I grew up watching wildlife documentaries and David Attenborough was always a favorite in our household. So when I started my photography journey, I naturally fantasized about photographing exotic wildlife in beautiful locations: polar bear cubs in Spitsbergen, emperor penguins in Antarctica, snow leopards in the Nepalese mountains. Funnily enough all cold weather locations, but maybe it’s just because we’re currently in a heat wave!
Getting started with wildlife photography can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start small, and even if you live in the middle of an urban jungle, you can still find plenty of interesting wildlife to photograph. In this excellent video, nature photographer Roie Galitz shares his top 10 tips to start photographing wildlife (with a camera based on it).
First, Roie recommends thinking about what motivates you to become a wildlife photographer. Just wanting to photograph cute stuffed animals isn’t enough, and the reality can be pretty brutal. It is important that you understand your reason. Do you want to help endangered species or raise awareness of environmental pressures and concerns? Do you mainly want to travel to distant places? Are you fascinated by a particular species and want to learn as much as possible about it?
It’s an important point, and in the end it’s what made me never become a wildlife photographer. The thought of sitting in a frigid shelter for days to catch a fleeting glimpse of the animal ultimately didn’t appeal to me, and I had romanticized what it meant to be a wildlife photographer. I’m still passionate about nature and I still want to help raise awareness of environmental pressures, but there are better ways to do that at a local level, especially than flying around the world and photographing polar bears.
And that is exactly what Roie is suggesting. Use the gear you already have and start in your own backyard. Start by photographing birds, insects, urban animals or animals that visit your yard. Visit nature reserves in your area. I actually have a birding spot just 30 minutes away that I’d have plenty of subjects for for the rest of my life, if I really loved birds.
Essentially, being a wildlife photographer doesn’t just mean being a great photographer, that’s just a given. You have to be patient and also learn as much as you can about the animals you are photographing. Study their habits and always be respectful of them. Coming back to why you’re doing this, it should never be about you or your photography, but about the wildlife you’re shooting and the challenges that come with it. It’s easy to show how majestic a lion is or how cute a seal cub is, but how can you show the beauty of, say, an earwig? Ultimately, it’s about giving your subjects a voice in a world that is constantly turning them upside down.