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Mastering Wildlife Photography

A few years back, I was squatted down near a hiking trail at Glacier National Park, waiting for a herd of mountain goats to come closer. About the time I raised my camera to focus, a leg knocked my elbow sideways as a crowd of tourists armed with tiny point-and-shoot cameras charged past. Run full tilt toward any animal—even one used to humans—and the only photo you’ll get is their backsides as they’re running away. I didn’t get my photo.

Wildlife photography is great practice for hunters. In both cases, you’ll have the best success if you learn about the animals and their habits, then use that knowledge to your advantage. Sometimes I’ll learn the paths that animals are taking, set up a blind nearby, clothe myself in full camouflage, and be there before dawn to catch the animals unaware.

Other times it’s easier. My best photos of elk in eastern Kentucky were taken from the back of a pickup truck. Those elk were used to seeing trucks driving around the mine sites, and spooked less easily than if they saw a person on foot.

Sometimes good wildlife photography depends on being in the right place at the right time. For example, I learned that one of Kentucky’s highest known concentrations of migrating Cape May warblers occurs each spring at a spruce tree here at Fish and Wildlife headquarters in Frankfort. By keeping still for half an hour with a camera at the ready, many of these birds eventually came down to eye level and within range of my lens while they fed.

What equipment will you need? My choice is a digital camera with a detachable lens, at least 6 MB of resolution, and a lens that’s 300mm or better. A sturdy tripod that’s quick to set up is essential. The best photos are taken when the light is low and has lots of interesting color, usually before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.


Kentucky Afield magazine presents the state’s best outdoor photography every year in its calendar issue. Subscribe online at by November 1 to receive your copy in early December.


Check out some Web-exclusive information about a Cape May warbler photo.

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