Outside your door is a world to explore. Miles or inches away from that door is some sort of nature. It may not be as sexy as elk and grizzly bears, but there is something. It could be insects or pigeons, dandelions or oak trees. Study something to improve and build skills. It will make your next adventure more productive, because it doesn’t matter what you are looking at that matters, it is what you see. Your trained eye is what will help you spot the unnoticed things others walk past everyday. Ask yourself questions and recall the details. Give this a try 5-10 minutes a day. I would love to know your results.
Sometimes I get asked about what camera I use. And the answer is simple, whatever I had available. Anything from point and shoot, iPhone, drone, GoPro and various trail cameras make the images I happily share on social media. Brands have little meaning to me. Whatever will I get me closest to my vision is what I will use. One piece of advice I have for newbies, avoid G.A.S. Or gear-acquisition-syndrome. It is a costly game and can become habit forming. As much as I would love to have big lenses, I can wait to save up and buy them later when I feel I really need them to step up my wildlife photography game.
Keep in mind a simple point-and-shoot camera still takes great pictures that can produce sizable prints. This little old Olympus camera is nothing special; waterproof, drop-proof, decent video and tough. No RAW, interchangeable lens, or other fancy features happen on this camera. Birds in flight pictures? Not likely. Nightscapes and star-trails? Nope. Take it every where I go in case something interesting happens? YES. That’s where the “one you have with you” photography cliche comes from. You always have be ready. Other fitting cliche? You will always miss the shots you didn’t take.
A simple point and shoot can produce great printable images.
You do not need a big arsenal of equipment to document nature. In fact, some of my favorite stuff from others naturalists is hand sketched. They make beautiful pictures and notes. One book I love on how to nature journal is Keeping a Nature Journal by Leslie/Roth. Never lose sight of why you are out enjoying nature observation.
I will leave you with a picture of a Stellar’s Jay taken with a trailcam from EBay. This camera is a close focus system. I have been looking for a long time and found this one “cheep cheep” on eBay.
Trail Cameras can be a great help for those shots you can’t be there for.
This is a short brief on my techniques to spotting wildlife. While there are no photography tips in this post, a photographer could use these tips in finding their next subject. These tips with a little bit of luck should give you a successful outing next time you go out exploring. So grab your binoculars and a coat and get ready to spot those animals.
- Get Outside – The first thing to be a successful wildlife spotter is that you have to go where the wildlife is. Sometimes the hardest thing is grabbing your gear and getting off the couch. Once you are off the couch and walking in nature, you will already be in the environment for studying wildlife.
- Slow Down / Move Quietly– Our day to day lives are full of hustle. We all have places to go and things to do. How much stuff do you miss on a commute, only to notice it when someone else is driving. This same thing applies to nature-spotting. When you slow down, you can visually take in more of your environment, and things aren’t whizzing past in your periphery. Slowing down gives you a chance to scan. Slowing down also means you can think and move with stealth and intention. Practice walking quietly.
- Stop and Shut Up – Sometimes completely stopping and being quiet is what it takes to find what you are looking for. Becoming part of the environment and blending in may just make wildlife more comfortable in making themselves seen. This also lets you settle and listen to things around you. Are there birds chirping or did they get quiet? Looking for changes is a key to this technique.
- Get Up Early and Stay Up Late – Most animal activity is in the mornings and evenings. They like to wakeup and feed and go down to water sources first thing and last thing of the day. During the summer, animals avoid the heat like people. You would too if you had on a fur coat! Be sure you are ready with the added equipment to help you navigate twilight-lit landscapes.
- Edge Zones – Edge zones are the areas where forests give way to meadows, or forests give way to shorelines. Roads could also be considered edge zones. ever notice deer grazing on the side only to turn back into the trees and hide as you pass. (ok, sometimes they run in front of your car and help you check the operating condition of our brakes and reflexes.) Wildlife likes to hangout in these areas because of the quick retreat into cover. These have often been successful spotting places for me when looking for bears.
- Know Your Subject – If you are looking for something specific, do your research. This is where skills in tracking and sign cutting can come into play. Tracking is a longer post blog, but starting early in the day or late at night gives the sun the right position for seeing tracks on road surfaces. Scat is also a helpful indication of what is around and how long ago it was around.
- Have the Tools – Camouflage cover can be a handy aid to have when it comes to hiding. just be sure it doesn’t flap in a breeze, otherwise being stealthy, still, and quiet could all be a wasted effort. Other things to have handy: binoculars or spotting scope, camera, reference material, water or thermos of a warm drink, warm clothes, insulated sit pad (Crazy Creek chairs are nice for this).
- Respect the Wildlife – Lastly, keep a safe distance from animals. Recent videos in Yellowstone show people harassing bison, or getting dangerously close to elk and nearly getting gored by antlers during the mating rut. Use common sense; have an escape plan and stay far enough away that you hopefully won’t need to implement the escape plan.