Outdoor and Wildlife Photography Safety

Outdoor and Wildlife Photography Safety

As I’m preparing to search for black bears to photograph, my personal safety has certainly come to mind a few times. When photographing wildlife, the combined safety of both ourselves and the species we are seeking out should be the top priority. In this article, I go over a few things to keep in mind when you head out into the great outdoors with your camera.

First of all, it goes without saying that you should let someone know where you are planning to shoot, and when you’ll be returning. It’s pretty common sense stuff, but many photographers forget to do this, or only do so sometimes. So many things could go wrong out there. Knowing someone is keeping tabs on your return could end up being very important. While going with a buddy can be a bit safer, please try not to forget to let someone else know your itinerary.

When you are shooting in a new area, it's a good idea to be mindful of all the species you might encounter — not just the ones you are seeking out. Knowing what other species you could come across is super important. Whether it’s venomous snakes or bears, do you know what to do if you come across either? Being prepared is essential to staying safe. Don’t ever underestimate any environment, regardless of how safe it seems.

Providing your subjects with a bit of personal space is simply the right thing to do. Not only will it translate into more natural images, but it will also prevent animals from feeling threatened, and potentially becoming dangerous. While it might seem obvious which animals are the most dangerous, smaller animals can also attack when provoked or feeling threatened. Consider making or purchasing a hide and using a long lens to get closer to your subjects.

Try to opt for clothing that doesn't make too much noise. For one, it will allow you to get closer to wildlife (but, remember, not too close!). In some cases, you may actually want a subject to be aware of your presence so as not to startle the animal, while on the other hand, often you might not want a particular animal to know you are there at all. Walking into the wind will keep your arrival a surprise, but this can sometimes backfire if you surprise an animal.

Being mindful of what fabrics you wear can also be helpful for keeping your body temperature regulated. I think most of us understand that some materials, such as cotton, can retain moisture. And, of course, soaking in cold wetness can lead to hypothermia. Stick to fabrics that wick away moisture like wool or synthetics. While temperatures might be nice during the day, it can’t hurt to dress in layers in case things change unexpectedly. As we lose most of our heat through our heads, throw a beanie in your camera bag — it’ll add more protection to a lens or two when it’s not in use.

If you are shooting in warmer climates, there are plenty of clothing manufacturers that have built-in UV and insect protection to protect you from bites and sunburn. When shooting in colder climates, I can’t step outside without a pair of microspikes. Ideal for icy terrain, microspikes make me feel like I have superpowers. Not only do they protect you from falls, but they also safeguard your equipment. If you are shooting in a colder climate, keeping some canned food in your car in case you return to a dead battery will help hold you over until help can arrive.

It is foolhardy to think because you know an area well that you cannot end up in a difficult predicament. Again, complacency can prove tragic. Having a few items with you just in case really doesn’t hurt. Carrying basic survival tools and a first aid kit can be vital if you get lost and end up having to spend a night outdoors. Going a little lighter on your photography gear will enable you to pack a few survival items such as a water straw/tablets, fire starter, a flashlight, knife, compass, and waterproof map.

joanna lentini, wildlife photography

Finally, remembering to pack the right protection for your gear can save your equipment from the elements. UV filters, waterproof cases, etc., are all good ideas when shooting outdoors. Keep in mind condensation can form when leaving your air conditioned car or when you go into a warm car/house from a cold day outdoors. Moisture and electronics do not mix well. Either keep your gear inside your pack for fifteen minutes or put the camera inside a plastic camera bag to let the condensation form on that. 

While there are a few more risks associated with wildlife and outdoor photography than other genres, there are many ways to mitigate those risks. Being prepared and respecting wildlife are truly important to your personal safety. Have you had an unexpected turn of events while shooting outdoors? How did you handle it? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.

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16 Comments

EL PIC's picture

If you want to be safe while photographing wild animals... bring a gun to a Bear fight

user-233725's picture

Good way to get arrested.

EL PIC's picture

You must not know self protection laws .. you could even shoot a person much more a bear that is attacking

user-233725's picture

Pack that gun with you into a national park and shoot something with it. I already know what will happen to you, and it won't be fun. Another nit-wit who thinks a gun solves problems. Please stay home, we don't need people like you out there.

EL PIC's picture

Tell it to the guy in Colorado who recently killed a cub mountain lion w a rock by bashing its head in or the former Texas Gov who shot coyotes in a park .. he runs with his Laser Guided Gun.
If you want to show off w more moron logic take if offline and PM me ..but be sure you research the hundreds of examples first ..

Gun Regulations in the National Parks - National Park Service
PDFNational Park Service (.gov) › upload

Feb 22, 2010 · Congress approved a new law allowing loaded firearms in national parks starting Feb. 22, 2010. That means people can openly carry legal handguns, rifles, shotguns and other firearms and also may carry concealed guns as allowed by state statute.

user-233725's picture

Quoted from the NP website.

Use of Firearms
Unless authorized, the use or discharge of a firearm within a park area is prohibited. 36 CFR 2.4(b) and 13.30(c). In parks where hunting is specifically mandated or authorized by federal statute, firearms may be used to hunt in accordance with NPS regulations and state laws. 36 CFR 2.2.

Visitors should not consider firearms as protection from wildlife.

https://mountainjournal.org/man-fined-for-killing-wolf-in-grand-teton-na...

EL PIC's picture

Read details ... he was hunting and not providing self protection. Your statement of packing a gun in National Park is cause for arrest is wrong. We are talking self protection and not hunting.
Always read details and bring gun to a Bear Fight.

user-233725's picture

Yawn. Nobody needs a gun except a fool. Not talking about hunting or self defense. I'm talking about having to hire a lawyer to justify the stupidity of thinking a gun is going to help you. When you pull that trigger for any reason, you'll be explaining it to a lawyer at great cost. Have fun dumb-ass. I've been a wildlife photographer for 3 decades and I've never encountered a situation where a gun would have protected anyone. Guns are toys for boys who like to pose and yammer on in delusional fantasy. Nobody wants to deal with a dumb-ass with a gun, except a park ranger with handcuffs. Like I said at first, take your gun into a national park and shoot something with it. You'll have lots of fun afterwords. You can give those website links to the ranger when he puts the cuffs on you.

EL PIC's picture

Nope .. Bears etc charge you if they are hungry and track you a mile away. Your only defense is a gun and no one is ever charged in self defense. The Nat Park knows well this law and has it posted. But some parks allow hunting.
You are now more educated D.F.

We're all taught to make noise when going out into the forest in order for large predators to hear us so we don't startle them. On the other hand, photographing large wildlife, you want to be as quiet as possible so you can get the shot. Where's the balance?

Michael Holst's picture

I'm not a wildlife photographer but if I had to take a guess I'd say you do research like a hunter does. Setting up trail cams can give insights into how your target animal moves and when they do it. I can't imagine trying to shoot a dangerous animal by just sneaking off into the woods without a pretty good plan and a willingness to set up and wait. A startled brown bear is my nightmare.

Also, distance is your friend. Bring a lens with reach.

Larry Chism's picture

Knowledgeable guides are a good starting place. See Steve Perry at Backcountry Gallery...

user-233725's picture

The best way to be safe is to not annoy the animals.

Use your vehicle as a blind and NO,don't make a lot of noise. Been photographing wildlife for 15 years. I've only had one moose get angry at me and that was my own fault for making too much noise near him. He bluffed charged me and I got the message.

Learn the animal's body language. All animals will tell you when you are making them nervous.

The first clue you are pissing them off is they turn their butts towards you.

Guys just listen to gary.

Carl Murray's picture

"lose most of our heat through our heads" is a total myth. We lose about 7% of heat through our heads or about as much as we should considering the surface area.

EL PIC's picture

A starving animal like a bear will stalk and charge you whether you annoy or not ..
they don’t eat at Burger King !!