Alaska Grizzly Bear

Alaska Grizzly Bears

I enjoy being a landscape photographer. Being a landscape photographer allows me opportunities to be out within Nature to photograph its beauty, many times in breathtaking conditions. Being out in Nature also allows me to enjoy encounters with the creatures that inhabit these beautiful sceneries.

Landscape photographers are typically unprepared to photograph an encounter with a deer, a squirrel or even an occasional bear, primarily since a landscape lens is a wide-angle focal length. A wide-angle lens will not do justice to any kind of wildlife photography. Most of the creatures will be small and obscure within the scene. A typical focal length for a landscape scene will be somewhere around 18mm/24mm. In the world of wildlife photography life begins at 600mm and so an investment in a long focal length zoom lens must be made. I use a 150mm – 600mm lens.

Photographing wildlife takes a different approach as well. A landscape photographer will set their camera up on a tripod and, basically, take their time constructing the shot. There is usually no rush at all and the shot is usually made with manual settings. But with wildlife the animals do not pose for you and are usually fleeting in their appearance. Your photos usually must be made in a blink of an eye and hand held. 

My method for photographing wildlife is to set my camera up on either Aperture Priority of even Shutter Priority. I then will set my ISO to Auto and make sure that the range will cover all lighting conditions. In Aperture Priority you will set the aperture and the camera will choose the best shutter speed and ISO, again making sure that the shutter speed is quick enough to get a shot without any kind of motion blur. Open the aperture all the way and push the ISO. Some photographers prefer to set the shutter speed and not the aperture to make sure that it is always fast enough. In that case you set the shutter speed and the camera adjusts the aperture and ISO. Either method works and depends on personal preference or conditions. But it is important to make sure that you have a fast-enough shutter speed. Either way these settings will be preferred over manual operation as it allows you to make a shot quickly without having to manually adjust as the animal is moving. Give it a try. 

I had the opportunity to photograph wildlife in Alaska recently. Black bears, grizzly bears, moose, harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, eagles and other animals, but the grizzly bears were the most thrilling. This allowed me to use these techniques to nail the photos as the bears were going about their business feeding on fish in the river. Grizzly bears are very focused on fishing and are not aggressive toward humans in this situation unless they were to feel threatened. Using a 600mm focal length allowed plenty of room between us and the bears and allowed them to go about their business as we went about ours. We sat on the opposite side of the Kenai River and watched them as they pulled fish from the river.

Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority works well in other situations as well. Photographing people in quick moving situations, such as candid photos of wedding guests for example, will allow you to pay attention to your subjects and not have to deal with the camera settings. Also a longer focal length zoom lens works well for that too as you don’t have to get up close to your subject, allowing for more candid photos.

I recommend any photographer that wants to photograph wildlife to invest in a “long lens” and practice. Try the automatic settings Aperture and Shutter Priority. Use it in your yard on squirrels and birds and then go out to a wildlife refuge or a natural place frequented by animals and become a wildlife photographer. While you are out in the wild please be careful of your safety as well as being respectful of the animal’s space and safety. And as always when in Nature, leave it better than you found it.

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