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When and Where: How to Rapidly Improve Your Wildlife Photography
I look back on some of my earliest photographs and wonder, what in the world was I thinking. Either the subjects look like dots in the frame, or, if I did happen to get one of my subjects large enough in the frame to be recognized, the exposure was usually off.

People spend thousands of dollars on film, equipment, books, and travel, to take photographs of wildlife. Unfortunately in many cases that is all that happens. We press the shutter release on our camera, in an attempt to produce an image that we will enjoy, and enjoy sharing with our friends and family. However, the final results are not often how we envisioned them.

These tips are the least expensive; easiest to master, and offer the biggest opportunity for improvement of any other two tips I could offer.

1.) Location, Location, Location

The best places to take wildlife photos for most are where you find other people, and the wildlife has become accustomed to humans.

Here are some examples:
In the Everglades, you’re driving along US 41 and see a beautiful Great Blue Heron on the bank of the canal that runs along the road. You stop the car, get your camera ready and you get the photograph, unfortunately the Heron is on the other side of the canal, about 150 feet away from you. The dot look is in full effect. Or in this case the Heron is on your side of the canal, you stop, open the your car door and the Great Blue flies off before you can fire a frame. Both are very frustrating cases. Here is the cure. Anhinga Trail, Eco Pond and Shark Valley. These are places located in the Everglades National Park, and you do not need super telephoto lenses to take photographs and make pleasing images you will be proud of. Here are some examples of places to find friendly wildlife: Fishing Piers, Fish Camps, Well Traveled Board Walks (watch for vibration) State and County Parks. In Florida, we have so many options, I’ve included some of the most productive, just in case you choose to visit and take pictures in this wonderful area.

1.) Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park
2.) Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
3.) Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach
4.) Alligator Farm (Wild bird rookery)
5.) The Fishing Pier, Sanibel Island
6.) Ft. DeSoto - North Beach, St. Petersburg
7.) Gatorland (Wild bird rookery)
8.) Lake Morton, Downtown Lakeland
9.) Dunedin Causeway, Dunedin
10.) Medard Park, Turkey Creek

2.) The Golden Light Rule

Photography is all about light! We use the best equipment we can afford, the best film and processing, why not use the best light? Light adds color, warmth or coolness, texture and depth to a photograph.

On clear days, I shoot for approximately the first two and last two hours of each day. I do this because I love the warm color the morning and afternoon sun provides for my images, it is also a lower contrast light, so it is easier to photograph subjects such as the white wading birds that are so common in Florida. The light just after sunrise and before sunset is also very soft, as the sun is filtered through the thickest layers of the atmosphere. Photographs made this time of day can provoke a strong mood.

The effect of warm light is more evident on film than to the naked eye, but in time, you will be able to know when the light is too cool or harsh to make the images you prefer without looking at a watch.

Now for those overcast days, and overcast days are completely different ball games. When it is overcast, I shoot all day long! The lower contrast provided on these days is much like using a giant soft box you would see in a studio. The color temperature is cooler, however a warm up filter like an 81a or 81b will help bring the color temperature back to a more pleasing range. When conducting tours I always hope for clear mornings and afternoons with a dose of overcast for the middle part of the day.

Light is the most critical and least expensive element of making a pleasing photograph, take advantage of it!

As a photographer, it doesn’t get much better than being at the right place at right time. Our mind can be the best photographic tool we have, but we must give it good information, such as when and where to make the best photographs. Even with the finest equipment and film, you will still get poor results, shooting at poor locations with poor light.

If you would like specifics about the locations mentioned in this article, please email me at james@wildflorida.net.

Shoot Early and Often,

James Shadle
Wild Florida Photography
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Nature photography workshops and guided photo tours
Nature photography, wildlife photography of Florida's natural places