The Life Cycles Method to Wildlife Photography — Part 2: Acquiring the Complete Picture

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Wildlife photography in the life span  strategy not only provides structure and purpose for your photography but also adds into this broader knowledge about these creatures that is critical to comprehend and protect them. Every time you create a wildlife photo, then you can help educate others regarding the general awesomeness that’s nature, and to the specific awesomeness that is that this particular animal. Pretty cool once you consider it like that! (Have I mentioned I genuinely love what I do and that is only one of the big reasons why?)

In the very first portion of this article “Learning and Telling the Story” I shared how to find and tell the story of a creature. Within this part you will learn strategies for catching the complete life cycle in your videos and photos. Additionally, there are a few of the pitfalls to avoid.

Decisive Moments…

Among the turning points in the way I consider and pursue photos came not from the world of nature photography, but from a museum exhibit of the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson. If you are not familiar with his work, stop reading this now, go here and learn about the man who  pioneered the genre we call street photography. Bresson has been a father of modern photojournalism, and whose name is synonymous with the concept of photography called “the decisive moment”. Bresson believed that as photographers our aim was to utilize our wisdom and instinct to catch the fleeting moments at which all the compositional components come together so that the resulting image represents the genuine essence of the moment.

Yeah, that changed everything. Suddenly it wasn’t just about pressing on the button but about catching the moment. “Decisive moment” is a very subjective and frequently misunderstood term, thrown around in precisely the identical manner as “bokeh” (fine out of focus components) and also “giclee” (fancy term for inkjet print). It’s a core idea for almost any photographer to grasp and comprise within their compositions.

Quotes from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “The Decisive Moment” and Other Works

  • “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, at a fraction of a moment, of the importance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
  • “It is a means of shooting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own creativity. It’s a means of life.”
  • “Believing should be done prior to and after, not through photographing. Success rides on the magnitude of a person’s overall culture, one’s own group of values, the clarity of mind, the vivacity.”
  • “Folks believe much too much about methods and not enough about viewing.”
  • “Photography is a direct reaction, drawing on a meditation.”
  • “I’m not accountable for my photos. Photography isn’t documentary, but intuition, a poetic encounter. It is drowning yourself, hammering yourself, then sniff, sniff, sniff — being sensitive to coincidence. You can’t go searching for this; you can’t need this, or you won’t get it. To begin with, you must lose yourself. Then it occurs.”

The important part of his quotes, that led me to my simplified term, is that you use both the knowledge and your instinct, quickly. Your knowledge provides you with a comprehension of all the possibilities of what you might capture in wildlife photos, and also the likely conditions under which these possibilities may happen. With your knowledge as a base, you are in place and able to rely on your instinct that something amazing is about to occur. In other words, the more you know about a creature that the more likely you will react and catch the fantastic things once it occurs!    

Roseate Spoonbill, coming in for a landing

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake… yawning

Osprey, diving for a fish

Elk Cow, with a mindset

Do not Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Whatever animal you are selecting to document, chances are there is somebody who has dedicated a substantial portion of their lifetime to studying, protecting, or rescuing which species. They are likely doing this out of a profound passion for their work, and are also excited to have somebody else talk about the story of these creatures. Reach out to people, whether they are in your own zip code or around the opposite side of the world. Those dedicating their lives to wildlife conservation and research form a neighborhood community of like-minded folks, and it can provide you opportunities to learn, network, and discuss your own discoveries and photography together.

Reach too to other photographers who have photographed these creatures, live in the animal’s home range, or have worked with similar species. In my experience, most individuals inside the wildlife photographs community possess a similar passion and enthusiasm with this pursuit. Most are willing to share their lessons learned from hard working expertise, possible locations to see and photograph the animals, along with other contacts who can help you. Even though you may meet a few cold shoulders, you will discover that generally there is a great deal of assistance out there available just by requesting from a few exceptionally talented and knowledgeable people.

This Thoas Swallowtail is a resident of Mexico. It had never been recorded in the county in Texas where I photographed it. It took two weeks and 6 different experts to get a good ID of this. Identifying it really became an enjoyable challenge and also a friendly rivalry among the experts to see who could ID it initially.

It Requires Commitment

It might take years to catch every facet of an animal’s lifecycle. Sometimes, you may believe you’ve become so committed that you may have to be committed! The amount of time spent photographing a lifecycle might be anything from days to decades. There’s also a possibility you may not catch every second, behavior, or composition you’ve got on your want list.

Remember Respect, Consistently!

I really wish I did not need to say it.   It is up to each of us photographers to always keep the animal’s welfare, as well as the health of their ecosystem, even as our foremost concern. When an image is hard to catch, it is up for us to come up with an innovative way to do so without crossing the line. Some graphics simply may not seem possible, however, the more knowledge and experience you gain about that monster, the more inclined you are to catch those apparently impossible pictures.   I know nearly all people reading this are not going to do something dishonest. But, I also know there will at some stage be the temptation to cross the ethical line in pursuit of the one spectacularly elusive picture. Simply because we have not yet captured a photo of a specific event or behavior does not provide us permission to cross this line to get it, however much of an expert we have become about the animal in question.

Not all of Stories possess a Happy End…

Among the toughest things about capturing a complete life cycle is that each and every life has a finish. The fact of the situation isn’t all infants will end up adults. That animal you’ve watched for weeks will probably become prey to some thing else, even if it’s only the ravages of time. Nature is not “fine”, everything unlocks something different, and for each animal to endure, other lives have to die within that ecosystem.

While it’s simple to consider that in a detached manner from the boundaries of your computer, it is a whole lot harder seeing it happen through your viewfinder up close and personal computer. When this occurs, it is imperative that you are an observer, and also don’t attempt to hinder. This is nature and we are there to document. Predation will happen whether we are there or not. Interfering in that instant will not result in any positive outcome for the prey or predator. The possible outcome is you disturb the equilibrium, and maybe place yourself in a position to get hurt.

This is of course not to mention that I won’t help a wounded animal, or prevent supernatural causes of injury from occurring. My family has played with crossing shield to sandhill crane’s about active streets, rescued innumerable turtles out of the same streets, and helped rescue dozens of injured or orphaned animals we have found in our travels. Nobody is asking you to become emotionless, instead the reverse. I believe you’ve got to deeply look after the creatures you photograph. But, once the natural cycle of life and death happens, it is important that we keep boundaries, and also let nature take its program. You also don’t need to document something in case it makes you uncomfortable. Just be aware that it occurs, you will wind up attached to these creatures, and it’ll hurt when they are gone.

… But, So Many do!

A challenge for any creative individual is staying inspired and motivated. When photographing in the lifecycle strategy, there is always something to look forward to, and also more tales to be revealed. Most recently, I saw a bunch of red-shouldered hawks raise a couple of girls from eggs up to screechy teens. 1 morning whilst going to the nest I saw that the second of “fledging” when a young bird takes flight for the very first time. On the other hand, the photo conditions were atrocious, leading to no usable pictures of this moment. But, I had never witnessed this firsthand before. The sight of this hawk jumping into flight carrying its first tentative swoops, then wheeling off to the space will probably be forever etched in my memory as a truly amazing moment, even without any photos of it. Those sorts of experiences are exactly what it’s all about!

Gray Wolf Pup

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Mountain Goat child

Bison Calf

Northern Cardinal


Like this report? Follow this link to read more of my picture tips and techniques.   Jason’s Articles in Photofocus

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