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6 tips for great autumn wildlife photography

Posted November 9

Taking photos from a vehicle is often a good method to get good wildlife images, like these antelope fawns. (Deseret Photo)

THE GREAT OUTDOORS — In Western states, late fall and early winter are great times to get photos of wildlife. Much of the vegetation is gone and animals are more visible and exposed.

It is also mating season for mule deer and some other animals, meaning they are distracted and often more approachable than at any other time of year. (However, note that you should never get too close to a wild animal.)

Professional wildlife photographers sometimes spend days in a specific location trying to get photos of a single animal or species. Most people can’t dedicate that much time and effort, but getting great animals photos is still possible.

Here are a few tips to help you capture your best wildlife image ever.

Embrace mornings and evenings

Animals are most active in the early morning and evening. That means you need to be where they are when the sun comes up or goes down. Whether you are trying to photograph bison on Antelope Island or deer in the Wasatch Mountain foothills, mornings and evenings provide the best opportunities.

“The first piece of advice I got from a professional wildlife photographer when I started shooting, is to stick to the hours of golden light,” reports African wildlife photographer Morkel Erasmus in an article for digitalphotographyschool.com. “This means getting up early in the morning and being in the field before sunrise, and going out in the afternoon to make the most of the last hours of sunlight.”

Be ready

Although your best opportunities might come early and late, animals are unpredictable. You might see a colorful bird splashing in the water in the middle of the day. Or you could spot a nice antelope buck standing by the roadside on an afternoon drive. The key to getting those shots is to make certain you have a camera with you when you need it.

Get closer

For beginning photographers, one of the biggest challenges is closing the distance. Wildlife are usually wary, meaning if you try too close of an approach, you are likely to scare away the subject. You can overcome that challenge by using cover. Shoot from inside your car, from behind a tree or bush.

Zoom lenses allow you to get a closer image from a distance. But that doesn’t always mean you need expensive equipment or a giant telephoto lens. Most of the images accompanying this article were shot with a 20-megapixel camera with a 40X digital zoom that cost about $100.

Gain an edge

As with any pursuit, practice is essential if you want to photograph wildlife. You can increase your opportunities by going to places where wildlife are abundant. Utah is blessed with great national and state parks and wildlife refuges. All are great locations to get close to wildlife. Even taking pictures at the zoo will give you a chance to practice on techniques like lighting and composition as you watch animal behavior.

Think small

It is much easier to get close to a muskrat than a trophy bull elk. Birds are engaging and colorful subjects, as are many insects.

“When you’re out photographing wildlife, don’t just pay attention to what are called the charismatic megafauna — the big animals that get most of our attention,” states an article in National Geographic. “Of course, we all want good photos of the big guys, but there are many other forms of life around. Some of them are really beautiful, and all of them are interesting.”

Consider the setting

The background is often just as important as the subject, explains Jim Goldstein in an article for the National Wildlife Federation blog.

“Wildlife photos can often be made better by including the environment of your subject," he said in the article. "Doing so can enhance the story behind the behavior or physical traits of the animal(s) photographed.”

The last piece of advice is to never stop trying. Even if you don’t get the shot you want, you’ll probably be rewarded with beautiful scenery and great outdoor experiences. The next time you go, you might just capture the image of a lifetime.

Flint Stephens has a master's degree in communication. He writes regularly on business, financial and medical topics.

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