The Art of the Stake Out
I had to have a ton of patience and know the routine of the fox kits to get a picture of three of them together
As a wildlife photographer I know that capturing stunning photos of wildlife in their natural habitat requires lots of research, patience and dedication. Once you have gained all the book knowledge you can, you have to conduct your own research and be dedicated to observing the behaviours of that species in your area. It requires stalking your intended subject quite frankly, watching them from a distance, hopefully with them not realizing you are there, sitting long hours observing day after day, even weeks after weeks or years after years. But this hard work of knowledge gathering can help the wildlife photographer capture those unique and interesting shots in gorgeous light with appealing backgrounds and even on occasion those award-winning images. But you need to be dedicated to learning the art of the stake out.
Fox kits chasing after mom after she feed them
To be success in staking out your subject means you need to be willing to put in the long hours, hours and hours on end at times waiting for just a glimpse or if you are lucky a longer encounter. You can gain the book knowledge which will give you suggestions for time and place, but it is just that a suggestion to how to begin your stake out. For example, I have read up about the red fox, their most active times, their preferred habitat, prey, mating and denning behaviours. This gives me knowledge of where to begin to start to look for a red fox and when, if I am lucky I find one, then the real work comes in understanding that fox, or foxes in that area and what are the nuances of their routines.
A fox kit takes a quick break from chasing its siblings
When I learned where this family of foxes were denning I spent upwards of 60 hours the first week just staking them out. When was the mother most likely to nurse, what type of prey was begin brought back to the den, where were the parents going to hunt, when were the kits most active, which kits were more adventurous and which were most cautious, how much time did the adults spend with the kits, and where did the parents like to situate themselves to stand watch over the den. I did this all at a distance making sure I was not even noticed by the foxes so that my presence did not change their behaviour.
>Fox kits close to the den backlit by the setting sun by observing their behaviour and the light I knew where and when I had to be to get this shot
By doing so I learned that the mother was raising these five kits on her own, I knew when the foxes would most probably be out for the best backlit photos and where to position myself at that time to where the kits would be. I knew where the mom was usually dropping food for the kits when she returned from hunting as to get photos of her carrying her prey and the kits running off with it. I knew when the kits were going not be overly active but rest outside the den waiting for mom and when they were going to be rambunctious and as such I was able to plan my shot list. I knew where to position myself for best background and lighting based on what activities were most probably to happen when and I was able to get most of the shots I was wanting to get.
Three of the five kits with their mom just after she dropped them food hence the kit climbing over the others to get to the snack
I could not have taken the time to learn all this and I might have got lucky and got a few nice shots, but using the stake out approach and understanding my subjects through observation and research before photographing them I was able instead to get almost every shot I wanted after that. There is an art to the stake out and when you master it you will have opportunity for success.