An Appreciation for Wildlife and Nature Photography

An Appreciation for Wildlife and Nature Photography

No matter how much we like to complicate it, photography is a relatively simple pleasure. And rather than always focus on the results, it sometimes pays to simply step back and revel in the process.

I am not a landscape or wildlife photographer. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the art form. It’s simply that my skill set and career progression have taken me in a different direction. The only opportunity I get to photograph living things that don’t walk on two feet is on the rare occasion I find myself on vacation and the itinerary calls for a short excursion into the wild. 

But lately, I’ve been making a point to spend my Sunday mornings going for long, often aimless strolls through whatever wooded area Google might suggest, carrying my camera around my neck, looking very much like a tourist. I have no interest in making a career change or shifting artistic direction. I’ve come to realize that these walks are barely about the photography at all. Instead, they are simply an opportunity to simultaneously disconnect from the rat race, while reconnecting to myself.

I used to spend my Sundays going for weekly 16-mile runs on the beach here in Southern California. Before that, I would spend those Sundays splayed out across my couch, covered in ice cream and misplaced jelly beans, wondering, ironically, why I kept putting on weight. When the Sunday run routine began, it was a great way to spend my weekends in a far more productive manner. But what I quickly began to realize was that those runs offered me more than just free healthcare. It was my time to reflect and decompress. Some people meditate. Some people go to a church, or a temple, or a synagogue. I ran.

These weekly jaunts continued for years until I changed my workouts a bit to accommodate more weight-lifting and HIIT training and less solid state cardio. Those into fitness will know what I just said. Those who aren’t are welcome to just skip to the next sentence. But, the point is that while my fitness journey continued, my weekly trips into serenity gradually disappeared. Ye,t life got no less complicated.

Just as one’s fitness routine changes, so does one’s life. And regardless of how you get your release, everyone needs a way to clear their head. So, why not combine two of my interests, exercise and photography, into one? The long walks in the woods have begun.

I still have a lot to learn. I don’t even really have the right gear. I dusted off my old Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 the other day. It hasn’t gotten much use since I was first learning photography and sneaking into local college football practices to teach myself how to use autofocus. But shooting wildlife and shooting athletes have a lot in common. Need for fast autofocus. Longer lenses to get close to the action. That 70 to 300mm is hardly the top of the line, but it’s the longest lens I have, and it does the trick. 

I’m still trying to find the right places to go in southern California. Recommendations are welcome. Seeing the landscapes is great, but what I'm really enjoying is the opportunity to see various small creatures with a heartbeat scurry across my path, daring me to catch them if I ca, or, in the case of the rather large gray bird who found himself a mouse the other day, taking his time to enjoy a meal right in front of me. Despite a fondness for mice, I still grabbed a series of shots from the initial capture to the long-fated slide down the bird's throat. That's not something I was likely to see while sitting on my couch at home.

Still, what's far more important than the final product is the experience. Taking a walk through the world is more than just about the photographs. It is about the walk itself. It is about the opportunity to engage the quiet. It is about taking in the enormity of the world we inhabit and realizing that we are just one of the many small elements that make up our universe. It can be a time for action. Birds, like time, wait for no man. But it is also a time to achieve peace.  

A time to connect to photography.  A time to connect to the environment.  A time to connect to yourself.

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2 Comments

jim hughes's picture

Once you know this feeling you'll never stop coming back.

Bigger lenses are seductive but they're harder to cart with you; they usually need support, like a monopod and a gimbal; and they're harder to aim in a hurry. 300mm on aps-c, handheld, is sort of a sweet spot IMHO. It doesn't get in the way of the experience.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Good point on the APS-C sensor