Image Quest: Photography tales from the pros
By: Matt Lindler
The art of wildlife and nature photography takes traditional photography to a higher level of skill and talent. Not only are wildlife photographers skilled with the camera and lens but also skilled woodsmen and women, who understand the habits and movements of wildlife and the temperaments of Mother Nature.
Outdoor photographers are driven by a passion for the outdoors. Many hunt, fish, hike and use photography as a way to extend their time afield.
Driven by this passion, nature photographers thrive on capturing the most beautiful sights of the outdoors. To do this, they must have top quality equipment, the best film and an eye for composition.
Anybody can take a photo of a sunrise or a wild animal, but knowing how to use the light, how to compose the photo and, finally, how to set the exposure separates a snapshot from work of art.
Take a look at some great photographers and a few of their stories.
A buddy of mine from Georgia and I were hog hunting on a 100,000-acre ranch in South Texas. While we waited for the afternoon sun to head toward the horizon and for the day to cool, we tried to get a gobbler to respond. We drove the roads of the ranch and stopped and called every mile or so.
The only gobble of the afternoon came from near a stock pond. I kept yelping at the bird and hoped he would gobble again to show he was interested, but all I could get in response was the yelping of hens coming from the same direction.
Since the birds would be heading to roost in an hour or so, I decided we'd leave the truck and set up in the brush, in case they decided to come in. We set up with the sun at our backs a couple hundred yards from the truck and set out a Feather-Flex hen decoy about 15 yards in front of us. I began to call again. Other than the hens yelping and clucking back at us, we had no luck. I began mimicking the calls of the hens for the next half hour, which must have finally gotten them fired up, because their calls began to sound closer.
Through the brush, I could see a line of hens--10 of them running toward us in single file, and waddling up behind them in full strut was a big Rio Grande gobbler. They saw the hen decoy and ran straight for it. The first hen that approached must have been the dominant hen, because she strutted to show the new "hen" who was boss. The gobbler finally caught up, and began to show his beautiful colors in the afternoon sunshine.
I ended up shooting three rolls of film (108 exposures) and captured all of the birds' antics before they decided it was time to head to the roost. We didn't shoot a hog that day, but the "turkey hunt" with a camera was quite memorable.
Equipment: Canon A2 camera body, Canon EF 300mm/f2.8L lens, 1.4x teleconverter, Fuji Sensia II 100 ISO slide film.
I took a photo in February in a field that is my favorite location for turkey photography — a pasture running east-west made it perfect for morning and afternoon sun and bordering hardwood bottoms made it ideal. In the mornings, I had to enter my blind well before daylight because the turkeys often roosted in the trees above. Normally, the birds flew down into the pasture, strutted for a while before heading off. Opportunities for good photographs are fleeting in the morning, usually lasting only 20 or 30 minutes.
I took the photo in the afternoon after I turned my blind to face the East. I had the sun behind me to catch the late afternoon light as the turkeys took their sweet time funneling back to the roost site. In the evenings, I work at a slower pace as the turkeys, which split up during the day, came back to roost as a flock.
A gobbler passed within 15 feet of my blind as he made his way back to the roost. He called to the other turkeys along the way. Warm, late afternoon sunlight and the iridescent colors of the gobbler combined to make a very pleasing photograph.
Equipment: Nikon F4s camera body, Nikkor 400mm f3.5 lens, Gitzo tripod, L.L. Rue photo blind. I prefer using Fuji Velvia 50 ISO film, but I took this image with Kodak Ektachrome 100 ISO film.
Ten years ago in the fall, my brother, Steve, and I set out after big game--black bears--in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in the Appalachians of Tennessee. There was supposed to be a lot of bears that year due to a bumper mast crop. We quickly learned to "read" bear sign: stopped traffic. We also realized that trying to park legally in a good spot along the narrow, two-lane roads to photograph one of these furry beasts was the real bear.
The Smokies are one big postcard. Wide vistas, mature wooded slopes and flowing waters present a stream of temptations to photographers. We retreated to this simple brook, where the vibrant green moss topped with autumn leaves framed the waterfall that served as the images focal point. Alas, the bears proved tougher to film than the creek.
Equipment: We used a Nikon F3 camera with a 50-300mm zoom lens probably zoomed in to about 100mm. A zoom helps when deciding what to leave in and what to leave out. We stopped the lens down to f/22 and bracketed in 1/3 stops in the area suggested by our light meter reading ambient light. The exposure spanned several seconds with relatively slow (ISO 40) Fuji Velvia film.
Though I put out seed for the birds, many other animals also show up. Indeed, deterring squirrels is big business for feeder manufacturers. Similarly, a friend feeding cracked corn to mallards and wood ducks by a lake told me some turkeys were also coming by to scratch around. Being turkeys, though, they didn't follow any set schedule like the waterfowl. But my best bet was "sometime in the morning."
So I had our friend move his "feeding station" to where the light was better, and we set up a blind. He soon reported the turkeys had come in about mid-morning. A late February snow and cold air sparked hope that the turkeys would come in for the easy pickings. When using food to attract wildlife, snow and cold are good. Sometime around 10 a.m., a small flock of turkeys showed up. It was 15 degrees and two hours in a blind can get pretty cold.
Catching a fanning bird was pretty much luck. I more or less just had to have a finger on the trigger and shoot instinctively. Maybe it's a case that even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
Equipment: I shot this with a Nikon F5 and a 420mm lens (a 300mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter) mounted on a Bogen tripod. We were set up in an AmeriStep Outhouse blind. Due to the snow we shot on manual, using an ambient light meter for the exposure settings. This was about f/5.6 or so at 1/250 second with ISO 100 for Fuji Velvia slide film pushed a stop (Note: This means that even though the film was 50 ISO, you can tell the camera that it is 100 ISO and draw in a little more light. If you do this, it is important to tell the processing lab that the film was "pushed one stop").
I took an image once in a rather unique geographical location. The turkeys are standing in Idaho with the state of Montana 300 yards to the right (East) and the mountain backdrop is British Columbia, Canada. I generally travel light while I'm filming turkeys, but on this day, our baby sitter couldn't watch our 18-month-old son, Luke, so I strapped him in the backpack, and off we went. He was constantly bouncing up and down in his pack, which made me feel like I was filming from a waterbed. There was a bonus in that every time Luke yelled out, the toms would gobble, which made him bounce even more--remember, this was before image stabilizers.
Equipment: Nikon F4, 300mm/f2.8 lens and Fuji Velvia 50 ISO film.