“The Man”, an image shot by professional wildlife photographer Jeff Mitchum, is the perfect example of simplicity, and balance of light and power. It shows a moose walking across the vast Alaskan wilderness with the massive Mount McKinley, also known as Denali (the High One) by the local people – the largest mountain in North America – as the backdrop. The image, as breathtaking as it is, doesn’t tell you the real story!
Jeff’s drove his bike almost 300 km across the wilderness before he saw the moose. Then, with Mount McKinley finally filling the background it all its majesty, he waited another five hours for the moose to walk into position so he could create his masterpiece. Jeff’s photography is widely sought-after and features in many museums include the Smithsonian Institute and Getty Museum.
When photographing on this level, patience is key and it reflects in your work. Neil Paprocki, the founder of Wild Lens (non-profit wildlife films) once stated that every time he grew impatient with his subjects, he didn’t get the shot! Here are some more tips for wildlife photography worth noting:
1. Practice, Practice & Practice
While everyone would like to be clicking Wildebeests on the Serengeti, you really don’t need much to start practising wildlife photography. Ralph A. Clevenger, a regular contributor to National Geographic and Conde Nast Traveller, talks about shooting hummingbirds in his backyard all day long. No, this isn’t some flashback to his early days when he was learning the ropes – it’s how he’s taken some of the best hummingbird shots of his career!
Paprocki advises the “look around you” concept and talks about how his favourite photograph of hawks hunting ducks was actually taken in New York’s Prospect Park. Where you shoot isn’t important – how often you shoot is! For a well-known location photographer, this speaks mountains.
2. Behavioural Patterns Matter When it Comes to Wildlife
Animals tend to do things in a particular way, as long as it works for them. When it stops working, they evolve and look for another way. You too can improve your photography by following this example: create, refine and do. It is important to understand your subject’s behaviour as it helps you prepare in advance. Clevenger and Joe Capra, “time-lapse genius”, cannot emphasise this enough. Identifying an animal’s behavioural patterns and picking vantage spots based on your observations.
3. Exploit Negative Space
Joe Capra is also known for his sojourns into Antarctica, taking fantastic pictures of penguins against the monotonous white and blue landscape. In fact, he says that highlighting a subject against a negative or plain background is better than doing so with a busy background. In nature, he says: “There is a lot more space than material, to work with“. Knowing how to use it to your advantage can make all the difference.