A couple of weeks ago, I was photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park and witnessed some disturbing although not surprising behavior.  I spent about an hour moving into position to photograph a grazing elk.  After a few minutes of photographing the elk raised its head in alarm.  I didn’t think I had caused it, and when I looked over my shoulder there were no fewer than five people behind me photographing.  They weren’t there a few minutes earlier so I can only guess that they had seen me and ran up behind me putting both them, the elk, and me in danger.


There are two big rules for photographing wildlife 1) don’t feed wildlife, and 2) don’t approach or stress wildlife. 


Human food isn’t healthy for animals, and animals may become dependent on it and stop foraging on their own.  Also, some animals like chipmunks and other rodents can carry deadly diseases like the hantavirus.  Animals like bear and coyote can become aggressive once they learn to equate humans with food and may need to be destroyed.  Large numbers of Coyotes are killed by cars in our national parks each year while begging for food from passing motorists.


Approaching a wild animal may cause it to become stressed.  A stressed animal will use valuable energy it is trying to store for the winter.  A stressed animal can abandon a nest or den leaving its young to die.  Some animals such as moose and bear may actually attack a human if it feels stressed or threatened. 


So without luring an animal with food or approaching it, how do we get good images?  One of the best ways to photograph an animal is with a long lens from your car window.  Most animals are much less suspicious of vehicles then walking people.  If you are very far away and feel it is safe to move closer, never walk directly towards the animal.  Move in a zigzag pattern, avoid eye contact, and move very slowly.  Keep an eye on the animal.  If it looks at you, that is a sign that the animal has noticed you approaching and you are too close. 


Another option is to use a blind (camouflage tent) similar to what hunters use.  The accompanying image of the sandhill crane was made at sunrise after spending the night in a blind on the banks of the Platte River.


On Tuesday, July 22nd, I will be doing a slideshow fundraiser to support Breckenridge Outdoor Education at the Breckenridge Theater.  $5 suggested donation.  Learn more by visiting www.timothyfaust.com and clicking on workshops or calling 970-453-4538.

 For a more photography how-to tips, visit www.timothyfaust.com. Timothy Faust is an award winning photojournalist living in Breckenridge Colorado. If you have a photography question you would like to see answered in this column, please send it to questions@timothyfaust.com.  

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