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Photography Question 
Emmett S. Speelman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/26/2005

Nature Photography

Need input, I have always been interested in phototgraphy, and ever sence digital came around it resparked an old interest. But I am confussed, been an outdoorsman, Hunter, camper, Fisherman, I spend a lot of times outdoors, and while viewing gallerys here and on other sites I see a trend that is confussing to me. It seems to me all the winners and the photos that everyone is talking about are close ups. When it comes to wild animals I think this is a bad idea, it portrays them as pets and not so wild. Dont get me wrong these photos are very well done, and are worthy of the contest they win, Its just a trend I think is unfair to these great creatures. Just venting sorry.

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8/6/2005 12:00:42 PM

Anita Ott
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/5/2005
  Emmett I am with you, but you have some really really great photos. what lens are you using? I am looking to upgrade and wonder if the 80-200 2.8 is worth the investment and weight to carry around. What is your thought, as I too love outdoor photos?

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8/7/2005 6:42:52 PM

Emmett S. Speelman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/26/2005
  I have two lens that I have had for 18 years. One Minolta 28-70mm lens with macro, one sigma 70-210mm lens, I am looking to add a higher zoom in the 135-400 mm, maybe either a sigma or Tamron. and thanks for the kind words.
I ques my real complaint is, I read alot of different photo mags and the big complaint from the "pros" is that the new photographers are not doing any thing new. Well all they have to do is look at what is winning and what the are teaching, CLOSE,CLOSE,CLOSE.

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8/8/2005 4:10:09 AM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Hi Emmett-

It sounds like you and I might have a lot in common. I am very interested in nature and wildlife photography and am trying really hard to learn the proper techniques for making good images. Like you, I am concerned when I see an image that makes a wild animal look tame and even friendly. I grew up not far from Yellowstone and have seen some of the incredible idiocy that people practice all in the name of getting a “good picture”. I have seen people try to entice bears, bison and other large mammals closer to their cars or even to themselves all in an effort to get a close up image of that animal. I have even seen people, in Yellowstone and in other areas, try to place their child on the back of a bison or next to another large animal. I sometimes think that people have watched way too much Disney! Wild animals are not like cartoons! I was taught that our primary responsibility, in any situation in which we interact with animals, is to ensure the safety and well being of that animal. Because of my love and respect for wildlife I always keep in mind both their safety and my own.

Many of the wildlife images that are in my gallery may appear to be close ups, but they are, in reality, made at a distance from that animal. I do have a couple of deer photos that were made at near distance – simply because the deer kept coming closer to my car. I did nothing to entice this animal and in fact, I remained quite still and did not roll my window down until the deer seemed unconcerned with my presence. My images of pronghorn were, again, made from my car and the pronghorn were fairly close, but not as close as they may appear in the photos. Once again, they seemed unconcerned with my car and hardly aware that I was busily making images. In fact, several of these pronghorn lay down in the grass while I was shooting and showed no signs of stress or concern. When I attempt to capture an image of any wild creature I try always to be aware of that creatures comfort zone. Some animals, as you know, seem so accustomed to people that they can tolerate you coming fairly close ( in a car - rarely on foot) without showing signs of stress. I am particularly aware of how animals are responding to my presence when the weather is bad – for example photographing wildlife in winter when survival may depend upon the animal’s ability to retain energy stores. I use a long lens and patience to capture my images and often go without the image I really wanted because in order to make that image I would have to disturb the animal. It can be terribly frustrating to work really hard to get the image and have to give up before capturing that image, but that is the price we pay for choosing this type photography.

My other pet peeve, and one that I think may be at the root of some of your frustration is that far too many people go out to make images of wildlife without taking the time to learn anything about their subjects. As photographers, at any level of expertise, we have a responsibility to learn about the animals we hope to capture in our images. How do you know if an animal is stressed? How do you know where to even find these animals and what time of day? What is a safe distance to be from the subject – not the ideal distance, perhaps, for the camera, but for the animal? These are all things, IMHO, a responsible wildlife photographer should know.

Thanks for starting this thread. I think it is an important topic and one that anyone who is hoping to photograph wildlife needs to consider.

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8/8/2005 5:12:37 AM

Emmett S. Speelman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/26/2005
  AMEN IRENE AMEN INDEED.Another thing is I Look as Nature Photography as a tool of teaching what are these animals doing and why. Ps I will stopping into your gallery this week .

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8/8/2005 6:39:19 AM

Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
  hey anita,
the lense your talking about you'll find out quickly doesn't have enough reach.yeah it's big,fast and heavy,but I think emmett is on the right track at 400mm.500mm or 600mm would be better.a decent 400mm f4-f5.6 should get you some pretty good pics.and not nearly as heavy.the trick is to find out either their routine or where they frequent.most animals are creatures of habit like us.just being there with a fast lense just isn't enough.i believe emmitt is a park ranger in pennsylvania,so he has a much better chance and maybe creature knowledge to get the shot.correct me if i'm wrong emmitt?
and like irene said,if you don't know what you're doing and don't take precautions,you might be lunch.
hope i've helped,sam

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8/8/2005 2:19:03 PM

Emmett S. Speelman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/26/2005
  Hi Samuel, Nope not a park ranger but I am from Pennsyvania, the key to getting close to wild life is two things, One knowledge, know as much about the animal as you can, Second is patience, and know whn not to get too close. I have been a whitetail hunter for 28 years, and that is what as gotten into Nature Phototgraphy. I also keep a log when iam hunting or taken photos so I cam remember were I see these animals, both Sigma and Tamron have great web sites that list there lens very well.

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8/8/2005 3:22:36 PM

Ric Henry
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/29/2004
  Hi Anita,

I saw your posting about the 70-200 2.8 lens. I have a Sigma 70-200 2.8 lens and I like it alot. It was around $ 900.00 but I read in one of your other posting that your are concerned about the weight I don't think its that heavy. I use mine on a monopod most of the time. If you are looking for a 2.8 in the 300 or 400 range they are very heavy I had the 300 2.8 and traded it for the 200 2.8. But if your looking for a 300 that is not a 2.8 they are a lot lighter. You don't need the 2.8 for out side shooting. I use mine in low light areas and in school gyms. You will have to check them out at a store. Hope this helps you.


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8/8/2005 3:32:12 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  I saw a documentary once about a renown nature photographer who was assigned by a major magazine to capture images of bengal tigers in the Asian wilds.
After spending weeks seeking his quarry and studying their behavior patterns from great distances, he learned that a mated couple he had been following frequented the same small watering hole at least once daily...usually around mid-day when the sun was brightest.

He arrived at the water-hole early in the day and set up his camera and multiple strobes.
The camera was equipped with a remote device which was activated when something passed in front of the lens' critical focus point.

It took a few days before the pair returned and he got his shots,...some great behavioral close-ups of wild tigers in their natural environment.

Getting to know your quarry is essential to getting close-ups of them in the wild. In the above example the photographer knew that this feline couple wouldn't have let him get close enough for even his longest lens to perform so he adapted his technique to their terms to get his shots.

How close is acceptable?
That's for the animal to decide. When its behavior pattern changes from the initial "stare" to something else, it's time to back up a few steps.

I've gotten eyeball-to-eyeball with herps and insects and they've just sat there. In my mind, that's OK.

Like Irene, I've also had deer walk up to my vehicle of their own accord.
That's OK too. This is a rare occurrence, but as long as they keep coming I'll keep shooting.

As to your initial "vent",...captive or tamed animals make up the bulk of the close-ups you'll see anywhere...(especially with predatory species).
These are usually identified as such and even if they are not, a trained eye can see them for what they are.

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8/8/2005 4:28:16 PM

David A. Bliss   There are a couple of points in this thread. The first being close up shots of wild animals. I like both. Right now in my portfolio I have 3 animal shots, and they are all close framing of wild animals. I also have shots with the animals as part of the landscape, I just haven't posted them yet. I think it is important to be able to capture both. A lot of publications want to have shots that incorporate the natural environment with the animals.

As for getting close, there are a number of tricks, and some were touched on above. I can tell you some of my experiences.

There are some animals that become accustomed to being around people. Mountain Goats, for instance, especially in National Parks, like Glacier or Mt Evans, don't care about people at all. They will walk right past people, and not even give them a second glance. Of course, just like any wild animal, you have to understand certain rules. Don't get between a mother and her young. Don't approach an animal beyond it's comfort zone, and never, never try to touch one. The moose I have posted was another one that wasn't too concerned with people. I shot it on Cameron Pass in Colorado. There were people stopping their cars to get out and take a picture, so there was a steady stream of about 20 people at any given time, and he just didn't care. Then you had the soon to be Darwin Award winners who felt like they needed to be closer, and the moose got noticeably uncomfortable. Two things happen here. One, the people are putting themselves in danger, and two, they chase off the animal, which ruins it for everyone else.

For the Redwing Blackbird, it was a little different. They are not shy birds, but getting close enough to get a frame filling shot is still difficult. There is an area I shoot a lot that has a lot of blackbirds. I found a perch that one of the birds liked, and moved in close enough that the bird would be full frame (with a 400mm lens, with the 1.6 conversion of a digital camera). Of course the bird flew away. But I sat in that spot, without any quick movements, until the bird was comfortable enough to come back to his perch. Then I was able to get a lot of shots, and he wasn't worried about me anymore. You just have to be patient.

When I was younger, I was shooting elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn't pay attention to the warning signs, and was chased by a mother elk. Not just a bluff charge, she came after me. I knew better, but I thought since I understood wildlife, I would know how close I could get. Every situation is different, and it is very important to pay attention to the signs, no matter how much you think you know an animal.

Cars are one of the best blinds. I was in an area doing some shooting, and when I got back to my car, there was a pair of Chukars hanging out a little distance away. I used my car, and slowly drove closer, took some shots, drove closer, took some shots... I got within 30 feet of them, and they never showed signs of stress. They kept feeding the entire time, never even paying attention to my car. If I had gotten out of the car, they would have flown off immediately.

I know I have rambled on here, but if anyone has read this far, I have another question. How do you feel about shooting wild animals in situations when they are used to people, so they come very close (like Yellowstone, for instance). Do you consider this to be like shooting animals in captivity? Also, it is important to not stress an animal, but what about situations when you want that pose, like a rattlesnake coiled up? What if you have already stressed the animal, in the rattlesnake example? I was driving down a back road in eastern Colorado many years ago, and I came across a few rattlesnakes. Every time I got out of my car, they were already coiled up, because before I could see them on the road, my car was close enough to make them defensive.

Ok, I'm done now! ;-)

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8/8/2005 4:58:54 PM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  David –

Your experiences with shooting wildlife images strongly suggest that you have given time and thought to how best to approach your subject without putting either yourself or them in danger. You are absolutely correct in stating that it does not matter how much you think you know about a particular animal’s behavior, it pays to always remember that these are wild animals that we are speaking of – they are not tame, they are not domesticated and, no matter where we find them, they are ultimately in control.

As photographers and, hopefully, as people who care about the natural world, we have an obligation and responsibility to always place the welfare of our subject ahead of our desire to make a great image. I have walked away from situations where I might have made a wonderful image because my presence is obviously causing distress to my intended subject. Cars do make terrific blinds, but even this can be problematic if we are careless. I have seen would be photographers attempting to lure wildlife closer to their cars by offering food or by driving into a herd of bison, big horn sheep or other species. This, IMHO, is not only amazingly stupid, it is highly unethical. Of the other hand, I have some interesting images of a large herd of bison moving down a road in YS that I made from my car that was only feet away from the herd. In that situation there was literally no place for me to go and the herd had appeared from around a bend in the road. For the 20 minutes or so that it took the herd to pass not one bison ever even glanced at me or the car.

On your question about images of wildlife made in places such as YS when the animals are very acclimated to people: IMHO, using this to our advantage in making our images is not wrong as long as (and this is the important part) we keep in mind that these are wild creatures who may behave in unpredictable ways and, once again, we have to keep their safety and our own in mind at all times. Over the years I have spent a great deal of time in and around Yellowstone and feel that I know something of the park and its environs. I have great respect for all wildlife and was taught, as a child, never to forget that I am in their home and they have the right to exist unmolested by humans. I know never to get closer than the animal’s own comfort zone and to watch carefully for any signs of stress or fear on the part of the animal. None-the-less I have found myself, on occasion, in situations I had not planned for nor intended. One of my more memorable experiences happened a few years ago in YS. It was early evening and I was driving down a road in the park when I encountered a small group of bison lying on the road. I stopped my car some distance away and waited for them to move on – which eventually all but one bull did. For some reason the bull decided to walk up the road to where I sat in the car (about 200 feet away) and started to rub his head against the front end of my car. There was nothing I could do – I did try honking at him, but he barely noticed. The bull did not seem distressed or angry, just itchy – he managed to break one of my headlights and stabbed a tire with his horn. After about 10 minutes he grew bored and lumbered away after his herd. The worst part was that I failed to get a good picture – at the time I did not have the skills to make a decent image in that low light situation.

There are many situations in which we may unintentionally distress wildlife; however, IMHO, we need to take responsibility to educate ourselves as far as possible so that we can limit these negative encounters.

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8/9/2005 4:35:04 AM

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