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Tips for Wildlife Photography in Parks

You may think photographing wildlife in parks would be easy to do. However, many parks are huge, sprawling over miles and miles. Timid animals can more easily hide far from the beaten path trodden by the humans.

You’ll find photo opportunities while hiking, but in some parks, because animals are used to seeing vehicles, you stand a better chance of getting good photographs of wildlife from your car. Here are other things to keep in mind:

  • Disable any camera sounds. This includes the default beep that notifies you when focus has been achieved. The noise may spook the animal you’re trying to photograph.

  • Use equipment that blends into the surroundings. A brown, black, or khaki camera bag is a good choice. Black lenses also blend into the surrounding better than light-colored lenses. Purchase a camouflage skin that protects a light-colored lens. A black tripod is preferable over a silver one.

  • Visit the park when the animals you want to photograph are most active. Many animals rest in the heat of the day and become active in the late afternoon. It’s always a good idea to talk to an experienced park ranger.

  • Many animals can be photographed from park roads. When you plan to photograph from inside a vehicle, make sure your gear is ready. Choose an ISO setting that’s appropriate for lighting conditions. Leave the windows open so you’re ready for action. The sound of the window opening may also spook the animal you’re trying to photograph.

    When you see an animal you want to photograph, quietly pull to the side of the road, compose your picture, and take the shot. Rest the camera lens on the door frame or partially open window for added stability. If you rest the camera on your vehicle, turn the engine off so the vibrations don’t blur the pictures you take.

    You can purchase camouflage netting and size it to your passenger window. Cut a hole through the screen for your lens.

    If you photograph wildlife from a vehicle with another photographer, switch places so you each get equal shooting time.

  • If you hike in search of your prey, wear clothing that helps you blend into the surroundings.

    Do not photograph wildlife in an area frequented by hunters during hunting season.

  • When you’re hiking and you see an animal you want to photograph, squat down and slowly approach the animal. Have your camera ready for action. Don’t walk straight toward the animal; meander as though you’re doing something else.

    Do not attempt to sneak up on potentially dangerous animals like bears and alligators.

    If you do photograph in areas that are inhabited by dangerous animals, consider carrying a portable boat horn with you. The shrill sound can be used to scare off animals that may cause you harm.

  • Don’t make any sudden moves. Your actions should be slow, deliberate, and non-threatening.

  • Don’t make eye contact with the animal. When you feel you’re close enough to get a picture, take it so you have one in the bank. Then move closer.

  • Move when the animal isn’t looking at you. If the animal makes eye contact, squat and fiddle with your camera. Look away from the animal, or it may bolt. Use your peripheral vision to keep tabs on your subject. When your subject breaks eye contact, take one picture and then move closer.

  • When you move, pick your path carefully. Don’t walk over any dead or otherwise crunchy leaves or step on downed tree branches. Animals have acute hearing.

  • Move with the sun at your back if possible. This prevents you from having to deal with a backlit subject.

  • Don’t block the animal’s escape route. Some animals run for thick cover when trying to escape; others run uphill. If you’ve done your research and know the habits of the animal, you’ll know which way they’ll move when they feel threatened. If you block the escape route, you may put yourself in danger.

  • Watch the animal for visual clues. Animals will give you a clue when they’re ready to move. Some animals will twitch nervously, while others will look in the direction they’re going to move. When you sense the animal is ready to move, act quickly and take some pictures.

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