Wildlife. It’s all around us. All you have to do is look 🙂
Well, yeah, that’s true for the easy ones, like squirrels or chipmunks in the backyard. Hawks are easy, too, sitting atop utility poles, as are turkeys pecking in harvested cornfields, ducks bobbing on the lake, and the occasional deer grazing along the roadside are good practice. Most of them –except maybe the deer — will stay fairly still long enough for you to fiddle with the camera settings and compose your shot. But there’s a world of lesser-seen animals all around us, too, if we know how to find them. How do you know where they are?
Two of the best ways (for me) are to look and listen. Look up all the information you can find on wildlife and their habitats. There are so many books and YouTube videos on birds that I couldn’t begin to list them all here, but that is the best way to start. Oh, I suppose you could do a google search, but you can get a good idea of what to search for by reading a few books first. Besides, there’s nothing like the feel of a real book in your hands, one that you can go back to for reference without it disappearing into cyberspace.
Anyway, I like to shoot life, and lots of life begins (and ends) at the marshlands, both in it and in the vegetation around it. I had already been hanging around wetlands for about a year before I found Wetlands of North America by William A. Niering (1991) at my local thrift store. From it I learned about the varieties of wetlands and the different wildlife they support. The photographs (Bates Littlehales) are clear, bright, and perfectly exposed. This is a book you can learn from! Best $1.50 I ever spent.
If you like to shoot birds of any kind, there are literally thousands of books from which to choose. Anything by Crossley or Sibley is excellent, both as reference and as learning guides, and they aren’t too expensive, either — especially if you shop as thrift stores or used-book shops. There are also websites such as Cornell’s AllAboutBirds.com and eBird.org to help with identification and even hot-spot locations for birding in your area. There is also a Facebook group called What’s This Bird, whose volunteers are at the ready to identify that strange bird you just can’t find in your resources.
Of course, this assumes that you already know how to handle your camera. Even if you have memorized the settings suggested in your users’ guide, it’s always helpful to see how the experts do things. For this, I would recommend anything by Brenda Tharpe or John Shaw. They have been around since the film-camera days, and sometimes you can find their early and now-out-of-print books on nature photography in the second-hand market. They have both written updated guides. Tharp’s Expressive Nature Photography and Shaw’s Digital Nature Photography are both excellent and are the ones I go to most often for review. That’s because my BetterPhoto Guide to Digital Nature Photography is falling apart, Jim Miotke writes a good book with lots of useful tweaks and tricks, but he’ll spam you with requests to join the BetterPhoto web$ite. That’s okay, you can ignore it until it stops. . .or pay the fee and see what more he has to offer.
Once you feel confident with both your camera and your hotspots, it’s time to listen. Listen to what YouTube has to offer regarding your camera, settings, and wildlife. Listen to other people who have been there, done that, and have a lot to share. Meetup groups can be good for this — or not, as the case may be. I discovered (the hard way) that the fearless leader of the Nature Photography Meetup in Rochester [NY] does not welcome newbies, just saying. Although they advertise over 500 members, only about 12 or so showed up at the group excursions I attended; maybe 20 or so were at the monthly gatherings. But give it a try, you may have better luck in your area, https://www.meetup.com/
However, there are many other places to meet people and share your work. Hiking groups is an option as is attending any lectures, demonstrations, or classes sponsored by your local library or nature center. Nature photography websites and Facebook pages abound all over the ‘net, and some of them hold real-time group meetings or hikes. The problem with the ‘net, though, is the same problem I encountered in the Rochester meetup — some of them are for the expert photographer, so you will have to weigh the benefits (of posting your photos, making new contacts, and finding new hotspots) against the possible downside (of being judged too harshly or having your submissions ignored) before you commit to membership. I don’t know which sites would be best for you, but the best sites for me are those that offer helpful suggestions, not criticism, and share their photos for inspiration, not praise — although who can’t help but admire the wonderful photos that are posted by some truly talented people on these sites?
Another thing about Facebook pages — be sure to choose a closed group. You may have to answer a few questions before they let you in, but any photos posted therein, including yours, will be protected from unauthorized use. It will also protect the animals you photograph by screening out hunters and poachers. And you will be protected from fake nature photographs — if you don’t believe they exist, or if you think they are harmless, think again. If you look up this group on Facebook — Truths Behind Fake Nature Photography. — then you may not be so shocked when you read about fakers and how they hurt and injure wildlife in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jan/20/wolf-wildlife-photographer-award-stripped).
This is just a short list for now; I will add to it from time to time, so keep checking for new and helpful references. And feel free to submit some of your own!