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Photography in the Wild

Tips on photographing animals in the wild
Written by Vincent McDonald.

In the October 2013 issue, writer Bob McCullough teams up with San Antonio-based photographer Vincent McDonald to show us Shonto Ranch, a hunting retreat near Kerrville that also offers photographic safaris. We recently asked Vincent for some tips on animal photography.

“The most important thing to pack,” Vincent told us, “is patience. The animals are wild, and they are not going to do what you want them to do. Timing is also important. At daylight, they get up and move around to feed, but by 10 they’re usually back in their shaded areas. If you’re hoping to capture them being active, you’ll want to take photographs about an hour for sunset.

“Arm yourself with a couple of memory cards, so you can take endless images. Set your camera for multiple exposures, and if you have a “track focus” feature on your camera, be sure to use it.

“Observe the animals’ behavior for a while to get a sense of how they move, and where they might be moving next. You might even try setting up—physically—a little farther down on their path, so when they move they’ll be in your viewfinder. After all, you’re photographing a moving target. Think of it like skeet-shooting; you’ve got to lead.

“It’s always good to have lots of pockets. I like pants with side pockets for notepads, memory cards, spare batteries, and other necessities. Backpacks can be useful, too—not just for storage, but you can also kneel on it if you want to get a different perspective.

“Speaking of perspective, some of the most dramatic images are taken when the camera is lower to the ground. It gives a more dramatic image of the subject by foreshortening the foreground and putting the emphasis on the animal.

“Do try to get a variety of images—wide shots, close shots, shots from different angles. Using the landscape and the environment for perspective helps to tell the story. Look at the surroundings to see what interests you, and focus on that for a few shots.

“For me, one of the great things about photographing wildlife is that I’m required to be silent, to be still. The pace of life changes when you’re out trying to capture wildlife. There’s no schedule to keep.”

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