What NOT TO DO in National Parks

What are 10 things you really should NOT DO in a National Park? Here are the rules and regulations that protect wildlife, plants, and visitors.

National Parks are a treasured part of the American landscape offering visitors the chance to explore some of the world’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring natural environments. It’s no wonder that millions of people flock to these parks every year. 

However, as with any public space, there are rules and regulations in place to protect the park’s natural resources and ensure the safety of visitors.

Whether you’re a seasoned park-goer or planning your first visit, it’s important to be aware of these rules to help preserve these amazing spaces for future generations. 

The following national park rules and regulations are in place for everyone’s safety. That includes people, plants, and wildlife. They should be respected and not bent for your convenience. The importance of these parks is more significant than you and me.

Bighorn sheep © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Do NOT feed the wildlife

The first item on the list is NOT feeding the wildlife. Feeding a cute little chipmunk some of your lunch can be tempting. However, human food can make wild animals extraordinarily ill or even kill them. 

In addition, feeding wild creatures can endanger humans and themselves. Wild animals may hurt a human to get their food if they are used to getting fed. 

In addition, they may be braver to approaching humans and inadvertently get hurt. Most animals are skittish for a reason. That hyper-awareness protects against predators.

Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Do NOT interact with wildlife

I know this goes along the same lines as not feeding wildlife. But you should NOT interact with wildlife at all. 

Two women were seriously injured in separate bison attacks while visiting national parks in just a few days. At Theodore Roosevelt National in western North Dakota, a woman suffered injuries to her stomach area and foot when a bison charged at her. Then, a bison gored a woman in Wyoming. Both were sent to hospitals for treatment.

When it comes to encounters with wild animals, park officials have issued timeworn advice: give them space. Visitors should stay at least 25 yards away from large animals which include bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and coyotes, the park said; they should stay more than 100 yards away from bears and wolves. Mid-July to mid-August is mating season, resulting in aggressive and unpredictable bison.

In June 2022, a bull bison gored a 34-year-old man after he moved “too close,” park officials said. Weeks earlier, a bison had flung a 25-year-old woman 10 feet into the air after she came within 10 feet of the animal. In 2019, a 9-year-old girl was sent airborne from a bison’s head butt which was captured on video and shared on social media. The girl was part of a group that stood within 5 to 10 feet of the bison for at least 20 minutes, officials said.

Pronghorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several reasons why interacting with wildlife is not recommended:

  • Safety: Wild animals are unpredictable and can become aggressive if they feel threatened or cornered. Approaching or touching a wild animal can endanger you and the animal.
  • Disease: Wildlife can carry diseases that can harm humans such as rabies, Lyme disease, and hantavirus. Interacting with wild animals can increase your risk of exposure to these diseases.
  • Disruption of natural behavior: Interacting with wildlife can disrupt their natural behavior and cause them to become dependent on humans for food or other resources. This can lead to problems for animals and humans as it can cause animals to become aggressive or reliant on human handouts.
  • Protection of the environment: Many wildlife species are protected by law and interacting with them can be illegal. Additionally, disturbing or harming wildlife can harm the environment and the ecosystem as a whole.

Overall, respecting the natural boundaries between humans and wildlife is essential to ensure their safety and well-being. If you encounter wild animals, it’s best to observe them from a safe distance and avoid any actions that could harm or disturb them is best.

Hiking the trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. You should NOT veer off trails

Staying on trails when hiking or exploring natural areas is essential for several reasons:

  • Safety: Trails are typically designed and maintained to be safe for visitors. Staying on the trail can avoid hazards such as unstable terrain, steep drop-offs, or poisonous plants.
  • Preservation of natural areas: Trails direct human traffic to minimize environmental impact. By staying on the trail, you can help prevent damage to fragile ecosystems and minimize disturbance to wildlife habitats.
  • Navigation: Trails can serve as a guide and help visitors navigate through unfamiliar terrain. You can avoid getting lost or wandering into unsafe or restricted areas by staying on the trail.
  • Respect for private property: Trails are often established with permission from private landowners or government agencies. You can respect their property and avoid legal or ethical issues by staying on the trail.

Stay on designated paths to help protect yourself and the natural areas you visit.

Animals in national parks are protected by law © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. You CANNOT hunt or trap

Hunting and trapping are generally prohibited in national parks. National parks are designated as protected areas to preserve and protect natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and wildlife populations. Hunting and trapping can disrupt these ecosystems and wildlife populations and are, therefore, not permitted in most national parks.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, some national parks allow limited hunting for specific species to manage their populations or control invasive species. Additionally, some national parks allow certain traditional or ceremonial hunting types by indigenous communities with historical ties to the area.

It’s important to note that national park regulations can vary by location and season. If you plan to visit a national park and have questions about hunting or trapping, check with park officials or consult the park’s website for specific rules and regulations.

Be aware of fire safety when camping in national park and elsewhere © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. NO fires in an ubdesignated area or during a fire ban

Wildfires are a significant threat to national parks. Not only can they cause years of devastation to parks but they can kill many humans and animals in their wake. 

Many national parks allow fires in designated fire pits or grills. However, it’s essential to check with park officials or consult the park’s website to determine if fires are permitted in the area where you plan to visit. Follow any guidelines or restrictions that are in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the park.

If a fire ban exists, the fire danger is too high to light a fire. During fire bans, you are NOT allowed to have a fire, even in designated areas. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. NO drone flying

The NPS banned drone flying in national parks in 2014 according to Policy Memorandum 14–05. This policy applies to any “unmanned aircraft” that drones are classified as.

To fly a drone in a national park, you must obtain a Special Use Permit but these aren’t given out easily. These permits are only for special use cases such as search and rescue, research, and fire safety.

If you fly a drone without a permit, NPS rangers have the authority to confiscate your gear, fine you, and even put you in jail. The maximum penalty is 6 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

NPS has these strict guidelines for a reason, as explained in an article on their website:

“…their use has resulted in noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, park visitor safety concerns, and one documented incident in which park wildlife were harassed. Small drones have crashed in geysers in Yellowstone National Park, attempted to land on the features of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, been lost over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and been stopped from flying in Prohibited Airspace over the Mall in Washington DC.“

Don’t pick the wildflowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Can you pick wildflowers at a national park?

This one is a big NO! Not only are you not allowed to pick flowers or other plants in national parks but it is also illegal under federal law. That is because the NPS has regulations to protect national park areas’ natural beauty and resources of national park areas. 

The Plant Protection Act, the federal law governing the protection of plants, prohibits the unauthorized removal or destruction of plants from federal lands including national parks.

Visitors to national parks are encouraged to enjoy the beauty of the natural environment without disturbing it. Taking photographs or simply admiring the wildflowers in their natural habitat is a great way to appreciate these areas’ beauty while protecting them for future generations.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Do NOT make excessive noise

You should not make excessive noise when visiting a national park. Playing music or speaking louder than a normal speaking tone can disrupt wildlife.

As I’ve already covered, we should disrupt wildlife as little as possible during visits. Loud noises can scare animals and cause them to act differently than they normally would. By disrupting their behavior you can impact their feeding, mating, and other vital habits.

Plus, excessive noise interferes with other visitors’ enjoyment. So, do not yell, scream, or play music for all to hear. It’s not fair to the wildlife or your fellow visitors.

BY THE WAY, if your solution to not playing music for all to hear is to wear headphones, be mindful of the volume level. For your safety, you need to still be able to hear your surroundings including nearby animal noises and shouts of warnings.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. DO NOT leave painted rocks

There is a well-meaning trend where people paint rocks and leave them for others to find. They often paint a happy design or write encouraging words earning them the name kindness rocks.

This trend spawned from a national campaign called The Kindness Rocks Project. It’s meant to inject a little joy or inspire those who find them. And it certainly does in non-public, landscaped settings.

However, as part of the Leave No Trace policy, you should never leave painted rocks in a national park. Nor should you remove any rocks from the national park to paint later!

Even if you use environmentally safe paint on the rocks, the colors and designs can disrupt an ecosystem. Birds and fish in particular can be thrown off by foreign objects disrupting their eating, nesting, and mating behavior.

The painted rocks also pose a serious risk to hikers. People have mistaken painted rocks for trail markers causing them to unwittingly go off trail. And as we learned in Gone Without a Trace: Mysterious Disappearances in National Parks, hikers in national parks go missing more often than you might think.

Be careful and obey all warning signs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. DO NOT ignore warning signs

I know this seems obvious but most incidents, injuries, and fatalities in national parks occur because people ignore the warning signs. As we saw in the above article signs are there for good reason.

The same goes for wandering off the trails and boardwalks. Not to mention touching things you’re warned against! Yet SO MANY PEOPLE ignore these warnings and pay the consequence.

The latest such story is a woman who actually dipped her hand into a steaming hot spring at Yellowstone and then jumped back, yelling, “It’s hot!” To do this, the woman and a man beside her chose to get off the boardwalk, walk to the edge of the hot spring, kneel, and place her hand in it. The whole thing was recorded by onlookers and spread over social media.

Yellowstone has rules prohibiting people from touching, swimming, or soaking in the hot springs because they are so hot they have KILLED people. The spring where this woman did this, Silex Spring, has an average temperature of 174.7 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Last year it was reported that a shoe with a partly disintegrated human foot was found in a hot spring. We’re not sure if the foot was ever identified.

The point is, do NOT think the warning signs don’t apply to you. They are there to keep you, other visitors, and the ecosystem safe.

Here are a few links that may help you prepare for your next RV trip to a national park:

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

The Best Basic Tips for Spring Photos

Are you ready? New birds will be arriving at favorite local birding hotspots as well as the feeders in your campsite.

With another spring season of bird photography opportunities ahead, I’ll revisit what I consider to be the basics of bird photography. I wish someone had offered such a list to me when I bought my first SLR camera and zoom lens. I’ve created this list using my experience along with tips from professionals and others I gleaned by reading extensively. I hope this information will give you a good introduction or a helpful review of all the things you can do to improve your chances of getting quality bird photos this spring.

Yellow-rumped warbler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not every tip listed below in short, concise form will be useful to every photographer but everyone will be able to glean some pointers. I hope the list also offers a bit of inspiration and enthusiasm throughout spring migration and beyond. Many of these methods become second nature with time like making sure the sun is behind you as you focus your lens on birds and holding your breath when you press the shutter button.

This list will help make you a better bird photographer and add a new level of enthusiasm with renewed production from your camera and lens.

I keep my camera within reach at all times. I never want to say: “I wish I had my camera!”

Rose-breasted grosbeak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quality photos require good light. For optimum lighting, make every effort to position youself between the sun and the bird with your shadow pointing at the subject.

The best time to photograph is when the sun is at a 30- to 60-degree angle above the ground—during morning an hour after sunrise and again during late afternoon until an hour before sunset. This practice will provide more direct lighting for bird photography while eliminating most shadows. Avoid photographing during midday when the sun is overhead or mostly overhead.

Be aware of shadows on the bird you are photographing caused by the overhead angle of the sun or when you’re not in the best position concerning the direction of the sunlight. In the field, you often don’t notice a shadow but because shadows are more obvious in photos it’s good to watch specifically for shadows and adjust your position to avoid them when possible.

Ladder-backed woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you try to approach a bird, keep a low profile, move slowly and don’t walk directly at the bird; move at an angle to the bird that gets you ever closer. If necessary slowly zig-zag from side to side as you move ever closer while keeping the sun at your back.

Don’t get too close to birds; allow them to behave naturally. When you stop short of making birds fly they may move closer in your direction.

Anticipate the next move of the birds you are photographing and be prepared to react to that fast action.

Green heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Focus on one eye of the bird to be sure your focal point is centered on the bird. If the bird’s eye is not in focus, your photograph will suffer overall.

Hold your breath when you press the shutter button to help eliminate body motion.

Lightly squeeze your finger down on the shutter release button to reduce any jerky motion on the camera as you take photos.

Peregrine falcon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When photographing birds, stabilize your camera and lens as best you can to reduce body shakes that can be transferred as you hold your camera. (Body shake includes your beating heart and natural internal movements.)

To brace your camera, lean your lens against a tree, post, window frame, or another stable option. When photographing in the open, you can brace your elbows against your chest or sides to provide more stability as you handhold your camera and lens (rather than holding your elbows out to the sides).

Some birders use a tripod to help stabilize their camera and lens but for many of us using a tripod is cumbersome, especially when photographing flying birds. Dealing with a tripod, frankly, takes much of the fun out of bird photography, at least for me. If you use a tripod, select one with thick strong lower legs and you should also use a shutter release cable—that’s no fun either.

Black-crested titmouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Simple camera technique

Don’t use the automatic setting on your camera. Instead, it’s best to set the Mode Dial to Av (aperture priority); then set your aperture (f-stop) and the camera will automatically provide the associated shutter speed as determined by the amount of available light.

Preset your camera so you are ready to take a photo at a moment’s notice which happens fairly often when photographing birds. When I’m in position to photograph and have an extra moment I double-check the settings and adjust any if needed. During sunny days, I preset the ISO to 400, use an aperture of f8 and the resulting shutter speed will usually be between 1/1200 to 1/2000—fast enough to stop most motion.

Blue-winged teal © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Personally, I find the 400 ISO setting to be the best under good sunlight conditions.During low light periods or if the sun goes behind a cloud, I increase the ISO to 800 if the shutter speed is reduced significantly by the shaded sunlight.

I keep my camera’s Al-Servo set so I can take a continuous series of photos. Using this setting it’s possible to take a single photo but you can also take two or three at a time if you hold the shutter button down a moment longer. And when a bird is especially active you can hold the shutter release button down for the camera to take a continuous series of images at a rate of three to 10 photos or more per second depending on your camera model.

Black-necked stilt © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Composing your photos

Try not to center a bird in the middle of the photo; leave a little more space in front of the bird for it to “look into, walk into, swim into, or fly into.”

To better understand how to position a bird within your photo frame, consider the rule of thirds which artists often use when composing their artwork. Photographers also use this technique for photo framing and design although it’s just a guide to be aware of when composing photos.

Be aware of the background of your photo. Try to eliminate distracting twigs and grass from view which may simply be a matter of moving your camera to the right or left or taking a step right or left to get a clearer background that will be less distracting. However, in some cases a twig with budding leaves or other vegetation can add a natural element to a bird photograph.

Willet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Getting a more uniform background can be accomplished with some success by reducing the area in focus (depth of field) to throw the background out of focus. This blurred background effect helps to emphasize your subject and is accomplished by setting your aperture to a narrow f4 or f5. That aperture should keep your bird in focus while blurring the background although this technique works best if there is ample space between the bird and the background elements.

Using a narrow f4 or f5 aperture also provides a faster corresponding shutter speed which is helpful in stopping any motion and creating sharp images. Adjust your ISO if necessary.

Whistling duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile photo blind options

You can use your vehicle as a mobile blind. Birds tend to react to people but mostly ignore a parked vehicle.

Your vehicle provides the option to reposition a few feet forward or backward when needed or to drive onward to look for the next photo opportunity.

Turn off your vehicle any time you are photographing to keep your camera lens as stable as possible.

Cassin’s kingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stabilize your lens by holding it on the top of a slightly raised window or against the side or top of the window frame to reduce body shake that may be transferred as you hold your camera.

As mentioned earlier, hold your breath any time you press the shutter button to reduce any bodily vibrations and press the shutter button lightly to avoid a jerking motion.

Stay inside your vehicle and reduce any motions to make birds less wary. While birds often accept a parked vehicle, that changes if you open a door or get outside.

When you see a promising photo op be especially aware of any vehicles driving behind you and keep safety your first priority. You may need to drive by a bird, find a safe place to pull over, and return to the bird’s location to try for a photo op. Pull safely off the side of the road in the best possible position to photograph your subject with respect to the direction of the sunlight. Keep safety a priority, as always.

Royal tern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photo editing: Composition & design

When using photo editing software, alter the photo as little as possible. Simple cropping of an image can improve a photo by increasing the size of the bird within a photo frame or by cutting out extraneous parts of the background—effectively zooming in on the bird.

Try to keep up with your photo review and editing process which is best performed as soon as possible after each photo session. Keep your photo files orderly, organized, and easy to access.

Little blue heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use a uniform naming system—perhaps one that identifies a bird in a photograph by its location or name along with the year and month the photo was taken. An example of my naming system is: AZ, Catalina SP_2023_03.

Keep at least two copies of all your photos and preferably keep them in different locations to ensure you never lose any of your valuable photos due to a computer crash or damage by fire, flood, or theft. I keep my photos on my laptop for easy access and on external hard drives.

When photographing birds, there is always a definite luck factor. Good Luck!

I provide a variety of tips and techniques on an occasional basis usually mixed into narratives describing photo opportunities but here you have an easy to refer to reference list.

Common moorhen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following I offer additional posts for your photographing and reading pleasure:

Have fun, get excited, display your favorite photos, and share your photos with others—it’s all part of the joy of photographing birds. Enjoy this spring season!

Worth Pondering…

Photography is the beauty of life, captured.

—Tara Chisholm

Tips and Techniques for Improving Bird and Wildlife Photography

Taking your wildlife photography to the next level

Spring is on the horizon and although wildlife photography can be a year-round activity, I’m excited for the warmer weather, blooming flora, and lots of critters being up and active. We’re gathering our cameras, lenses, and other photo gear and itching to get outdoors.

Photographers at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet, no matter the season, I am always excited to grab a long lens and explore nature and hopefully come away with some bird and wildlife photos. As I’ve said before, I’m not a professional photographer by any means. However, I certainly put myself in the enthusiast category and I’ve been photographing wildlife for many years.

Gilded flicker at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife photography is more than just having a camera and pointing it at an animal. There are tips and techniques, both in terms of composition and gear that can help make wildlife photography easier and hopefully help you be more successful in capturing great photos of birds, critters, and other animals.

Elk at Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below is a list of important tips and techniques for birding and wildlife photography that I’ve learned over the years and try to keep in mind whenever I’m out photographing birds and other animals. Keep in mind that this list of tips is by no means exhaustive but it does cover some important guidelines and suggestions for gear selection and shooting techniques as well as artistic and creative tips for improving your wildlife and bird photos.

Related Article: The Beginners Guide to Birding (and Bird Photography) on Your Next Outdoor Adventure

Now, without further ado…

Photographers at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buy a telephoto lens

This first tip is, perhaps, a somewhat obvious one, especially if you’re already familiar with birding and wildlife photography but one key piece of photo gear for a good wildlife photography experience is a long, telephoto lens. There isn’t one particular focal length that works best for all situations; however, I’ve found that a solid starting point is a focal length of 400mm.

Wood storks at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Depending on your camera system, the options for a 400mm telephoto lens can vary quite a bit but be aware that supertelephoto lenses can often be expensive. You also have the option for a prime lens or a zoom.

Rocky mountain sheep in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In most cases a zoom lens is a great choice that gives you some versatility. A fantastic choice for a great wildlife-centric telephoto zoom is a 100-400mm-style zoom or a 150-600mm zoom. Several manufacturers make these types of lenses at both affordable and high-end price points. Some options may make optical comprises to some extent in order to make such a long-zoom lens reasonable lightweight and usable handheld so you’ll need to weigh what type of budget you’re comfortable with and what kind of image quality performance you’re looking for.

Inca doves at Edinburg Wetlands, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use a tripod or monopod

Since many full-frame format supertelephoto lenses are large and heavy, consider using a tripod or monopod or some form of support. Many of these lenses can hit in the 6, 7, or 8-pound range which can get very tiring to use handheld for any length of time. And birding and wildlife photography takes patience.

Related Article: Photographing Wading Birds

Mourning dove at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tired arms and general soreness means less steady hand-holding resulting in missed shots, blurriness, or missed focus, and just generally less enthusiasm to keep shooting. A good monopod or tripod can help get you sharper shots and keep you shooting for longer.

Roseate spoonbill in flight at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use fast shutter speeds

Be aware of your shutter speed, and in particular, use a faster shutter speed for sharper photos especially for birds in flight. The traditional rule of thumb has been using a shutter speed of “1 / the focal length” (in terms of a 35mm full-frame camera). For example, if you’re using a 400mm lens on a full-frame camera, a good starting point is 1/400ths of a second in order to avoid blurring from camera shake. However, that means the longer the lens, the faster the shutter speed needs to be. For birds-in-flight, however, a good starting point here is at least 1/1000s, but I’d recommend shooting with even faster speeds, such as 1/2000th of a second. But 1/1000th of a second at the minimum for birds in flight is a good starting point.

Yellow warbler at Benson-Rio Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pay attention to background elements

With a telephoto lens, you are able to bring faraway subjects closer and one of the best creative benefits to such a lens is the ability to isolate your subject and create smooth, blurry backgrounds. The ability to remove distractions is one of the great benefits to a telephoto lens. Be mindful of objects in the background. When photographing perched birds in trees pay attention to leaves, tree branches, and other objects that are positioned behind your subject.

Great horned owl at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get creative with your shooting angles

When photographing birds, you’ll likely find yourself pointing upward into the trees. While this can work and make for some interesting images, you’ll often end up photographing the underside of the animal which might not be the most attractive pose or position or you may have to contend with your subject being heavily backlit with a bright sky. 

Green jay at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If possible, try to position yourself at a different elevation or more at the same level as your subject. As you might expect, this is easier when photographing ground-based animals as you can more easily get down to a lower position and more at their level. For birds up in trees, this can be a difficult task depending on your location and surroundings. Getting level with birds is more easily accomplished when photographing near bird feeders or if you’re fortunate to find yourself in a location with elevated walkways or trails that put you more up into the trees. For shorebirds, water birds, or other ground birds, again, the key is to go low and close to eye level.

Related Article: Bird Photography Basics: On Camera Equipment and Shooting Techniques

Plain chachalaca at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the sun at your back

When possible, position yourself so that the sun is behind you and illuminating your subject. You don’t want to be photographing a bird or other animal with the sun behind it as it will likely be harshly backlit and underexposed. With the sun illuminating your subject you’re able to capture the beautiful colors and the sharp detail in fur or feathers of your subject.

Curved-billed thrasher at Whitewater Draw, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seek out good light

Consider the time of day when photographing birds in flight. Much like the golden hours rule for landscape photography, these are also ideal lighting conditions for photographing birds in flight. Light is softer, has a warming glow, and properly illuminates the bird. If the sun is too high in the sky, the underside of the bird will likely be in shadow.

Black-bellied whistling ducks at La Feria Nature Center, Texas

Research your shooting locations

Research your location before you go. You’ll be more comfortable and aware of your surroundings and you’ll have already scouted some good locations for wildlife and be prepped to set up shop and wait for photo opportunities.

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State and national parks, national wildlife refuges, and nature preserves are prime locations for birds and other wildlife and are conducive to photography. They often provide bird blinds and feeding stations which are ideal for observation and photography.

Birds sometimes land right where you want them © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be patient, be quiet and take your time

Last but definitely not least: be patient.

Related Article: The Basics of Bird Photography: Before, During, and After Photo Sessions

Birds and wildlife are unpredictable and they won’t often land or appear right where you want them. But that’s part of the fun of this type of photo subject, the unpredictability of it all. However, wildlife photography takes patience. Traipsing through the woods will alert most animals to your presence and so you’ll want to get into a good spot and then wait, quietly. Eventually, the birds and animals will likely start to ignore you or become okay with your presence, so long as you’re calm and quiet. 

Ground squirrel at San Pedro House, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the same lines as being patient, it’s also important to be diligent and observe your subject once you’ve spotted it. Don’t just snap a single frame and call it a day. Watch for interesting behavior or certain poses that can bring the subject to life and show some of its personality.

Worth Pondering…

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.

—George Eastman