Have you ever photographed a wild animal? If so, you realize how hard it is to capture images of wildlife. But there is a better way. Try some of these hotspots for wildlife photography that don’t involve too much wild!
Let’s start with zoos. Zoos are a great place to photograph animals as well as birds.
There are many kinds of zoos. Some offer better photographic opportunities than other, but one thing is for sure: They are a great place to practice. If you are going on an African photo safari, but don’t have much wildlife photography experience, go to your local zoo and practice making images of the animals there. You can work out kinks in your equipment, get an idea of how much film or digital memory you will need, and generally prepare for photographing animals on safari.
These are my favorite places to photograph wildlife. The animals here are technically free. They are typically not under controlled conditions and don’t have handlers. The animals come to these places because they know they are safe there. Consequently, they are comfortable enough with humans to allow close contact. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is responsible for maintaining more than 500 wildlife refuges across the United States. No matter where you live, you are usually within less than a day’s drive from a natinal wildlife refuge. For a complete list of wildlife refuges, go to http://www.nationalgeographic.com/refuges/.
Game Parks/Game Farms
The very best captive animal photography tends to come from game parks and game farms. Much like the game farms that are dedicated to hunters, photo game farms are dedicated to wildlife photography. In most cases, the animals are wild. They respond to trainers and are in natural conditions.
You can photograph at most game farms in groups or solo. Be prepared to pay. Most game farms need to charge a substantial fee to cover the costs of maintaining the animals. Make sure you work with a game farm that treats the animals well and works in natural settings.
And here are my top three favorite places to photograph wildlife.
1. Far and away my favorite place to photograph animals is the Triple D Game Farm in Kalispell, Mont. (www.tripledgamefarm.com) Owners Jay and Kim Deist have put their heart into this operation. They are committed to providing photographers of all skill levels with access to two dozen species, including a mountain lion, black bear, Siberian tiger and wolves.
Photographers pay a fee to photograph the animals in natural settings. Handlers make sure to position the animals in the best light. The Triple D staff closely monitors all animal health and behavior to make sure that the animals are always healthy and feeling their best.
Triple D also travels to Utah and California every other year. The California and Utah Specials offer photographers a chance to shoot in locations other than those on the Montana compound.
2. Bosque del Apache, N.M., is my number two wildlife hotspot. Bosque del Apache (Woods of the Apache) is a 57,191-acre national wildlife refuge, 18 miles south of Socorro, N.M. More than 300 species of birds migrate to Bosque each year. It’s a prime place to photograph blue herons, mallards, snowy egrets, sandhill cranes, roadrunners, Ross,’ Canadian and snow geese, bald eagles, Coopers and red-tailed hawks and wild turkeys. Few places in the United States can deliver a greater concentration of birds and wildlife.
The migrating geese and cranes start arriving in earnest at the refuge in November. On any visit between mid-November and early January, you’ll see tens of thousands of birds. Visit http://www.friendsofthebosque.org/ for more information.
3. Number three is Northwest Trek Eatonville, Wash., offers opportunities to photograph deer, elk, moose, bear, and a number of other birds and animals native to the northwest. There are several options here. You can enter the park and ride the tram around the free roaming area. There aren’t many photographic opportunities from the tram, but it does give you a good idea of the lay of the land. You can also arrange to take a special photography tram. These are offered quarterly, and you can book them online at http://www.nwtrek.org/. In either event, you can also walk around the staged exhibits, and this is where the best shots are. Even though some people would refer to these as cages, they are really natural enclosures designed to mimic the animal’s natural habitat. Some of my favorites here are the porcupines, snowy owls, raccoons, deer, and elk.
Wherever you live, there’s more than likely someplace you can spot, study and practicing photographing wildlife.
About the author:
Scott Bourne is the co-author of “88 Secrets to Wildlife Photography” with Rod Barbee. Scott has also written three other photo books. All are available from Olympic Mountain School Press, http://www.mountainschoolpress.com His work has also appeared in books, magazines, galleries, calendars, on greeting cards, web sites and on posters.
Scott is a professional photographer, author, teacher and pioneer in the digital imaging field. His career started in the early 70s as a stringer covering motor sports for Associated Press in Indiana. Since then, he has shot commercial, portrait, wedding, magazine and fine art assignments. His new passion is wildlife photography.
Scott regularly lectures on a variety of photo and media-related subjects. He’s appeared on national television and radio programs and has written columns for several national magazines. He is the publisher of Photofocus.com, an online magazine for serious photographers and also serves as the executive director of the Olympic Mountain School of Photography in Gig Harbor, WA.