Stalking Animals: for Photographers

Stalking animals is something that every wildlife photographer needs to be able to do.

FoxHow often has this happened? You have been trekking through the wilderness for hours and you finally find a great candidate for a wildlife shot. You want a photo with some depth to it so you need to get in close, but before you are within range, your target gets startled, for some reason unknown to you, and takes off.

This has happened to all of us at one time or another. To cut down on this situation happening again, you should keep a few things in mind while stalking animals.

Most animals have some sense that is much more heightened than ours, whether it be smell, sight, or hearing. All that we can do is decrease our actions or presence that would trigger those senses. Remember, some animals that we are looking for are worried about being eaten. Other predatory ones may be looking for a meal. We do not want either kind to know that we are there or at least not perceive us as a threat.

Smell - All animals emit a scent, even humans. With this in mind, always be aware of what direction the wind is blowing. Make sure that you are downwind of the animal that you are stalking.

Sight - If you are stalking animals and your target sees you and perceives you as a threat then it will run. Unless you are trying to get this kind of action shot, stay low. If you see your target from a distance, make a mental note of where it is and try to put some kind of shrubbery or foliage between you and it so line of sight will be broken while you approach. When you get close enough to take the shot, do not just stand up and shoot. The silhouette of the human body against the sky will be perceived as a threat (and rightly so). Just stay low or behind a tree until just before you take the photo. Remember you may only get one chance. If the subject sees you or hears your shudder, it will probably take off.

Hearing - Be as quiet as you can be. Instead of walking heal to toe like most people do, try the opposite; while keeping your weight on your back leg for more control of the foot in motion. Many wildlife photographers and hunters recommend a stalking boot with a felt bottom to help decrease noise. I recommend removing your shoes all together (leave the socks on though). This allows you to feel the ground for possible twigs they you may not have seen while checking your path.

For a better description of the walking technique, check out the article on Approaching Birds.

Telephoto Lens

The long lens is recommended when photographing predatory animals. It allows you to keep your distance form them and still get some amazing shots.

The telephoto lens is also used to accentuate the subject. This is done by shortening the depth of field and keeping the target in focus while blurring the background and foreground. For this you will definitely need to use a tripod but you will not have to get nearly as close to the subject so you should have plenty of time to prepare. Staying downwind is still recommended. Some animals have a much heightened sense of smell.

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