The Price of a Photograph
by Alice Mary Herden
If there were any rules in nature photography, the only rule that should be implemented is the safety of the photographer and the subject they are photographing. Pushing boundaries and limits to photograph wildlife in their natural habitats (my apologies for being so blunt), is just plain stupid and unsafe. There are so many wrongs trying to achieve that ‘NatGeo’ shot, and believe me, I know from experience.
Just recently, I encountered a beautiful eastern diamondback rattlesnake crossing the limestone road. My heart jumped as I slammed on the brakes. I was so excited to see, for the first time, a LIVE diamondback at Chassahowitzka WMA. The last one I saw there, unfortunately, had been run over.
This diamondback was a biggie, at least three and a half feet in length. It was so intimidating, and watching it as it positioned its upper body into a defensive zone was incredible. It was looking straight at me while moving sideways back to the grass edge.
Luckily I had my 400mm lens armed and ready to go. My first ‘photographer’s instinct’ was to get out of the car as quickly as possible and get those shots, but I stopped before I opened the car door. I just took that one minute to watch this incredible creature, and it was an amazing experience.
I knew this diamondback was nervous and as well as uncomfortable.
If I had gotten out of the car and rushed over, a couple of scenarios could have happened.
-I could have tripped rushing out of the vehicle, hurting myself and damaging my camera.
-I could have been too focused on that snake and not aware of my surrounding
-I could have created a hostile environment for the diamondback.
Even though I may have altered its course by going back to where it crossed the road, the conclusion is what’s important. I knew it was safe, unharmed, and at ease going back into the woods, and of course, I was safe as well.
Other encounters with wildlife may seem harmless, but depending on the season, it could affect their ability to survive in the wild.
Springtime is everyone’s favorite time to photograph wildlife and one main reason, babies!
Does most of the time, scurry away, leaving you with photographs of a white tail, but sometimes they can be calm just long enough for you to get a couple of photos. A rushed approach can confuse the doe and cause her to get hurt while jumping through the thick scrub. But remember it’s Spring. If she is with her fawn that could confuse the little one and cause it to run in another direction. The stress alone would be devastating for both the parent and the fawn.
The same situation can happen with wild turkeys. As cute as the poults are, approaching too fast will separate the mother and the youngins. Depending on the distance between the mother and poult, the mother may not return.
There are times when you may drive up or walk up unexpectedly, and there have been times when I have done this as well. If that happens, stop and let them regain some sense of calmness before moving ahead.
Then there are those missed shots, where you spot something in the corner of your eye, and you realized it’s a bobcat. You know it couldn’t have gone too far, and your instincts are to begin the search. Trekking through the brush, trying to find and confirm what you saw dashing within your peripheral vision, was really what you think you saw.
After stepping a few feet in the brush, I stopped, thinking what am I doing. I am 100% sure that is what I saw, and there is no need for me to find it.
If I continued searching for the bobcat, I could put myself in danger as well as any other wildlife in the area. Being so focused on trying to ‘find’ that bobcat, I would not be paying attention to where I was stepping. I quickly realized that I didn’t NEED to get a photo. I stepped back and walked away, whispering…“They do exist!”
I get it, and I understand the passion for getting these incredible photos of wildlife, but the price of that photograph isn’t worth harming any wildlife regardless of what species they are.
The importance to note is to take your time and have patience when you are out photographing nature.
Safety for you and wildlife is more important than any photo.