Curious Nature: Serendipity and the art of wildlife photography (column)
March 9, 2019
Wildlife photography is a genre traditionally reserved for professionals, those with the gear and means to take truly compelling pictures of wildlife in hidden corners around the globe. With modern-day improvements in camera technology, wildlife photography is a sub-discipline that can now be done by anyone with the right amount of patience and some luck.
A compelling wildlife photograph requires three simple components: a subject in an interesting position, good lighting and someone in the perfect place to pull the shutter. There aren't enough words to describe the frustrations that wildlife photography can bring, because it is so rare for those three components to be perfectly aligned. To be a wildlife photographer, you have to try to put yourself in likely positions to get the photo, but along the way, harbor no expectations for success. The ultimate key for wildlife photography is patience, and the best wildlife photographers are the ones who take themselves on walks in the wilderness and bring the camera for those "just in case" moments. These photographers may walk and wait for weeks or months to bring home a handful of images that they want to share with the world.
I took this picture during one of those "just in case" moments. While mountain biking along one of my favorite spots in the Eagle Valley, I had noticed the common traces of a fox, including scat and tracks. One evening, I decided to bring my camera and telephoto lens along for the ride, just in case. I knew that the light would be good, as I would be riding in the golden hour before sunset, and I knew that I would be putting myself in the middle of a fox' patch. All I needed was a little stroke of luck.
Nearing the spot where I had seen fox tracks and scat for the past few weeks, I slowed down and dismounted from my bike. Taking a moment to scan the landscape, luck was finally on my side. A gorgeous red fox was meandering through the dense understory. I pulled the camera out of my pack, affixed my lens and slowly walked to a position where I envisioned meeting head-to-head with the fox. There, I sat patiently, waiting for the fox to come to me.
I settled in the tall grass, trying to conceal myself as much as possible as the fox drew nearer. With my lens in position, I let the fox come into my field of view and let it linger for a second. After snapping a few pictures, I noticed that a litter of kits was following this mother through the forest floor, and one began to nurse as the mother began looking around, sensing me hiding in the grass far away. She quickly glanced in my direction, with her small kit latching on, and I took a single picture before we both continued on.
The art of wildlife photography can be done by anyone. All you need is a camera, a simple smartphone will do, and to be present in our public lands waiting for the wildlife to come to you. So take a hike along one of the many trails in our Eagle Valley, slow down along the way and keep your eyes and ears open for nearby wildlife. The opportunities are there, we just need to place ourselves in the perfect position.
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Aidan Goldie is an instructor at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. When he is not leading groups of students, he is enjoying our public lands with a camera by his side.