Paying attention while shooting wildlife: The Practicing Photographer

Published by | Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Ben Long explores wildlife photography.

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In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long discusses a fun and challenging photographic subject: wildlife. Whether it’s the birds in your backyard or the buffalo in a nature reserve, wildlife presents an array of photographic challenges—starting with the fact that you don’t have a lot of control over your subject.

This lack of control can lead to an interesting phenomenon: forgetting how to be a photographer. As Ben explains, when you do see an interesting critter, maybe one you haven’t seen before at close range, it’s easy to get so caught up in the experience you neglect those aspects of photography you’ve spent so much time learning—like the need to really work a shot, to move around and experiment with different compositions, focal lengths, and exposure settings.

Instead of asking yourself, “How can I capture images of these prairie dogs that help tell the story of where and how they live,” you might revert to a more simplistic internal narrative, “Ooooh, prairie dogs! They’re sooo cute! I need to take shot after shot of them standing on their hind legs munching something!”

It’s an understandable reaction; most of us don’t see exotic wildlife every day, and when we do, we’re more likely to squeal “ooooh!” than we are to think about the art and craft of photography.

Shooting a prairie dog.

But that analytical process is essential, and it’s something that’s second nature (pardon the pun) to a wildlife photographer. So Ben’s assignment for this week is to grab your gear and go where the wild things are, whether that’s your backyard, a park, or a nature preserve. Practice shooting thoughtfully. Try to establish that balance between experiencing something exciting and capturing it in creative ways. It’s an important skill for every kind of photography.

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