Video: How to safely research wildlife and be an ethical photographer


posted Friday, March 11, 2022 at 2:30 PM EDT


Last week, we shared the first video in wildlife photographer Kristi Odom's new video series for B&H. In that episode, the first of four, Odom shared must-have wildlife photography gear, including cameras, lenses and accessories. The second episode is all about safely researching and approaching wildlife and ensuring that you're an ethical wildlife photographer.

Odom is a Nikon Ambassador – the wildlife video series is sponsored by Nikon, by the way – and a proud member of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Her wildlife photography expertise goes beyond capturing great photos; she also ensures that she's always acting ethically in the field. Just as important as being an ethical wildlife photographer is being a safe photographer.

Part of being safe is learning to be a good researcher. Being a good researcher also provides you with improved opportunities to capture great images. The better you understand the animals you hope to photograph, the more likely it is that you will come home with great images. The difference between a good shot and a great shot often comes down to delivering a story with your photo. Odom says, 'In order to take photos past that typical portrait, you want to incorporate story. One way to incorporate story is by doing research. So, say I'm trying to photograph the birds or the elk in Yellowstone, start researching how they interact with one another, where there they like to hang out…if you can bring that behavior and story into your image, you're going to have a more impactful image.'

While Odom does a lot of her own research online, there's no substitute for hiring a guide and talking to locals about an area and the wildlife that lives there. People with experience can offer extremely helpful advice that can make a big difference to your photography.

One of the most challenging aspects of wildlife photography is even getting close enough to capture a shot. Even when using a long lens, like a 400mm-800mm lens, it can be challenging to get close to your subject. It is even more difficult to do it safely and ethically. Even though it can be tempting to try to get as close as possible, you must act ethically. There are many great resources about this, like this guide from Audubon. Staying safe and not disturbing wildlife should always take priority over getting the shot. There'll be other opportunities to ethically capture great photos. Understanding how each species you photograph displays signs of stress goes a long way toward making sure you aren't too close or upsetting an animal. Odom points out that many parks include helpful guides about the animals you'll find there on their website. For example, Yellowstone recommends staying at least 25 yards (23 meters) from bison and elk.

Of course, you need to locate wildlife before you worry about capturing a great shot. Odom finishes the video above with some great tips for finding animals. She follows hashtags on Instagram to see what animals people have seen in specific parts of a park or refuge. There are other resources like eBird or iNaturalist that allow people to share observations and sightings of animals.

In the next episode, which goes live next week, we'll see Odom photographing wildlife in Yellowstone and learn some great tips and tricks for camera settings and composition.

If you want to learn more about wildlife photography right now, be sure to check out our '9 Top Camera Tips and Techniques for Improving your Bird and Wildlife Photography' guide that went live this week.

(Via B&H