Wildlife Photography Tricks
by Jerry Dupree
As most of you know I enjoy wildlife photography. I have always loved the outdoors as a hunter, camper, hiker, off roader and happy wanderer. I like to show my photos to anyone who will hold still and I enter photography competitions and enjoy the outdoors. I am out in the desert or up in the mountains at least once a week and try to get out on trails, up in canyons, river beds, and hopefully beyond the beer cans. I look for areas devoid of vehicle tracks, human footprints, and follow animal trails in hopes of locating burrows, nests, and evidence of animal activity.
I have been an avid photographer for years. Cameras have evolved smaller, cheaper, smarter, and sim.pler. I would like to have the money I have invested in cameras, flashes, lenses, and other accessories. I have game cameras that I try to conceal and place them in the shade under trees and bush.es. I place cameras in pairs with one set on video and the other on still. They are operated on motion detectors that trigger the shutter. They have infrared lights to photograph at night. Most animals are nocturnal and it is amazing the variety of animals that are out there. I have shots of coyotes, gray foxes, kit foxes, bobcats, badgers, deer, bighorn sheep, hawks, owls, vultures. The cameras are also sensitive to wind and moving branches, leaves, and grass. I have a lot of pictures of each. I place my cameras facing north so they are not exposed to direct sunlight into the lens. I record the camera locations by GPS coordinates so I can find them again. I would have lost cameras if I hadn't marked their locations from GPS readings.
Animals are curious, especially foxes. They examine the cameras and knock them over. They come with straps to buckle them around trees, but there are very few straight trees in the desert. Pesky foxes like to chew on the straps and drag the cameras away. I havefound straps that have been chewed through, and cameras that have been dragged a few
feet away. I have out of focus close ups of eyes, noses, and other parts of coyotes, foxes, deer, squirrels, mice, kangaroo rats, and other unidentified animals. I have taken off the straps.
I locate cameras a little higher than surrounding terrain for camera position and prevention from flooding in summer storms and rain showers.
I use dry dog food for bait. I am not trying to feed animals, but to attract them. I pour dog food in bushes so the target animals will spend more time 'posing' for the cameras. I add a small can of cat food which has a stronger scent and is more likely to draw animals from longer distances. The cameras and bait piles are where there are animal tracks along natural game trails.
Another method I use is an electronic predator call. They are rechargeable and have channels that can be changed to call different animals. The sounds of the calls are animal distress sounds such as rabbits, quail, and other sounds. Animals will follow any high pitched squeal because they are curious. There are times when they will answer the call in 30 seconds to five minutes, and other times when they won't appear for more than a half hour. They usually circle and catch the scent. I have had animals come in, catch my scent, and then run away. They usually stop and come back because they are very curious. I will usually place my call in a river bed or a wash crossing a road. River beds and water courses are freeways for animals. I will position myself far enough away from the cameras for a good photo and for my own safety. I carry emergency and safety equipment at all times, which includes ‘snake repellant’ which is a pocket size pistol of .38 cal. or .357 magnum. The first two chambers are loaded with shot shells which are easier to aim and hit a snake hopefully before he gets his chance at me. I always have a hiking stick for balance and to poke over rocks and logs and in bushes before I take a step. I have known people who have been snake bitten and listened to their stories about how they got bit.
My usual walking around camera is a Nikon P900 digital camera. They are not prohibitively expensive and they have an incredible 84X lens which focuses on every detail from a long distance.
I carry a lot of stuff in my pack which includes a small folding shovel, level, compass, GPS, and a satellite phone and Personal Locator Beacon.
There are probably a lot of other things I do automatically just because I have been doing it so long. There are things not to do. Spend as little time as possible setting up. Don't contaminate the area with too much human scent, and for sure don't urinate near the setup. I change locations and am careful not to habituate animals where there is a free meal. 'A fed animal is a dead animal' when they become dependent on humans feeding them. I am not sure, but spotlights and electronic calls may not be legal in national parks.
I think it is a fun hobby and enjoy just getting out for a walk on the wild side and the challenge of getting some good photos. I compare it to fishing. Sometimes you get lucky and get the right animal in the right pose in the right lighting. It is always successful because I get to spend a day by myself in the wilderness. ~ Jerry