Large Mammal Photo Tip: Let Them Come To You

Here’s a tip on photographing large mammals from Summit workshop leader, David Cardinal.

One of the biggest and most harmful mistakes many wildlife viewers and photographers alike make is to follow mammals trying to get a photograph. In addition to adding to the animal’s stress doing this is likely to get you only a poor photo of their hind end. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By studying the animals you expect to find and their behavior, along with some early scouting you can be in the right place at the right time for the wildlife to come to you. It’s not as simple as planting yourself directly in their path as then they’ll just wander off in another direction if you’re lucky or perhaps decide you’re a threat if you’re not. Knowing the specific species and ideally the specific animals lets you pick a vantage point where you can quietly observe and photograph their behavior without disturbing their travel.

If a mammal is hunting it is especially important to stay out of the way and certainly not to try to follow it. That’s a sure way to tip off their prey, stressing your subject as well as making it less likely that it’ll be cooperative enough to be photographed in the future. When you do it right you can get amazing action shots of unstressed animals like this one of Blue Wildebeest in southern Africa, like we’ll be photographing during our May Safari.

Wildebeest, Busanga Plains, Kafue Park, Zambia. (c) David Cardinal

Wildebeest, Busanga Plains, Kafue Park, Zambia. (c) David Cardinal

Herd animals are especially skittish around humans, especially if they have ever been hunted. Far too many photos show them running—unfortunately often from the photographers’ truck or helicopter. To get a photo of these magnificent wildebeests coming towards us we got nearly a thousand yards ahead and waited quietly as they approached near us on their way to a watering hole. This isn’t intuitive for most local guides as they often aren’t used to working with photographers but instead have impatient clients who want to “see and go.” So your best bet for situations like this is to be with a like-minded group of fellow photographers and have someone able to clearly explain to the guide what you are trying to do.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to be in the right place at the right time for many of the mammal species found in America and Africa or benefit from dozens of other hard learned tips like this you can by signing up for my workshop on Creating Compelling Wildlife Photography which is being offered on March 9th in McAllen, Texas as an early part of the NANPA Summit program. It’s a great way to acquire the skills to make the most of your local photography or your next photo safari.

I hope to see you there!  — David Cardinal, Cardinal Photo