Wild Models

Yesterday I found myself on a long pier stretching far out into the Atlantic Ocean. An aggressive group of large pelicans were hanging around the end of the pier to snatch leftover fresh bait.
Brown Pelican Portrait
These birds were fairly unafraid of the bystanders but to get close-up images of wild birds or animals without an expensive long lens, can be a challenge. The images above illustrate two different styles of photographing animals. I especially like the image on the left above because it is unusual and represents a unique look at the bird from an artistic point of view. The second image is the more typical and will be downloaded more often as it has broader appeal. Images of wild birds serve several markets. The hobby of bird watching is huge and growing fast. The suppliers to these hobbyists use images of birds to promote their products such as binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras, tripods, books and backyard feeding stations.
Binoculars - man explorer
Go to a popular bird watching area and strike up a conversation with a bird watcher. Perhaps you will find an enthusiast that will allow you to photograph them in the pursuit of their hobby. The image of someone watching birds with binoculars is a better seller in some market than images of birds themselves. Also some birds are iconic travel images and are used as secondary images on travel sites and in print. The Florida flamingo is an example.
flamingo in pond
Flamingo closeup portrait hidden beak
How to get up close to a skittery animal? First of all don't be foolish, I saw a father and his toddler son walk directly up to a bear in the high mountains of British Columbia so the dad could snap a shot.
Brown bear
Wild Puma
Don't feed animals so that they will get closer to you. The pelicans on the pier were at least eating raw fish. People food is often harmful to wild animals. Encouraging wild animals to eat handouts, can also get them into the habit of hanging around roadways and campsites where they can be harmed or cause harm. Try to respect the animal's natural behavior. And if the animal looks threatened at all, you are too close. Step back. We are so used to seeing animals through the long lenses of cameras on TV's wildlife channels that people start to think that they can walk right up to a dangerous animal with impunity. Most of the animals we see in commercials and theatrically released films are not wild but well paid actors that work out of animal actor companies. (And as I found out on a shoot in one of those places, even the trained animals can be very dangerous).
Trained Tiger
The zoo is a good place to get animal portraits but unless you can cleverly disguise the environment, the image will lose impact. The fact that the animal has been photographed in a zoo makes the image less interesting than if in the wild.
Please read the limitations on taking photographs for commercial usage on the back of the entry ticket. You may think that you have disguised the specific zoo but many of the animals are famous to that zoo and will be recognized. This even applies to aquariums. There is a jellyfish display in a well known aquarium that is so recognizable that when the image is used commercially, the user usually hears from the aquarium attorney.
Now back to the pelicans. I managed to get within arms length of one of the birds but out of range of that huge, snapping beak simply by being quiet. It seems obvious but we are so used to noise in our everyday lives that we forget what it means to be quiet. Very quiet.
Girl Relaxed Daydreaming
Woman lying on grass
I was on a nature hike in the Pacific Northwest a year ago. The only animals I saw were my fellow hikers. I wanted to yell SHUTUP. (But I can be polite when necessary.) Whether in the backcountry or a city park, get away from the sound of people and cut your own auditory intrusions to nothing and you'll be surprised at who shows up from the animal world that is just as curious about you as you are them. And remember: rarely do images of animals that are mere specks in the sky or on tiny spots on the horizon generate much interest.

Photo credits: , Cristian Andrei Matei, Dana Bartekoske Heinemann, Debra James, Drx, James Steidl, Jhaviv, Leszek Wilk, Moophoto, Stephen Coburn, Piksel, Stephenmeese.

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great stuff, Ms. Ellen. dreamstime made a big deal about Your joining the team and i thought, "yeah, yeah...blah blah blah...another person whose presence i'm never going to notice has joined the team..." but Your presence really is invaluable. You're a huge help to every photographer here who takes the time to read Your articles.

now i'd like to add a tip for people wanting to get close to birds of any kind: it can be very helpful if, during your approach, you act like a bird. don't look straight at the bird while walking straight up to Her or him - that's an approach (no pun intended) that many birds see as predatory behavior. instead, act like a bird: look all around, at everything except the bird you're trying to approach. use jerky, bird-like movements and look at the ground a lot as if you're foraging for food, as the birds tend to be. i stop and pick up imaginary things from the ground (i use my hands instead of my beak...it's easier. ;) keep your arms and equipment and everything close to your sides - keep yourself looking as narrow as possible, since to a bird, the flapping wings of an approaching bird are taken as a sign of aggression. and finally, i'll raise my camera to my eye while looking and pointing the camera at something other than the bird, and continue my birdlike movements, eventually pointing the camera at my intended subject and shooting. i find that doing these things lets me get a lot closer to feathered subjects than does a more direct approach.

thanks again, Ms. Ellen. happy shooting, all... :)



Thanks again, Ellen!


Ellen, thanks for the inspiration to use wild models. I wonder what kind of lens you used for the pelican shots. Sorry but I can't tell you about the lens as I didn't shoot the images. All the images used in the blogs are from the Dreamstime contributors. You will find the photo credits at the bottom of each new article. Now you can see all the images that appear in all the blogs at once in a collection that I have created. You can find it by clicking the link on the homepage just under the announcement for the current blog.


Ellen, thanks for the inspiration to use wild models. I wonder what kind of lens you used for the pelican shots.


Thanks for posting this category of photos, I have also posted some pictures with nice animals. You open us more and more posibilities for photos.

Thanks again


Thanks for the post! I have tried wildlife photography with limited success with a P&S camera. Many zoos restrict photos for personal use only so I have had to disable many good files. The Smithsonian National zoo in Washington D.C. requires a lengthy approval process to sell any photo commercially taken in that zoo. They may want a fee to be paid as well. At any rate my wildlife photos are now of animals taken at the seashore and national parks.


Thank you, Ellen, for the great article, and Ed, for the links!
So, wildlife is not so wild at all. Foxes fed with biscuits - can we call them wild foxes or are they already domesticated? A lot of wildlife photos are taken in zoo. That's a little bit sad. But I know, that it's really hard to get a good shot in real wilderness. To catch animals in their natural everyday action so that they don't notice you. It's a real art.
I'd like to add here a link to a great Estonian wildlife site. Hope you enjoy.
Thanks again Ellen for reminding in middle of the dark and cold winter that there's a beautiful life out there.
The birdwatcher's tip was very good. Birdwatching is very popular here also, and I have many friends, who like to slosh in swamps to discover rare species what come to summer here. So, maybe next time I should go along with them. :) Good tip.
BTW, that drying pelican is a really great find too! :)


Eendicott: Thanks so much for your post and the link to the Colorado Wildlife PhotoTips site. I hope everyone interested in photography of wild animals, will read it.

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