Tips to Prepare for Photographing Wildlife while Travelling


Seals and Icebergs, near Sawyer glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska. Click on the image for other viewing options.

One of the most exciting and challenging genres is Wildlife.

When we travel, we often find ourselves in a situation where there is an opportunity to take wildlife pictures.
This is the first article of two about this subject.
Part two is Tips for Photographing wildlife whilst travelling.
This article offers some tips on the preparation for photographing wildlife while travelling.

First things first

Before we begin.

It’s important to understand that there are photographers out there who specialise in photographing wildlife.
They are meticulous in their preparation and leave almost nothing to chance. Unless you aspire to be a wildlife photographer you will never reach their level of expertise. Sure, you might get lucky and get a great shot by being at the right place at the right time.
But in the main you will find wildlife photography disappointing if you think you can get a winner every time.It’s a bit like golf. Unless you practice continuously then most of your golf shots will anything from poor to just OK. What keeps you coming back is that one great shot you hit every 5th or 6th round.

So it is with Wildlife Photography.

Wildlife photography takes a lot of patience, time and it has to be said, luck, to come home with some great shots. Animals are elusive and do not behave as you would like them to.

Having said all that, being on safari or a wildlife tour with a camera is an exciting experience. One that cannot be measured by the number of great photos you get.

Tips to prepare for photographing wildlife while travelling
Puffin in the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seaward, Alaska. Click on the image for a larger view and other images

Some Basic Preparations

You should know beforehand, whether your destination will offer you the chance to take some wildlife photos.

Of course, if you are on the road without any thought on when and where you are going to travel to then that may not be the case.

So, here’s a few things to think about.

Equipment

Most of the wildlife is outside Europe and usually in a developing country or in areas that are remote and away from major population centres.

That means that often the only support for your camera equipment is what you take with you.
No good trying to buy a spare battery or memory card when you are in the Masai Mara photographing Lions.
That’s not to say that consumables like memory cards aren’t available.
They are, but they may have been sitting on a shelf in the heat for some time.
There’s also every chance that you will pay a lot more for them than at home.
Most photographic electronics are made to a high standard set by companies in developed countries. That can make them expensive elsewhere.
It pays to take the items with you I’ve listed in “Before setting off” section of The Travel Photographer Destination Guide Part Two.

Destination

If you are going somewhere where there’s a good chance that you will be photographing wildlife, you need to do the research to find out the following:

How far away will the wildlife be?

On my visit to Yellowstone NP in Montana USA, I wanted to take photos of Wolves.
Whilst I did research and found out that they can be extremely elusive, I wasn’t prepared for how elusive. The only ones I saw were that far away, that you needed a strong telescope to see them.
There was no way even with the 200-400mm telescopic lens I had, that I would be able to take any photos of wolves that day.

What’s the frequency of spotting wildlife?

Depending on your timing and budget it may be too difficult to see wildlife.

At certain times of the year in the African Plains the grass can be too long to see anything.
Some of the Northern American Parks are closed in winter. If not closed, restricted due to winter weather.
No good being in Churchill, Canada to see Polar Bears in summer. They won’t be there!

Will I be travelling around the wildlife Parks in a group or can I use my own wheels?

There are two trains of thought on this.
I’ve done both.
Sometimes you have no choice but to go on a group tour.

In Denali National Park in Alaska the only way to get into the Park is by a bus. You don’t have the choice of using your own transportation.
In some of the Southern African parks, like Kruger and Etosha, driving around in your ‘own’ vehicle is easy.

How close to the wildlife will you get?

Using the Yellowstone example again. I had been used to photographing wildlife in Southern and Eastern Africa. There you can get up close due to the number of roads (tracks) that took you into areas where the wildlife was likely to be.

Not so in Yellowstone, there are only a few roads and places to stop.
Trying to get up close was not the same. You had to stop and wait for the Wildlife to come to you.

What wildlife am I likely to see?

This is a big question as often this will dictate what equipment you will take.

Obviously, Africa has all the large animals.

But if you are going whale watching then that cranks it up a notch.

At the opposite end, Australia has some of the most diverse wildlife on the planet, but the majority is small and quite hard to see.
If you are into Birds and what to get some close-up shots, then you will need to plan accordingly.

Tips to prepare for photographing wildlife while travelling
Elephant in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Click on the image for a larger view and other images

Summary for Tips to prepare for photographing wildlife while travelling

  • Understand that being a casual Wildlife photographer does not mean you will get great shots
  • Be patient and allow time to give yourself every chance to get good shots
  • Take as much equipment that you think you will need with you
  • Research your destination/s for Wildlife Photographic opportunities.

Thanks for reading this article

There must have been something that piqued your interest.

Is it that you see yourself taking some great travel photos that you can share or display? Or is it you can see yourself reliving your travel experience by bringing home some emotive travel photos?
Maybe you aspire to getting your travel photos published.

If one or all of these is YOUR goal, I can help.
If you sign up in the box below, you’ll get my free eBook “9 ways to improve your Travel Photography”. At the same time, you will also subscribe to my exclusive Travel Photo Tips Newsletter.

Remember if you want to take great travel photos

  • that you can share and display.
  • that help you relive your travel experience
  • that give you a chance to have your travel photos published

then sign up below and subscribe to my exclusive Travel Photo Tips Newsletter and for your trouble get my eBook “9 ways to improve your Travel Photography”

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