By Amy Novotny
Recently, a friend commented that he had moved away from wildlife photography to landscape photography because it was hard to find wildlife and then even harder to capture an image of a moving animal. He mentioned that he would go out searching and might get a shot or two but then get frustrated so he switched to landscape scenes. Although I love landscape photography, I have begun photographing more wildlife during the hot summer and I mentioned a couple suggestions to him that have helped me in the past couple months.
First of all, speaking to biologists or searching the website of the Arizona Game and Fish Department are great ways to gain some knowledge of where animals will be and when they will be most visible to humans. This past May, Bruce Taubert, wildlife biologist and photographer took a small group of us to the desert to photograph western Screech owls and elf owls. His knowledge of the owls’ territory and their activity level at this time of year led to a great night of shooting. He knew that the birds would respond to calls and the approximate height of where they would perch in the trees, making it easier for us to photograph in the night sky.
Images: Elf owl, Western Screech owl, Elf owl. Taken in the desert in Cave Creek, Arizona.
Learning animal behavior can also be a huge asset in saving time finding animals and even capturing an image of a moving animal. Recently, I was out photographing bighorn sheep in the canyon surrounding Canyon Lake, Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish Department had set up a boat tour at the beginning of July to search for the sheep. Even though it is typically the hottest time of the year for Arizona, this is the time when the mating season is underway and sheep can be seen going down the walls of the canyon to drink from the lake. Sure enough, within minutes of being on the boat, we came across a herd of sheep halfway up the canyon. The boat driver recommended waiting to watch the sheep, as he suspected that they would climb down to the water. To our delight, his knowledge of animal behavior was accurate and helped us get the opportunity for some close up shots of the sheep at the water’s edge.
Image: Bighorn sheep climbing back up the canyon walls surrounding Canyon Lake, Arizona
Knowledge of animal behavior is also critical for capturing moving animals. This is especially useful in bird photography when trying to capture a bird in flight. When trying to photograph a roadrunner in flight, I studied his behavior for a bit and learned how he turned his head and changed his body position just prior to takeoff. Although it was still difficult trying to capture the little guy in motion, having some knowledge of his tendencies increased my opportunity of getting a shot.
Images: A Greater Roadrunner begins to dive and then dives off the branch to the ground at the Pond at Elephant Head Ranch in Amado, Arizona.
Workshops, such as those offered through Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, are great ways to highly increase your chance of capturing images of wildlife because the professional photographers have done all the research for you and gained special access to areas. However, when workshops are not an option, other sources exist, such as Bruce Taubert’s book, “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildlife” that describes when and where to find certain wildlife throughout Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish Department website also has email newsletters of wildlife viewings throughout the year.
Amy Novotny is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops