Trying to get close to animals for photographic purposes is no easy task, even if you’re shooting in a zoo or a controlled environment. Most animals naturally fear humans. Almost all animals fear sudden movements and loud noises.
If you want to make great wildlife photos you need to think Ninja style – stealthy, slow, deliberate and yes – creepy – as in creeping slowly toward your subject on your hands (or elbows) and knees.
The first trick to getting close is patience. You need to wait and let the animal get comfortable with your presence. If you get close enough that the subject is aware of you but not afraid of you, then freeze. Spend a few minutes right there. Slowly, deliberately, and carefully draw your camera up to your face and then make one or two exposures. Let the animal get used to the sound. Then wait a minute or two and do it again. During this time observe the animal to see if it’s giving you any behavioral clues as to what its next move might be.
When you are certain the animal is comfortable with you, begin to very slowly advance toward the animal. With birds and small animals, creeping is good. With big cats, bears, wolves etc. stay upright. If you get too close to the ground you might trigger a prey response. Trust me – you don’t want that to happen.
As you begin to move toward the animal, try not to look it in the eye. This is disconcerting to most species. Just be aware of its location. If the animal looks away from you, then advance slowly and quietly. If the animals stirs or appears alarmed, simply stop, stand still and wait. When the animal looks away again, continue your advance.
If the animal senses danger, it will typically give you a sign such as raised haunches or ears and tail back. Stop, wait for the animal to relax, then approach.
My last tip is simple. Try to avoid walking straight toward the animal. Walk at a diagonal angle to the subject, closing distance by flanking rather than coming straight at them. This is less threatening and if done properly can cut distance and time without making you seem like you are in a hurry or in any way a threat to the animal.
Remember that patience, taking it slow and easy and being careful are the keys to getting close enough to make spectacular animal photos.
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