Unexpected encounters are the best kind
This was an unexpected encounter as I was on my way to photograph bison and happened upon this moose in the early morning
Usually as a wildlife photographer you plan your outings with a certain species in mind. Where you are going and at what time is all carefully planned around maximizing the opportunities to encounter that one or perhaps two particular subjects in the field. Then somewhere along the way of getting to your intended spot or while you are waiting an entirely different species you are not expecting appears and even better yet at times it is not one you usually encounter. At this moment you need to pivot. You may not have the right lens or be in the right position to truly capture that unexpected encounter at its best, but this is where your skills as a wildlife photographer can make the most of the new situation. As a wildlife photographer, you need to think on your feet and respond quickly to make a photo with what you have in that moment. This is where knowing your gear, understanding your camera settings, and having researched species in that area to be able to predict their movements becomes so important. This is when your skills as a wildlife photographer are truly measured.
When this mule deer popped its head up when I was photographing songbirds on the flowers in the field it was a total surprise
Recently I was out looking for a cow and calf moose that had been in the area. It was early morning when the moose was more likely to be out and I was searching a few fields and meadows. In my area red-tailed hawks are very skittish, they take off usually hundreds of meters away from where you are when heading in their direction. Compounding the issue of getting a decent photo of a hawk was the information I had received from local biologists that red-tailed hawk numbers had been hugely impacted by the avian influenzae the previous year and very few had returned to the region. So I am surmising by now that you as the reader are thinking I came across a red-tailed hawk. Well not quite, I am across a hawk and I was totally surprised when this hawk just stayed perched really unaffected by my presence in his space. My unexpected encounter was with a broad-winged hawk and it was totally not camera-shy.
My recent broad winged hawk encounter
In this unexpected moment I had to adjust in the field, how do I situate myself to optimize this opportunity, what settings did I need, where do I position myself, and how do I ensure I do not scare the hawk away? While it was perched it could take flight at any time and I needed to ensure my shutter speed was set for both opportunities, the portrait on the perch and the moment it took to the air. You do not have time to sit and think you need to make these adjustments in seconds as you do not know how long the encounter will last If you are fumbling with your camera settings because you have not yet built muscle memories and looking for the correct dial to adjust the ISO or the aperture or worse yet unsure what settings to use you are going to miss the opportunity.
An unexpected encounter with a moose while I was out searching for a great gray owl
Adapting to those unexpected encounters is what a good wildlife photographer needs to do. You need to be ready, you need to think quickly on your feet and you need to have the muscle memory to instantly change settings without thinking about how to do it or what they need to be. That all comes with countless hours of practice in the field. It is why I cannot stress enough to my clients that getting out right where you live and practicing on whatever you see whether that be a bird, a squirrel, or your own pets for that matter is so important. Readiness does not happen by luck it happens from putting in the time to make you ready. But if you are ready you can maximize those encounters and maybe just maybe get some incredible and even award-winning shots.