Wildlife Photography: Planning Your Strategy

As a wildlife photographer, we typically take pictures of the same animals everyday. It is important to have a plan or strategy for your photographic outings. Let’s assume you have a cooperative bird or animal that you can spend a fair amount of time taking images. Let’s say you are spending a week at a nature park like Yellowstone National Park where the animals are plentiful. You certainly do not want a weeks worth of the same images of the same animal. You want a variety to meet multiple needs of the future buyers of your images. Editors of magazines are famous for requesting a variety of images. Guess what, Dreamstime also want variety; submit 40 images of the left side of a squirrel and count on one or two being accepted. The following is my approach when I have a cooperative animal.

Classic ID Picture: One of the easiest images to obtain is the classic guidebook or identification book image; usually a profile or three-quarter view of the entire animal. I always try to get both a horizontal and vertical classic ID image. Here are a couple examples; a Cottontail Rabbit and a Rose Finch. Because the cottontail rabbit is named for its classic white rump, it is important to show this area in your identification image.

Portrait Image: Getting the portrait image is a bit more of a challenge because it requires you to be close and intimate with the animal. Most times a portrait is vertical orientation but I try to get both. I like my portraits to have nice soft lighting without harsh shadows. I like this coyote image and this arctic fox image because both show the character of the animal.

Cover Shot: I try to get a classic cover shot which is a vertical orientation photograph with room on the top for a banner and some room on the sides for print. A cover shot is usually pretty dynamic, colorful and eye-catching. This Great Blue Heron at the Venice Rookery has excellent lighting and is a classic cover shot.

Environmental: An environmental is the animal shown in his environment. If you execute this well, this can become a “wall-hanger” as buyers like to put images on their office or home walls that show the environment and a pleasing image of an animal. These images well done are also run in large double page spreads in magazines. Here are two examples of an environmental image; a Bisonscape and a Moosescape.

Action Image: If you are photographing birds, action could be flight images or feeding images; even something so simple as a bird stretching or opening their beaks provides a good action shot; remember to do both vertical and horizontal. If you are photographing animals, an action shot could be two animals interacting or an animal with a nasty look or an animal running. A couple birds in flight, a couple birds making love and an angry beast round out the images for this blog.

So, when you are out photographing, don’t just accept what enters your viewfinder. Plan your strategy so that you look for the interesting shots and you are prepared for them when they happen.

Photo credits: Moose Henderson.

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February 02, 2011


Great advice and images John.

February 01, 2011


Excellant advise.
Wonderful photographs.

February 01, 2011


Realy nice picture.

January 28, 2011


Thanks for the compliments, much appreciated

January 27, 2011


Very beautiful picture! Compliments!

January 27, 2011


Hi, congrats for the good resume, it´s good to remember!

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