While I have a passion for street photography and capturing people and trying to tell the stories of the culture of a destination, photographing wildlife is an especially exciting form of photography. Few things raise the heart rate more than trekking for an hour through dense forest and getting a first glimpse of a mountain gorilla, or waiting patiently for several hours in a hide in Estonia until a large brown bear eventually strolls into the clearing.
It is moments like these that make photographing wildlife so thrilling, has the blood pumping and adrenalin coursing through the body. However, it’s not all plain sailing, at times, photographers sometimes return home empty handed.
Photographing Wildlife is a Challenge
Browsing this website and other more illustrious wildlife sites such as National Geographic or BBC Nature, it’s possibly easy to think that every expedition to shoot wildlife ends in success. This is far from the case, photographing wildlife requires a degree of luck, plenty of patience and a little skill to capture jaw dropping pictures of charismatic animals.
Wildlife is unpredictable, it doesn’t always appear on cue and rarely acts as expected. This is especially true for specialist wildlife photographers, I genuinely admire their levels of patience, determination and skill. Unlike me, who is often led by experienced rangers to the exact spot where the animals are located, they usually have to remain in remote spots for days or even weeks, in all weather conditions and often without success.
A night in bear hide in Estonia: Wildlife Watching in Alutaguse, Estonia
Even travel photographers, who only capture wildlife part time and with the assistance of trained trackers have fruitless days. I’ve travelled to Canada five times in the last four years, and yet only briefly saw a moose in the last couple of hours of the last trip. Even then, there wasn’t an opportunity to get a lens pointed in its direction, it disappeared into the woods within moments. On another trip, spending two weeks driving around the wilderness of the Yukon, I only managed a very brief glimpse of a bear from a distance.
However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, rewarding or exciting, there is plenty of thrilling anticipation involved in a ‘hunt’. Creeping stealthily through forest or deep undergrowth in the ancient forest of Poland, or staking out a watering hole in the Serengeti has its own excitement, even if the outcome isn’t successful.
Understandably, we all hope for an encounter with moose, bear or lion depending on the environment, this is why we travelled to the destination, trekked to a location and possibly suffered some discomfort. If our quarry makes an appearance, all will be forgotten and any inconvenience worthwhile. However, we should be prepared when nature doesn’t play fair.
Wildlife is an Experience
Several years ago, after a couple of successful days capturing images of majestic polar bears in the autumn foliage of Manitoba we went on a moose hunt. An early start was required, and we spent a few hours driving around in our all-terrain vehicles and trudging through the wetlands and thick woodland of the region. I often caught my heart racing, anticipating the first view of the largest living member of the deer family.
My Manitoba moose hunt: A Modern Moose Hunt in Manitoba, Canada
Obviously, if you have been paying attention, the hunt was unsuccessful, as I already mentioned moose haven’t been lucky for me. However, it was still really enjoyable, the tension of anticipation was often gripping, and despite feeling slightly weary from the early start, adrenalin kept me on a high for hours after finishing our hunt.
There was also the added treat of a spectacular wilderness sunrise, the beauty of which more than compensated for our failure to see any moose. This is another bonus of photographing wildlife, it’s often in beautiful surroundings, make the most of it, relax and enjoy, taking a few pictures just for fun.
Discovering the wildlife is an important part of the hunt, we’re often too far away or in a poor position to get a good shot, sneaking up to for a better vantage point is often just as exciting. I usually move forward a few feet and take a couple of shots, inching closer all the time, continually taking images, hoping for a usable capture. It doesn’t always happen, often this quarry, gets wind of my presence and scarpers, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t exciting.
Sometimes we seem to expect too much of nature; crossing Canada by train in 2014, while passing through the Rockies, and forests of Alberta and British Columbia there were high hopes of seeing bear, moose and even wolves. While we did see a few animals, they couldn’t be described as prolific, some of my fellow passengers were quite vocal in their disappointment. One guy, who was unfortunately English, was particularly vociferous in his disgust at the Canadian wildlife’s unwillingness to pose for his camera.
Travellers often invest a great deal of money on safaris and wildlife encounters, hoping to witness and photograph or video one of those incredible scenes shown on animal reality programmes. However, be realistic, such encounters are rare and anybody managing to see any of Africa’s or North America’s ‘Big Five’ can count themselves extremely lucky.
Read about my rail trip across a continent: Epic Journeys; Coast to Coast, Canada with Via Rail
Disappointment at not seeing an elephant or lion is of course natural, but don’t let it spoil the experience. Enjoy the hunt, make the most of the adventure, remain observant and take photographs of other wildlife and the landscape. A holistic approach like this can be rewarding, enjoying nature for its own sake, being surrounded, and integrated in the environment brings its own rewards.