Seven rules for photographing nature

Being one of the park employees who carries around a camera (not counting the ones on phones) and having for several years taken a lot of nature pictures, I thought that I would share my experience with you.

Over the years, I have asked quite a few photographers if they had any standard rules for photographing nature. Their answers ranged from a few things that they have found useful to one who wanted to sell me his book. Two hundred pages on taking nature photography? I don’t think so.

The other problem I run into is those photographers who can’t explain something without using technical jargon and can’t dumb it down.

That being said, when I started to put this together I decided that I would have to keep two things in focus:

1.This is for amateurs.

2. Avoid MEGO information (My Eyes Glaze Over).

I jotted down all the rules that I could think of to help the common photographer. I ended up with about 15. I decided that was way too many, so I pared it down to the following seven and why they are important.

1. Be quiet. Never take somebody with you who can’t shut up. We all have friends like that, probably vaccinated with a phonograph needle (kids, have your parents explain that).

2. Be aware of your surroundings. In other words, don’t be looking up in the tree for something and fall in a hole or step in a creek (done that) or be searching the ground and hit your head on a low limb (done that, too). Be careful out there.

3. Put cellphones on quiet. Turn it off or a least put it on vibrate. I hate to be in a quiet woods and keep hearing a cellphone go off. A phone off for an hour is not going to kill anybody.

I once had a perfect head-on shot of a mallard duck coming straight at me. Some idiot behind me had his cellphone go off (at least three times as loud as it should have been). Then it was “WATSUP, DUDE?!” I jumped, the duck jumped and took off. If the cellphone culprit hadn’t been twice my size, he and the cellphone would have ended up in the river.

4. Leave the pets at home. I love taking the dog for a walk, and even though I still carry the camera, I don’t figure on getting much when I bring Fido along. Wildlife can sense the animal and remain hidden. Small yappy dogs are the worst.

5. Keep the camera ready to shoot, and have spare batteries with you. If your camera has a timer that goes off, keep it going if possible. On my camera, I have to push the shutter down about halfway to keep it going.

Keep spare batteries with you. Once I started out and got about a half a mile from my truck, and the batteries went dead (dummy me forgot to check them first). So it was a walk back to the truck for the batteries. If your camera hasn’t got removable batteries, then make sure it’s fully charged.

6. Take food and drink with you. Should be a no-brainer, but I’ve done it and more than likely, if you haven’t yet, you will. Cutting a photo hike short because you’re hungry or thirsty is a shame.

7. Don’t get upset if you miss a shot. For the past couple of years, I’ve been stalking a couple of Blue Herons that live in the river bottoms behind the house. Mostly what I end up with is the south end of a northbound bird. I’ve gotten other heron pictures, but that’s not the point, and I don’t have a lens longer than my arm and that costs more than my first new car (For reference, that was in 1972 Chevy Vega). Keep in mind that there will always be another time to get the shot you want.

Hope these little hints help. If you ever see me wandering the parks with my camera, stop and have a chat. We can trade stupid stories or talk about the ones that got away.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department.