I grew up watching wildlife documentaries and David Attenborough was always a favorite in our household. So naturally, when I started my photography journey I fantasised about photographing exotic wildlife in beautiful locations: polar bear cubs in Svalbard, emperor penguins in Antarctica, snow leopards in the Nepalese mountains. Funnily enough all cold-weather locations but maybe it’s just because we are currently in a heatwave!
Getting started in wildlife photography can seem daunting at first, but it really doesn’t have to be. You can start small, and even if you live in the middle of an urban jungle you can still find plenty of interesting wildlife to photograph. In this excellent video, wildlife photographer Roie Galitz shares his top 10 tips for beginning to shoot wildlife (with a camera obvs).
Firstly Roie recommends thinking about what your motivation is in wanting to become a wildlife photographer. It’s not enough to want to just shoot cute cuddly animals, and the realities can actually be pretty brutal. It’s important that you understand your reason why. Do you want to help endangered species or raise awareness of environmental pressures and concerns? Do you want to mostly travel to far-flung places? Are you fascinated by one particular species and want to learn as much as you can about it?
It’s an important point, and ultimately one that made sure that I never became a wildlife photographer. The thought of sitting for days in a freezing cold hide for a fleeting glimpse of the animal ultimately didn’t appeal to me, and I’d romanticised what being a wildlife photographer was all about. I’m still passionate about nature and I still want to help raise awareness of environmental pressures, but there are better ways I can do that on a local level particularly than flying around the world photographing polar bears.
And that’s exactly what Roie suggests. Use the gear you already have, and start in your own backyard. Start photographing birds, insects, urban wildlife or animals that visit your garden. Visit nature reserves in your local area. I actually have a bird migrating stopping point just 30 minutes away which would give me ample subjects for the rest of my life, if I actually liked birds.
Fundamentally, being a wildlife photographer isn’t just about being a great photographer, that’s just a given. You need to be patient and also learn as much as you can about the animals you are photographing. Study their habits, and always be respectful of them. Going back to your reason for doing this, it should never be about you or your photography but about the wildlife you’re photographing and the challenges that poses. It’s easy to show how majestic a lion is or how cute a seal cub is, but how can you show the beauty of say an earwig? In the end, it’s about giving your subjects a voice in a world that is continually encroaching on them.