Anyone who has joined me on one of my nature photography workshops or has read my book knows this formula… 98% patience, 1% luck ands 1% skill is required to be successful at nature photography.
Waiting for hours in a blind for wildlife to appear or for the light to be ‘just right’ can tax even the most patient soul! It is very easy to get distracted while waiting, especially if the weather is less than desirable! Keeping your task at hand in focus, however, is required to take advantage of the 1% luck, when your subject appears or the light has peaked. Then you can use your 1% skill to get the shot!
The waiting can be minimized in some cases by ‘knowing’ your subject. Understanding the natural history of the wildlife you are photographing is key to creating opportunities and getting the best images. Some hummingbirds, for example, are known as ‘trapliners’ because they feed on a circuit of flowers rather than staking out a territory. In other words, they return to the same flowers time and again, on a schedule. Depending on the species, the time will vary from 10 minutes to as much as 40 minutes. Observing your subject until you know the timing will help keep you alert for when the action will begin.
Many big (and small) mammals have circuits as well and create ‘game trails’ that can be staked out for placement of blinds. Look for woodpeckers, bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds in spring as they fly back and forth to their nest to feed young. Don’t get too close to the nest as this can alert predators to it’s presence. Stay back to get a better angle, or build a platform blind a safe distance away for minimal disturbance.
Once you understand your subject and have your tools in place, the luck factor comes into play. Having your subject ‘perform’ as you had hoped, or better yet, with an unexpected behavior, is up to luck. Enjoying a woodpecker flying into and out of its nest hole may get monotonous… but be ready for when the male and female connect for that brief moment before they change places, or for a chick’s head to appear in the opening before mom returns with a meal. It’s those extra opportunities outside the repeated behavior that you hope to capture. Something ‘different’ from what others have seen and captured!
This is where the 1% skill comes into play… understanding your camera’s controls to be sure you have all the proper settings for the light and action when the ‘unique behavior’ happens is your key to success! Practice, practice, practice! Getting outside and playing with the settings to see how everything works in different levels of light and speed of action will help prepare you for when the moment presents itself and you have a split second to react!