As the profession of wildlife photography has developed many photographers have taken advantage of cheap air fares to travel far and wide to photograph species that do not live in their own countries. In recent years, this has given rise to discussions about whether 'conservations photographers' are doing the world any favours by traveling thousands of miles by air and therefore building up a massive carbon footprint in their quest to document the plight or success of a particular species. Whether you deem this as a necessary part of producing a compelling message or as simple hypocrisy, I don't think I know any wildlife photographer that doesn't have one or two species they would dearly like to photograph but need to travel a significant distance for but constantly traveling abroad for photography is not how most photographers start out.
Let's be honest, most of us don't have the time or money to jet all over the world just for photography but luckily, there are lots of reasons for making the most of the wildlife in the immediate vicinity so I'll list as many as I can think of here. Feel free to add more in the comment below.
- Travel time is kept to a minimum (so you can get more sleep if means an early start)
- You can spend a lot of time in the field researching/shooting and as a result
- You quickly become knowledgeable of the subject and their habits
- You can react quickly to weather opportunities
- Knowing the area increases the ability to create new and original bodies of work
- You become known get to know local landowners
The last point is often overlooked but I can honestly say that without the help of local landowners, my job would be far harder. Farmers, estate managers, local park authorities all hold a wealth of knowledge when it comes to their land. Just be prepared to be refused access (to the land or information) and respect their usage of it in the first place.
Get to know your area
Once you can see the benefits of photographing local wildlife, the next logical question is what to photograph and where?
These questions probably deserve an entire post just for themselves but rather than get bogged down in the details, here is an overview:
- Look for specific features and habitats of the landscape. Rivers, lakes, quarries, farmland, woodlands, cliff edges and even towns will all support various species. Some will overlap and others will be specific to a particular habitat. Think about what species you might find in each.
- Visit places early in the morning and just before dusk. You'll be surprised at how active local wildlife is before most people wake up and after they go to bed!
- Visit the same places again and again. Repeat visits to local areas will not only build your familiarity but increase your chances of seeing something. Never under-estimate the value of being outside - even if you think there's no chance of an image - the research is just as important.
- Don't forget the time of year. Remember, some species will be hard to find at certain times of the year. Badgers will be confined to their setts throughout winter months while cowslips and orchids won't be flowering until spring. (This is another good reason to visit the same places often.)
- Towns and cities host wildlife as well. More and more wildlife is inhabiting our towns and cities. Just because you live in a big city, doesn't mean that you have to travel far to find wildlife. Look for parks and other quiet spaces such as cemeteries which often hold a surprising amount of wildlife.
It goes without saying that time and perseverance are key attributes to success in this aspect of wildlife photography.
I've spoken to many wildlife photographers regarding how they have created a particular image and the one thing their replies all have in common is having patience and belief! Don't give up, you'll be rewarded if you put the hours in!
So what about equipment? See my post about buying the best you can afford.