Wildlife photography is quite different from portrait photography in that the subject matter does what it wants to do and doesn't take direction from the photographer. You have to be ready to capture that perfect moment. The professional photographers have an advantage over us amatuers as they are on assignment for at least a month. In that time they are trying to shoot as many images of that one subject as possible and get a working relationship with their quarry by learning their traits. Most professional photographers take many images to only get a few that will be published. Here I will share with you some of the things that have helped me through the years in pursuing wildlife photographs.
Look at Images to Get Ideas
If you happen to view a particular photo that you really enjoy, try to duplicate that in the images that you take. This will help to improve your technique and give your pictures a boost in quality. Do not lose your own artistic form in the process. Your technique is kind of your own signature on each image that you take. Over time you will develop what you want to see before you click the shutter, but for now try to get as many ideas as possible.
Keep Your Mind Open
Who wouldn't enjoy some quality time spent in the great out-of-doors pursuing animals of all kind for the sole purpose of getting that one fantastic image? There is no doubt that anyone interested in wildlife photography would jump at the chance to do that sort of thing. The truth of the matter is that if you want a magnificent photograph of wildlife it probably will not come easy. Personally, I have hiked many miles through all kinds of weather just to have the hopes of seeing something worthy to photograph. Attitude is everything in life and pursuing wildlife photography is no different. On days when you are outside with it raining cats and dogs, be patient, for there may just be a rainbow at the storm's end. That will enable you to compose a fantastic shot of the scenery. Therefore, go with an open mind and try to make lemonade out of those lemons that wildlife photography seems to throw at you too many times.
A Couple of Tips
You just never know when an opportunity will present itself. One thing you can depend on is that everything in wildlife photography is unpredictable. This photo of a Bald Eagle was taken from the parking lot where I am employed. Had I not been prepared by having my camera in the vehicle, this image would not have been taken. I will be the first person to inform you that this photo will never win any awards as being great, but as of now it is the only opportunity I ever had to get a shot of an eagle. A little bit of something is always better than a whole lot of nothing. Especially when it comes to photo opportunities of animals not too frequently seen.
Credit: Raymond E
Another nugget that I will share with you is to learn as much as you can about the animal(s) you wish to photograph. That way you will have a general idea of what to expect the behavior to be of that particular animal. The field guides of animals and birds prove to be invaluable for getting this information. By observing animals you can determine if they are going to run or fly away just by reading their body language.
Credit: Raymond E
Here is a moment I happened upon while on a recent fishing trip. This was during a time when the fish were being less than cooperative for me. Ducks and geese make good subjects for the aspiring wildlife photographer as they are quite tolerant of human activity, especially in parks and recreation areas. This makes it convenient to spend as much time as you can learning the habits of your subject(s) simply by watching them. Then too there is a period of time when the waterfowl's feathers are molting and therefore they cannot fly. You will soon find that these birds can be pretty fleet afoot when the circumstance present themselves.
Some animals such as deer, rabbits and raccoon are considered to be nocturnal. So trying to see these creatures during daylight hours is somewhat unpredictable. However those times around dusk and dawn are great times to be afield just to see what opportunities you may just happen upon. A word of caution here before you just go out stumbling through hill and dale. Never come between a mother and her babies, regardless of what species the wild animal is. There is nothing stronger than a mother trying to protect their babies and oftentimes they will put their lives on the line to keep those offspring safe.
Some Places to Go
State Game Lands, State Forest Lands and parks are all prime opportunistic places to search with the camera in hand, for a potential wildlife shot. Most of the animals located there are used to having human activity all around them. Just make sure that the time you are going to these areas does not coincide with hunting season. Deer, rabbits, red tailed hawks, squirrels and foxes can all be viewed from the confines of these federal, state, county and city lands.
Good Times to View Wildlife
It seems like those transitional times between daylight and darkness are the periods when a lot of wildlife activity occurs. Again, always be prepared for any occasion that may present itself during any time of day. Among these chances could include a sudden snow storm in the spring of the year. Wildlife such as snowshoe hares will be undergoing a changeover from their winter fur (white) to their summer coat (brown). With the white snowfall as a background it will make these animals stand out from the cover. Baiting an area is an option and may also help your cause in finding wildlife to photograph. Hummingbird feeders are another substantial item to utilize in creating a memorable photo opportunity and the feeders keep these birds in one place long enough to utilize that opportunity.
Keep your camera handy and keep shooting those pictures because it really is fun and as a secondary benefit those treks through the woods will keep you healthy. Just remember to please leave the areas in the same condition as you found them. Please do not litter and pick up after someone who has. This will help to keep those special areas you use in a pristine condition for everyone. Be alert and keep shooting!