Good behavior is something toward which we should all aspire. It’s often rewarded. As both a former teacher and current parent, I look to the positive and make a big deal about it when it happens. But when I photograph wildlife, I change my tune and I want the bad boy in my subjects to surface. For instance, good boy stands still and is not restless at all – bad for wildlife images. Bad boy ruffles his feathers and chases the others – good for images. Good boy is quiet and calm – bad for images. Bad boy snorts and shows an attitude – good for images. Portraits of animals in their environment are very common. Even those in great light. Will I continue to shoot these images – of course. But capturing dramatic behavior when photographing wildlife is what it’s all about.
For those of you who have kids and subscribe to Highlights magazine or are old enough to remember reading it yourself, you’ll know Goofus and Gallant. If not, just go with the flow. When I photograph animals, I want Goofus. I want the animal who shows me some bad boy action. I want to see attitude and emotion as it majestically raises its head and emits a superior demeanor. I want to capture the image of the big bull elk strutting through the river as if he owns it. This is when my shutter finger gets active. As cool as it is to capture any animal in the wild, it’s so nice when behavior is displayed. It takes patience and persistence and you need to keep your eye glued to the viewfinder as the decisive moment lasts only a short while. Stay with it to increase your odds of capturing it.
When animals are by themselves, wait until they begin to do something other than stand still and look pretty. I encourage you to take the standing still image, but I doubly encourage you to wait for the action. It may be a feeding behavior or something as simple as a yawn or scratching an itch, but in that it shows the animal doing something, it will make a more dramatic photo. Wait for a bird to take flight, for the bull moose to lip curl, the snake to test the air with its tongue, or any and all behavior that adds interest to the wildlife image.
I really like it when there’s more than one subject to get interaction. It’s a great stepping stone to capture a dramatic shot. When animals go nose to nose, I love to press the shutter. If there’s some sort of scuffle, it’s also a great time to take the image. Territorial displays let you produce excellent photos as each subject vies for supremacy. Watch carefully as the animals interact. Often a small twist of the head or position of the eye can make the difference between a great photo and a mediocre one. There will always be a decisive moment when the connection between the two subjects peak. While I look through the viewfinder, I try to