Observing and Photographing Wildlife


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One of the greatest pleasures of landscaping for wildlife is the opportunity to observe the creatures that visit your yard. Some people enjoy the thrill of simply watching animal behavior “up close," while others want to take pictures to preserve the memories and share them with others.

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Observing and Photographing Wildlife

  1. 1. One of the greatest pleasures of landscaping for wildlife is the opportunity to observe the creatures For more nature habitat information that visit your yard. Visit these helpful websites: Some people enjoy the thrill of simply watching animal A Plants Home behavior “up close," while others want to take pictures A Birds Home to preserve the memories and share them with others. A Homesteaders Home Observing and Photographing Wildlife As you plan your landscaping, Most animals follow patterns keep wildlife observation in mind. of behavior and this can work to Plant shrubs and trees in line your advantage. If you see a with windows from which you rabbit eating in a corner of your can watch comfortably. lawn in the morning, chances are that he will be there every For photography, try to make morning. You can plan to be in it a window that can be easily the right place even earlier and opened, one without a screen. wait for him. Sliding doors can be opened slightly while you are hidden Birds frequently use the same behind a folding screen or perch repeatedly, so you can drapes. pre-focus a camera on that spot and wait for your subject If you must take your photos to appear, rather than following through a closed window, it around the yard, trying to carefully put your lens right maintain focus. against the glass to eliminate glare and reflection. A tripod This same technique works will help to keep the camera with many insects, such as steady as you wait for the dragonflies, which are territorial. perfect shot. Species that migrate often appear at the same time each Your first step in observing year and will return to your yard wildlife should be to pay if you have provided for their attention to their habits. Take needs in the past. Study notes on when (both time of day guidebooks to learn more about and season) and where you see the habits and preferences of wildlife in your yard. individual species.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 1 A Plants Home
  2. 2. There is a wealth of good high shutter speeds are needed falling on the subject when the camera equipment on the to freeze action, but slower sun is behind your shoulder. market, and any photography films have a smaller visible grain store will be happy to advise in the finished product. It is useful if you are taking a you on the best choices for light-colored subject against a nature work. For really good photos, it isn’t dark background. A white enough to get close to an rabbit shot against green Generally speaking, you animal and have it in sharp pines in direct light will stand want a 35mm SLR (single focus. Timing is also important. out sharply. Taking a photo lens reflex) camera with a when your subject is lit from through-the-lens metering Although we don’t often think the side is often the most system. You should be able to about it, light has color. During flattering. The light is softer, manually override any the middle of the day it has a there are interesting shadows, automatic features, and it strong blue cast, while light in and the details of texture should have a “hot shoe" for a the early morning and late become more obvious. removable flash attachment. afternoon is warmed with reds and yellows. Photos taken in Backlight, with the sun’s A depth-of-field preview this warmer light tend to be rays coming from behind the button is a nice feature, as is more pleasing, and these are subject, is the most dramatic, a cable release cord. If you are also often the best times to showing the veins of a leaf or a restricted to an automatic observe wildlife. halo of fur on a fox. Avoid point-and-shoot camera, you unwanted splashes of light can still get lots of good Many creatures are out (known as “lens flare") in your photos by using a variety of feeding in the earlier and later pictures by shading the lens techniques to get closer to hours, avoiding the hot sun of with your hand. Consciously your subjects. midday. There tends to be less experiment with different wind, making sharp focus easier directions of light and see to achieve, and the longer rays what works best for the Type of film of the sun create interesting wildlife that interests you. Experiment with various shadows. Never look directly at the sun, kinds of film and keep notes on even through the view finder, your results. Slide film requires If you must take pictures in since this could damage your more exposure accuracy but is the middle of the day, take eyes. better if you plan to show your advantage of slightly overcast photos to a large group, or conditions, letting clouds want to submit them for soften the harsh light. Dull Backgrounds publication. conditions can actually make Keep backgrounds in mind colors richer because of the when taking a picture. Many Prints are generally reduction in surface glare. animals are able to blend with preferable for enlargements or their surroundings, and you will to share with friends. Films are For nearby subjects, your be able to see them more given an ISO rating, which flash covered with a light yellow clearly if they are standing reflects what is known as their filter can make it look like the against a contrasting “speed." “Slow" films (under photo was taken in the early background. This might be a 100 ISO) require longer morning. wall, shaded vegetation, or exposures to get a picture, even the sky. while “fast" films (100, 200, 400 and up) can be exposed Check the light For small subjects, you for a shorter time with good Direction of light is also an might be able to slip a coat or results. important consideration. There other solid-colored object are three categories: direct behind them. Think about why Faster films are more light, sidelight, and backlight. you are taking the picture and, versatile in poor light, or when Direct light refers to the rays if your camera has adjustable© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 2 A Plants Home
  3. 3. controls, use them to enhance horizontally. Your main subject suitable perch a short distance the feeling you are trying to should fall anywhere that two of from the nest, which the capture. those lines intersect. parents will use coming and going with food. If it’s early in the morning and you love the mist and the dewdrops, a longer exposure or Feeding sites good larger aperture will let in more Bird feeders are easy to light and give your picture an place in convenient locations, airy feeling. A shorter exposure but avoid putting them in flower will intensify the colors of beds. You might trample butterflies and flowers. Fast blossoms when filling the shutter speeds can “freeze" a feeders, and dropped seeds can bird in flight, while slow ones will be a problem. give the impression of movement. Placing food and water sources near shrubs or trees The angle at which you take Often it seems that nesting gives birds a place to rest, your shot is also important. By birds are good subjects for and these natural varying your own height, and photos. They are accessible, and backgrounds can give you thus that of the camera, you you know that they will return better pictures. You can also can look down on your subject regularly to the nest. However, attach branches directly to or shoot up at it. they are also at risk from the feeder poles or to a human intervention. nearby structure. Taking pictures of wildlife at eye level yields very intimate To get close to birds away portraits. Don’t forget that Be cautious from the house, go to a your camera can be held in a One of the riskiest times is sheltered spot and take a vertical as well as horizontal during nest building. Birds put a friend with you. Once settled, position. Adjust it for taller lot of effort into choosing their have your friend leave. The birds subjects, or to get a different nest site and, if they are will assume that the danger is viewpoint. frightened away, may not find gone and will return to the site. another place in time to raise Notice everything in the view their young. A good pair of binoculars will finder and change your position help you get a better view of to crop out unwanted elements Once the eggs are laid, your subjects. Make sure that such as the corner of a house keeping the adult away from the “power" (the first number in or an unattractive blossom. them for too long may alter the descriptive notation) is at their temperature enough to least 7, and that the second Certain configurations of prevent hatching. Always leave number is at least 5 times subjects are especially pleasing, protective foliage in place, and larger (e.g., 7x35). including s-curves, repetitive don’t uncover a nest if it will patterns, a touch of bright leave it exposed after you Test them before purchasing color in an otherwise neutral depart. to be sure that they are clear, scene, and three of a subject easy to adjust, and not too forming a triangle. Although birds tend to be heavy for your hands. A good most tolerant shortly after the field guide will also help with Photographers often use the eggs hatch, scaring the young species identification. “rule of thirds" when composing into leaving the nest even one a picture (see following day early can be disastrous. Insects are fascinating but example). This involves imagining can be difficult to photograph. your scene divided into three Sometimes the best photo Getting up early, while their parts, both vertically and situation is to provide a wings are still wet with dew,© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 3 A Plants Home
  4. 4. gives you some extra time to Using a ruler, take several maneuverability while get in close. shots at different distances, underneath. keeping a record of your Butterflies in particular are attempts. When you get your at rest until their body warms pictures back, decide which Cars are good to flying temperature. If you distance gave the sharpest Don’t overlook your car as are very careful, you can catch focus and use that formula in an effective blind if the insects and put them in the the future. location is suitable. Most refrigerator for a shor t time, animals are used to cars and then study or photograph If you want to photograph don’t associate them with the them as they warm up. something that is relatively far people inside. away, your best choice is a This won’t harm them, but be telephoto lens which, like If you must approach an sure not to damage fragile binoculars, brings distant animal in the open, come wings or legs, and always return objects closer. towards it at an angle rather the insects as quickly as than in a straight line, move possible to the same place If this isn’t an option, or if you slowly, and avoid making eye where they were captured. just want to view wildlife from a contact. Act naturally, as if closer perspective, you have to you have absolutely no Using a flash can also freeze work on techniques for interest in the subject that movement, but you must be physically getting nearer to you are stalking. close enough for the light from your subject. the flash to overpower that of Most creatures have a the sun. Learn to identify animal “comfort zone" and will flee if tracks in mud and snow, and to you get past that invisible Getting close-up shots of recognize their calls in order to line, but with practice you will small creatures is a matter of locate wildlife before you can learn how close you can get to both technique and equipment. actually see it. different species. Often it is Move in slowly, making sure that more effective to stop a your shadow doesn’t fall across If you already know where to distance away and wait for your subject. expect an animal to appear, the animal to approach you wear dark clothing and get in as you remain motionless. place early to wait in a Close-ups sheltered area. Sit quietly, since If they are used to seeing If you have a camera with most wildlife is wary of you, and you have been interchangeable lenses, you movement. For scent-sensitive providing sources of food might want to invest in a set of creatures, such as deer, try to and water, birds and animals extension tubes or a macro position yourself downwind. are more likely to remain in lens, both of which will allow you place as you get closer. Once to do close-ups. When trying to get a picture you decide to take a photo, of large birds on a windy day, focus on the eyes. If they are Less expensive supplemental approach with the wind at your sharp, the rest of the picture “close-up" lenses screw onto back since they tend to take off can be a little fuzzy and still the front of your camera lens. into the wind and will come be acceptable. These are measured in towards you. “diopters" (+1, +2, etc.) with Always be aware of the increased magnification as the A length of camouflage fabric reaction of the wildlife that numbers increase. with circles cut out for your you are studying and avoid eyes and the camera lens causing any stress. Don’t If you have a simple point- makes an inexpensive portable block off an animal’s escape and-shoot camera, experiment blind. Just throw it over route or come too close to with taping a pocket magnifying yourself, adding a chair or offspring if the parents seem glass to the front of your lens. tripod for additional agitated.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 4 A Plants Home
  5. 5. Watch for predators Never endanger an animal or its young by attracting the attention of predators. Remember that stress can be cumulative, so don’t invite all the neighbors over to see a nest or stalk a rabbit. Share your discoveries through enthusiastic stories and good photographs. In addition, as tempting as it may be, don’t try to make pets of wild animals. While you may only want to enjoy them, others might not be so generous, and by taking away an animal’s natural wariness you put it at risk. Let wildlife remain wild! If you have provided the four basic requirements – food, water, shelter, space – as well as a feeling of safety, wildlife will come and provide you with many hours of pleasure. When caught up in the excitement of discovery and the challenge of photography, always remember to treat wild creatures with care and consideration. Be willing to sacrifice a photo or personal encounter for their well-being. The more you learn about wildlife, the This article was written by Maryland Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist more ways you will discover to Cathy Gilleland. enjoy it. For more information or for the name of a Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist in your area, please contact: Watching, taking photographs, sketching, WindStar Wildlife Institute sharing anecdotes with friends, helping your children E-mail: wildlife@windstar.org learn to respect nature – all of http://www.windstar.org these activities and more are your reward for inviting wildlife WindStar Wildlife Institute is a national, non-profit, conservation into your yard. Delight in the organization whose mission is to help individuals and families establish or experience and encourage improve the wildlife habitat on their properties. others to follow your example.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 5 A Plants Home