Have A Shot List
My shot list last winter included a great gray owl flying through the snow. I snowshoed out into a field to get this photo. I knew an owl was in the area, I knew I needed dark trees in the background to contrast the snow. I situated myself to get the shot and waited.
Each season and for any trip that I am planning I have a shot list. There are certain photos I am looking to get and I find it much easier to accomplish that in the field when I have a shot list. The list helps me think about what I need to do to get that shot. Why is this important, because it focuses my attention when I am in the field. It is easy to wander aimlessly looking for mammals or birds that I may want to photograph that day, but this is not a recipe to getting a great shot. When I have a list of shots in mind, I consider what I need for light, for behaviours and for background. This means as opposed to spending my time in the field trying to find the wildlife I instead go to an area that I know the wildlife are at (either from experience, scouting spots etc.) and I find where I need to position myself to get the shot I want that is on my list. I am not chasing the wildlife instead I am waiting for wildlife to come to me. This requires immense patience, waiting where the scene will be stunning and the light will be good and on that day nothing may ever move into the spot, but if it does I know I will have a great shot, and maybe even an award winning shot, but at least a print worthy shot. Below are more images that are exactly achieved from that approaching waiting in a location where I want the wildlife to be to make a good shot.
On my shot list on a recent trip to Jasper was a photo of a bull elk with its breath visible as it bugles. To get that shot I had to be where a bull elk was likely to be, I had to be there in early morning when the mist would be visible and I needed to situate the elk in front of a dark background that would contrast the white of the breath
In a previous post I spoke about the stages of being a wildlife photographer. When you get to a level four when you are looking for a certain behaviour of an animal with great light and in a great scene with no background distractions, at this stage you do not go out looking for the wildlife you go out looking for where the shot can be made. For example if I am wanting to photograph a fox hunting in the snow I am looking for a certain spot to capture this photo. If I am just walking or driving around looking for a fox chances are I am not going to find the behaviour I want, I will get a photo of a fox, crossing a road, or just stepping into the forest but probably not a fox hunting. Instead I will situate myself in a location where I know there are foxes, where they are likely to be hunting and where the habitat is not going to compete with the action of the fox and the light is going to be good. Going out in the field with a shot in mind is very different than going out just looking for something to photograph.
To not have distracting horizon lines in this photo I had to lay low on the sand and wait. I had seen the bear coming down the beach and I picked a spot where the sandbar was smooth and hoped the light was still good when the bear got there. It is easy to be tempted to move and get the shot, but the background and sandbar would not have been as good and I would not have gotten this award winning shot.
It means I may wait hours and never see a fox, I may go back days and not see a fox, but when I do see a fox in that location with the right light chances are I am going to get that great photo. If I am just going out looking for wildlife I am getting a lot of photos, but I am simply getting that a lot of photos, nothing great, nothing that is going to stop someone scrolling on Instagram to take another look. When you have a shot list, and plan and give thought to how would you get that shot, where do you need to go to get it, what time of day is going to get that shot? When you have that figured out then find your location and wait. The single most thing you can do to be successful as a wildlife photographer is to be patient. Patience rewards the wildlife photographer.