Often I take off from home “planning” to go photograph a particular bird. More often than not though I end up photographing a bird, mammal, or landscape that I did not plan on encountering.
In fact, I think this is what makes wilderness photography so exciting. When I relax and drop my expectations is when I see something very cool. Hopefully I have my camera with me at the moment. That is the key — to always have my camera with me.
Wildlife photography reminds me of fly-fishing. There is a lot of luck involved, refined skill, and lots of patience. In fly-fishing I found that I could not plan when was going to be a good day on the river. The same seems to be true with photography. A good example of this are the close up photos I was lucky get of the young badger. I had driven 4 hours to some remote mountains, stayed up all night looking for owls, camped out, and realized i did not take one photo. I thought to myself, “Wow, that was a wasted weekend trip”. On my long drive home I suddenly came upon a badger. As I stopped the truck I realized the badger was just as curious in me as I was in it. In a mere 2 minutes I was able to see some really interesting views of its behavior and take photos. Completely unplanned. Of course, if I did not have the camera setup and ready to go, or if I did not realize how to quickly adjust the shutter speed, depth of field, etc. the photos may not have come out. It was a blend of luck, having the camera with me and ready, and being patient with myself that provided the photos.
Keeping a camera with me at all times is easier these days with the high quality mirrorless varieties available and even some high-quality “point-and-shoot” models. Living out in the country where I see wildlife when driving by my home helps. You never know what you will see. Of course, just experiencing the sight of rare wildlife is the real treat. Capturing a photo is a bonus that allows you to share some of that magic with friends and family.
Ironically it seems that I see unexpected wildlife on those days when I am focused on photographing a different species. The more I am determined to photograph an owl is the day that I see a bobcat. Similarly the days where I am photographing wildlife with a very long telephoto lens seem to be the days when I see the most beautiful sunrise or rainbow. Variety is “the spice of life” and these surprise encounters are what make nature photography so exciting.
Now, when I “plan” to go take photos I laugh at myself, since really I am not sure what I will see, or if I will even take any photos. Regardless of the photographic outcomes, the experience of the journey is always worth it.