This week’s guest blogger James Borden, James is a Wildlife Photographer from Springville, PA
As a child I was fortunate to grow up in a very rural area and to have a family that valued wildlife and the great outdoors. I was taught to be a hunter, a fisherman and a wise user of our natural resources. I was taught stewardship and some very basic ethics about interacting with wild animals. Years later those lessons have served me well as a wildlife photographer.
My ventures with outdoor and wildlife photography have exposed me to many people in the outdoors and I have observed a wide range of behaviors in regard to viewing and photographing wild animals. Occasionally some of those behaviors are bothersome.
Living in an area that is hunted heavily has taught me to use patience, diligence and some very basic behaviors for getting wildlife images. My wife and I use camouflage, blinds, hides, ghillie suits, scent masking compounds along with behaviors that allow us to stalk close to wildlife. We have also been in National and State Parks that have animals that are more acclimated to humans (e.g. Baxter, Shenandoah, and Yellowstone). We have found that our behaviors get us even closer to wildlife without stressing or alarming them. Careful movements coupled with indirect approaches helps get those highly valued wildlife shots.
On a recent trip to Big Meadows at Shenandoah, I was able to observe many others who obviously had not been around many truly wild animals. They walked directly at the animals and made direct eye contact with them. I could tell the animals were stressed by their behavior (bobbing heads, look away and then look quickly at the people, nervous foot motion and then short flight). We watched one individual chase a doe and three fawns over 700 yards across the meadow trying to get pictures of them. If he had only stopped, setup low and waited, that doe and fawns would have fed right around him and he would have gotten the images he desired. We watched as a young lady spent the first part of the morning directly approaching does and fawns with her camera. The animals would flee a short distance and she would directly approach them again only for them to flee once more. She did this for almost an hour before coming back to where some of us were setup. She then spotted a doe we had been watching for quite awhile and she took off right after it. She chased that one around the meadow for 15 minutes or so until the doe got agitated, hid the fawn and departed for the woods. She not only interfered with other photographers and people observing that doe and fawn, she stressed that deer and fawn.
I have found that wearing camouflage or at least dark or natural colored clothing is a great help in being able to get close to wild animals. One important aspect is that our forms are “broken up” so that our movements are less easily detected. I have a large lens and tripod and sometimes resort to carrying it over my shoulder, but have found it better to carry it in front of me or to my side as it is less likely to alert a deer, moose or elk. I recommend careful movements that take an indirect route to the animal. Also important is taking cover when available, this allows you time to setup and to observe the animal and learn its behavior.
Looking directly at the animal and directly approaching it will quickly put it on alert and the animal will move or bolt when the comfort zone has been penetrated. That comfort zone is dependent on how acclimated the animal is to humans. That direct approach also results in a lack of good images as when one stops to setup tripod and get camera ready, the animal recognizes the change in behavior and most likely will move a little further away or in the case of animals that are not acclimated, they will flee. Using these techniques and a little patience, I was able to come home with about 500 to 600 keeper shots of fawns, does and coyotes from Shenandoah while others struggled to get anything at all chasing around the meadow.
It is my hope that learning to have a little patience, taking the time to observe the animals behavior and using a few of the techniques I mentioned above, you will come home from your next trip with better images and a better experience!