By Gretchen Steele
Now that most hunting seasons have come to close, many of us want to stay in the woods and keep our scouting, tracking, patterning, and stalking skills intact. One of the best ways to do this is to hunt with a camera.
These days, my work as an outdoor communicator finds me hunting with a camera more days than I hunt with a gun or a bow. Rarely a day goes by that I am not in the field, with a pack full of cameras and lenses, my shooting sticks strapped on to use as camera rests. Thanks to the high quality and durability of the Próis line one worry I don’t have is that of durable, well fitting, technical outdoor clothing. Whether I am lying in a snow covered field photographing incoming geese or sweltering in the swamps photographing snakes, salamanders, and wading birds; Próis has me covered. Literally.
Many hunters and outdoor enthusiasts ask me how to improve their wildlife photos. The short simple answer is treat it like hunting. Just like hunting with a firearm or bow, hunting with a camera requires many of the same skills. Whether I am putting a trophy on the wall or an image of that big buck, the process is the same.
Good wildlife photos don’t just happen – it takes time and effort. Here are a few tips to help you improve your wildlife photos.
Scout – Scout, scout and scout some more. You can’t photograph the creatures if you can’t find them. The added advantage to hunting with a camera is that one can access areas that are closed to hunting. Burn the boot leather, and figure out where that flock of turkeys is roosting, when they come down, where they are strutting.
Pattern – Pattern the creatures that you wish to photograph. Learn their habits, watch them long enough to know when and where they usually feed, drink, and bed down. Soon you will know that every evening just before sunset the elk come down out of the trees to a meadow pool to drink and eat sweet fresh grass.
Stalking – Yes, wildlife photographers routinely use long focal length lenses, but often the cost and sheer need for a pack mule to haul around those giant heavy weight lenses makes the need to get close and fill the frame an often utilized skill. Just as a bow hunter needs to close the distance, so does a wildlife photographer. The same methods that you employ as a spot and stalk hunter are exactly what you will use when it is a camera in your hands versus a bow.
Concealment – we all know that concealment is key when hunting. This is no different when hunting with a camera. Thanks to the camouflage patterns offered by Próis I can stay well concealed in a variety of settings. Conceal that camera too. My cameras and lenses have camo covers that keep the glaring white of Canon L series lenses from blinding everything in the neighborhood. My black camera bodies and lenses will stick out like a sore thumb in a snowy cornfield, so again, don’t just camouflage yourself, camo up that camera as well.
Use a blind – Like it or not, just hunkering down in brush pile, the tall grass, or a clump of cedars won’t always work. I’ve spent just as many hours in a blind with a camera (I’m inclined to think more actually) as I have with a bow or gun. Just like a day in the blind hunting, some days I leave with cards full of images, the photographers version of tagging out; sometimes I come home with odd shots of the mouse in the corner, a mockingbird in a nearby tree and way too many of my boots.
Learn to call – Just like calling in the geese, the ducks, the turkeys to get them within in shooting range – I need them to be in camera range. Being able to use a range of different calls effectively will work well to bring the creatures in close. Using calls can also be an aid for enticing the creature to “look at the camera”.
By the time the cute babies from spring have grown into gangly teenagers, and the rest of the hunting community is ramping up for the next season, I have often become part of the landscape to the animals around me. They are accustomed to my scent, they are accustomed to my presence, and in many cases they have come to trust me. One would think I would use this to my advantage as a hunter.
Tempting as it might be, I try to not hunt the areas where the animals trust me the most. That just seems patently unfair. Instead, since I have been out there every day of the off season watching, patterning, and clicking away I still have a pretty good idea of where the best hunting will be.
Do my skills as a hunter make me a better wildlife photographer? Or perhaps my skills as a wildlife photographer make me a better hunter? I say neither – the skill set is essentially the same.