to get a good picture of it because it is always far away and when I get close, it is quickly gone. To date, here is the best picture I have of it:
The focus is bad, the lighting washes it out, and the background draws too much attention away from the bird. It is likely that I could have done a better job taking this photo, but I was also unlucky. My relationship to where the bird was made it difficult to get a good photo and the birds positioning on the branch also made it harder.
So this past week I tried to venture down to the lake and stake out nearby to its favorite spot and either wait for it to appear or simply photograph it there. Sadly, after over ninety minutes of waiting, the heron never appeared. At the end of the day, I cannot control where the animals are or where they will be, I can only do my best to predict it and hope that I am lucky enough to be in the same place they are at the right time.
With any luck, I will have a better picture of a green heron to show you next time!