The type of photography determines the level of control a photographer has over the scene. A portrait or studio photographer has a lot of control over the subject, the lighting and the composition. A landscape photographer has less control over the lighting and environment, but the subject is generally static, or at least does not usually change quickly. A wildlife photographer has very little control – both the subject AND the environment are fleeting and unpredictable. This lack of control begs the question: how do wildlife photographers practice creativity with so little influence over the elements of the scene?
I believe creativity is not only about piecing together works of art, it is about learning to see the abundant beauty and life that infuses all aspects of the world. With this in mind, there are endless opportunities to express our creativity through wildlife photography.
Developing an eye
What allows a rare glimpse of an animal that is seldom seen? Some may say it is about luck, being at the right place at the right time. There is an element of luck or randomness to what photographers will find when looking for wildlife. We can go to locations that are known to have a certain species, but there is never a guarantee and often disappointment. Keep showing up; do not let the disappointments deter the drive to continually search for the next miracle. I believe that gentle persistence is a powerful force in wildlife photography; the more photographers keep this mantra front and center, the more the randomness and unpredictability will reap its rewards.
My most poignant example of this randomness working in my favor was a rare sighting of a Canada Lynx in July 2013. I have used the word ‘luck’ to describe this encounter, but there was something much bigger at play. I was there, in a location where lynx happen to live, and my eyes were wide open.
Even before I saw the lynx I was in a blissful state of connection with the environment. My early morning drive started with a view of the misty landscape, accented with a diffuse rainbow pouring into the mountain valley and the dew gently clinging to the leaves, sparkling in the sun. I had already had a fantastic morning of photography when I glimpsed some movement on the side of the road. I pulled over, rolled down my window, and saw the lynx staring back at me from the bush.
This would have been so easy to miss had I not allowed myself to be in that peaceful place of connection. I put myself in a position were the possibility of a rare sighting existed. There is is an authentic creativity in the simple act of just being where you are, being present, open to the endless beauty in your surroundings.
Watching for the magic in the mundane
In the summer of 2013 during a walk through a local park, I noticed a network of thin hairs reflecting a rainbow of colors against the backdrop of the setting sun. On closer examination, I could see the spider’s home was only partially finished, and its inhabitant was working diligently at spinning its web.
Watching this little creature at work was truly amazing. I have to admit, I am often focused on seeing the ‘big ticket items’ when I am out with my camera. A spider has never been a target species for my outings, but this instance illustrates how even the most ordinary scenario can result in an extraordinary scene.
Taking advantage of all angles
Occasionally wildlife photographers get an opportunity to observe an animal for a long period of time, allowing us to move around and play with different camera settings and angles. Such was the case with the hummingbirds in Cusco, Peru in April 2013. I sat on a bench in a courtyard and watched two species of hummingbirds in action: the Giant Hummingbird and the Sparkling Violetear. The Giant Hummingbird had a perch on the side of the building, and when the Violetears started to feed on the flowers, the giant of the species would swoop down to charge the Violetears, defending its territory. The Violetears were undeterred by the significantly-larger competition, but the repetition of this behavior gave me a chance to predict and capture the movements of these remarkably beautiful, fast-moving creatures.
Respecting the animal and the environment
In wildlife photography, something can happen when you are in the moment – it is so easy to let the desire for a good picture override the welfare of the subject and the environment. It is such a strong pull, and creates a precarious balance that wildlife photographers need to achieve. This is the most challenging aspect of wildlife photography in my opinion – it takes conscientiousness, vigilance and a lot of practice. I believe being aware of how our actions impact the subject is the ultimate expression of creativity. If it is impossible to get close enough without damaging the environment or scaring the animal, a photographer may be forced to look at the scene in a different way, to pay attention to the surroundings and see how the creature fits into a wider view. Maybe a ‘good’ shot is not possible. If this is the case, wildlife photographers simply need to accept the gift of being able to witness what was seen and move forward with a steadfast belief that another miracle photograph is waiting to be captured elsewhere.
All Photographs Are © Kerri Martin
Kerri Martin Photographer Bio
Kerri Martin developed a passion for photography while completing her journalism degree in 2001. A camera became more than just a means of capturing events, it was a gateway to honing her passion for the natural world.
Photography has enhanced Kerri’s life-long love of nature and wildlife and her passion continues to grow. Over the past few years, Kerri has spent countless hours on the back-roads of Alberta, observing and photographing the province’s unique landscapes and wildlife. Kerri was born and raised in Alberta and currently lives in Calgary. She also loves to travel and has been to various locations throughout Canada and the US, Costa Rica, Panama, Portugal and Peru. She is in the process of planning her next big trip to Africa, slated for the spring of 2015.
When not out photographing nature and wildlife, Kerri works full-time as a web designer at Mount Royal University Calgary, Alberta and teaches Photoshop for the Continuing Education Program at SAIT Polytechnical, Calgary, Alberta
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