I believe successful Wildlife Photographers learn how to predict the un-predictable. Ok, maybe this sounds a little far fetched but when following a few basic rules successful photographers seem to support this statement by regularly producing great shots. I’ve heard people comment on an image saying things like “what a lucky shot” or “I wish I was that lucky”. Was the photographer really that lucky or were they simply prepared for (predicted) the un-expected? I believe they were likely well prepared and perhaps a small amount of good fortune came their way which they were ready to take advantage of.
To begin you must first be prepared. Research or know something about the subject you’re going to photograph. Read up on their habits, comfort zones as far as people are concerned, and know what enviornmental conditions you are likely to encounter. Make sure your equipment is all in order, batteries charged, fresh memory card, camera settings pre-set for the conditions as much as possible, proper clothing, maybe a water bottle, snack, etc. Knowing your subject, surroundings, preparing your equipment, and being comfortable are all very important factors to consider prior to going in the field.
When you’re prepared and something unexpected happens you’re doing less fumbling with gear and more capturing the event. Then again sometimes nothing is happenning and this is where your patience comes in. Take the time once on location to evaluate your surroundings. Where might you expect the action to come from, set camera settings accordingly, how will the lighting work out from your vantage point. Will other positions or locations offer better lighting or composition yet not scare off or make the subject uncomfortable. Once you have yourself positioned where you feel you’re ready to take advantage of possible opportunities from your location it’s time to be patient. I’ve waited patiently for river otters to come down a stream only to be pleasantly surprised to have an eagle land in a tree near by, or a wood duck come swimming down stream instead. Be ready to take advantage even when nothing seems to be happening.
Finally your opportunity arrives. Now your skills have to produce. Not just snapping the shutter but composing, focusing, keeping you’re eye to the view finder, waiting for the peak or unexpected moment. It’s the special moment you want to capture, the expression, emotion of the subject, something special, that’s what you’re after. This may take a bit of stamina and patience and there may be uncomfortable moments physically depending on the conditions but the more you keep you’re eye to the viewfinder, subject in focus, and solid composition the better are your chances for that lucky shot.
Yes that lucky shot when Great Blue Heron snaps a fish out of the water, the otter pops out of the water for a split second and appears to be waving, or when the eagle fly’s straight at you with a walleye in it’s talons. Perhaps you could say all these shots had a bit of luck involved but being prepared to capture the unpredictable, predicting the un-predictable moments has a much greater role than luck alone.
Have Fun and Keep Shooting,