Close Encounters of the Animal Kind
- 10 Essential Wildlife Photography Tips
- A Different Take on Wildlife Photography: Use a Wide-Angle Lens
- Beginner Wildlife Photography Tip: Basic Camera Settings
- A Beginner's Step-by-Step Guide to Improved Wildlife Photos
- Plan ahead, know your subject, and know the location you'll be in.
- Obey distance guidelines as established by national parks, state parks, wildlife refuges, and other wildlife management agencies.
- Never get between a mother animal and her offspring.
- Don't look the animal directly in the eyes as it is a signal of intimidation.
- Don't walk directly toward an animal - walk at an angle, again, to avoid seeming like an intimidating presence.
- Keep away from areas of known danger (i.e., don't hike through known grizzly bear territory).
- Travel with someone or join another group of photographers once you get to your destination. There is safety in numbers.
- Bring a first aid kit in case you or someone else in your party requires medical attention.
- Tell someone where you're going and the dates and times you will be there.
- Keep your head on a swivel - constantly check around you for dangers (and photo opportunities!).
If you've ever dabbled in wildlife photography, you know the adrenaline rush you get when you snap a photo of a beautiful animal.
You no doubt also know that there are inherent dangers with wildlife photography, namely, subjects that are wild and unpredictable, and that can turn on you at a moment's notice.
Any photographer that's taken the time to prepare themselves for a wildlife photography outing understands the critical need to be safe.
That means keeping an appropriate distance between you and the animal you're photographing, practicing ethical photography and not disturbing habitat, and just generally being smart about what you're doing as you "invade" the privacy of animals.
But even the most careful and safe photographers can have wildlife photography close calls...
Editor's Tip: The photos you take of the beauty of nature deserve a spot on your wall. See what your photos look like as fine art.
Wildlife Photography Close Calls: Bison Charges Man in Yellowstone National Park
Image Credit: Willis Chung; used with permission
Last week, we featured the story of Willis Chung, a physician and enthusiast photographer who found himself the subject of interest of a solitary bull bison a couple of years ago in Yellowstone National Park.
Dr. Chung took the image above at the precise moment the bull started to charge toward him. Clearly, it was a very scary situation.
However, Dr. Chung was prepared, knew what to do in the situation, and most importantly, was beyond the suggested distance from the animal (Yellowstone recommends 25 yards for bison, and Dr. Chung was 30 yards away).
That meant that both he and the bison were unharmed.
Grizzly Bear Wanders Right Past a Group of Photographers
Grizzly bears are a favorite subject of many wildlife photographers, particularly those that head to Alaska to see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat.
Naturally, the recommendation is to stay at least 100 yards away from grizzlies because they are such large, dangerous animals.
But in the video above by Stories, you can see how one particular grizzly in Katmai National Park.
The photo, which was taken by Jeff Goldberg, might be a bit of an illusion. As he notes in the video, the distance between the photographers and the bear is likely much greater than it seems to be.
Nevertheless, this group of photographers had no idea the bear was in their midst, and according to Mr. Goldberg, some of them never noticed that the bear was even there.
I suppose this is a good lesson in keeping your eyes and ears open, and always checking behind you - you never know what photographic opportunities might be back there!
Polar Bear Gets too Close for Comfort
Back in 2013, wildlife photographer Gordon Buchanan was in the Arctic to photograph a family of polar bears, but ended up getting a little too close of a view.
While photographing the family from a safe distance, the mother bear took notice of him.
Retreating to what he calls is "ice cube" - a bear-proof box that's described as an above-water shark tank - Mr. Buchanan sat for 45 minutes as the 1,000-pound bear attempted to get inside.
The video above from ABC News shows how hard the bear worked to get her "meal," and how well the "ice cube" worked to protect its cargo.
Bull Elk Initiates Dangerous Encounter With a Photographer
Several years ago, the video above by Vince M. Camiolo of a photographer being harassed by a bull elk went viral, likely because of the incredible danger that the massive elk posed to the defenseless man.
The man had been photographing elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a safe distance when a young bull approached him from behind.
As the video description notes, this particular bull had been conditioned to seek food from humans and had a track record of approaching people.
The video is tense, to say the least, given that the animal pokes, prods, and headbutts the photographer for an extended period of time.
Again, this is an example of how dangerous wildlife photography can be, and that even if you're a safe distance away, you can still find yourself in a very dangerous situation.
Editor's Tip: Not sure where to go on your next photography outing? Learn why autumn in the Grand Tetons is a photographer's dream.
Man Gets Far Too Close to Crocodiles
So far, the wildlife photography close calls we've explored have involved photographers that approached the situation in the right way by keeping a safe distance, only to have the animals they were photographing come investigate them.
The man in the video above by David Clow was certainly not observing the rules of safe wildlife photography when he set up just a couple of feet from crocodile-infested waters.
What wasn't helping the situation is that people in the crowd behind him were throwing food into the water to draw the crocodiles even closer.
Unsurprisingly, things got out of hand when one of the crocs came out of the water in an attempt to get a larger meal - the photographer.
The panic in the voices of the crowd as they screamed for him to move only underscores how dangerous this situation really was. This guy was lucky to escape with all of his limbs, and his life, for that matter.
Do not be this guy!
Close Encounter of the Giant Kind
Perhaps one of the most interesting close calls with wildlife occurred in 2009 when Brian Skerry and his assistant were diving in the sub-arctic waters off the coast of the Auckland Islands.
While doing so, they encountered a 45-foot-long whale that took an interest in them at the bottom of the ocean floor.
Unlike the grizzlies, elk, and other animals discussed above, this whale posed no threat to the photographers - except perhaps for its massive size.
In the video above by National Geographic, Mr. Skerry recounts the event, describing the way in which the whale very gently approached them out of curiosity.
How to Practice Safe and Ethical Wildlife Photography
These wildlife photography close calls bring to bear the importance of practicing safe and ethical wildlife photography.
When photographing animals in the wild, not only is your safety on the line, but that of other people in the vicinity, not to mention the animals themselves.
If you want to get started in wildlife photography, keep these essential wildlife photography safety tips in mind:
Remember that your health and safety and the safety of the animal you're photographing are much more important than any photo you get.
Practicing safe and ethical wildlife photography doesn't just protect you and the animals you photograph, but helps protect the animals for future generations to enjoy as well.