Taking photographs of wildlife requires many skills—hand/eye coordination, composition, the ability to follow-focus, patience, and good exposure technique. It’s also a fantastic way to appreciate animals in their natural habitat and allows for a powerful emotional connection between the viewer and the animal.
With wildlife watching participation steadily increasing in the United States, we turned to Ray Hennessy, a professional photographer, to ask him about tips and techniques for photographing everything from whooping cranes to red fox in the wild.
Please take a moment to also visit his website at crushedboxphoto.com to learn more about Ray’s work and click through the slideshows below to view more high-quality shots.
1. When did you first become interested in wildlife photography, and how have your interests evolved over time?
When I was 18, which I now realize is 15 years ago, I got my first job working in photography at a wedding and portrait studio. This job got me very interested in photography and once digital SLRs became more popular my interest in that grew.
My father was always interested in photography and used a 35mm camera to photograph the birds around his home. I helped him transition to the digital world and he helped grow my interest in wildlife photography. It was a great way for us to do something together and still be outdoors like we were when I was younger. It was like hunting with a camera.
Currently my main focus is with bird photography but I won’t pass up a chance to photograph any other wildlife or a beautiful scene.
2. What do you suggest beginner photographers do to brush up their skills at home before they start photographing animals in the wild?
My best suggestion to anyone interested in photographing wild animals is to get outside and start taking photos. The best way to learn is to take lots of photos, I mean don’t stop shooting and shooting and learning from your mistakes. Looking at other photographers photos can be great inspiration but nothing beats trying it yourself. In my experience it doesn’t matter where you live there is always wildlife around. Check your local park and start spending time there, you will be surprised what you find. Some of my best photos have been taken at the park around the corner from my home which is in a very developed area.
3. Is it enough to have the right equipment in order to be a good wildlife photographer or are there other areas of knowledge that are critical?
The right equipment is certainly an advantage for wildlife photography but to really take your photography to the next level you must know the habits and behavior of the wildlife you are photographing. This is the area I have the most to learn myself and it requires what I mentioned above, a lot of time spent in the field.
4. Do you have a particular animal that you greatly enjoy photographing? Are there any animals that prove to be more difficult to capture than others?
The most common subject in front of my lens are birds. They can be found almost everywhere and provide a great challenge in a huge variety of locations and situations. From tiny birds hopping around the tree tops to ducks swimming in the water to large birds of prey soaring through the air, there is no shortage of opportunity.
I find most mammals to be a very tough subject to photograph and to get close to, they are always on alert and are great at seeing me before I see them. I have found most success with mammals by visiting locations where they are more used to humans and don’t run away so quickly. It takes away some of the challenge of true wildlife photography but it can be a great way to get more experience with different wildlife.
5. Do you have any sort of “wish list” of animals you’d like to photograph or places you’d like to visit to do so?
I don’t really have a specific wish list of animals I’d like to photograph but I would certainly like to visit more exotic locations if I had the chance. I’m only photographed wildlife in North America and mainly along the east coast of the US but traveling to other continents would surely be fun.
6. Where do you think a person wanting to improve their wildlife photography should focus their time, effort and money?
I think anyone’s wildlife photography can be most improved by spending a lot of time in the field and taking lots of photos. Digital photography affords us the ability to take a lot of photos with the only “cost penalty” being the time spent editing through all of them. When you first start out this time penalty is almost always worth it. As your skills increase so will your ability to take less photos with better results. As far as spending money, as it has been said many times before, spend more money on lenses and less on the cameras. A good lens will increase your wildlife photography quality much quicker than a good camera will and that lens will hold its value much more.