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Be careful when photographing wildlife

Our communal outdoor areas are enjoying a popularity level that they haven’t seen in a long time. As people emerge from their COVID quarantines they are traveling to our national parks, beaches and forests to experience nature.

Nature of course includes wildlife that never left the splendor of the great outdoors. People naturally want to take a photo of their new “friends” — please be careful when doing so and remember you are in their home, and you need to act accordingly.

A few years ago, we visited Yellowstone in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The park is stunning as is the wildlife that lives there. Some of the humans visiting the park left a little to be desired.

Let’s use the example of the giant bear. As we drove through the park in an SUV, I had a pair of Nikons tucked where you would normally have a cup of coffee between the front seats. When a giant bear appeared in a field, I respectfully kept my distance and used a 300 mm lens to take a photo through the slightly open window of the 2,000-pound vehicle.

Others were not so respectful or careful. Several people leaped from their cars, iPhones in hand, to take photos of this mammoth animal with giant claws. This troubled me in so many ways.

First, your iPhone is a great device for doing a lot of different things. It has a decent camera on it for taking close photos of you and your friends. Taking photos of wildlife is another matter. You have two choices. Use the built-in zoom function, but doing so will produce an inferior image that looks pixelated. Or you can also get closer to the wildlife. This is always a bad idea. Some wildlife can kill you. I have been a photographer for nearly half a century. No photo is worth dying for. I admit, I have taken chances I should not have, but standing in front of a bear with claws as big as my head is not one of them.

Planning can help you capture better photos of wildlife. Using a zoom lens will get you closer to the action without risking life and limb. There are plenty of camera choices available. In general, a true camera will do better than a phone camera. You want to make sure the zoom function though is an optical zoom. Otherwise, you are just blowing up the same number of pixels and will get the same result you would get from cropping a photo from further away. A high-end phone can produce decent zoom photos, but for the cost you could buy several camera set-ups.

Getting too close to wildlife will also disturb the animal, forcing some to move away from you because they are afraid. When they move out of fear, they are using energy. Wildlife use a lot of energy to find food. Using it to move away from you simply wastes the energy that they need to find dinner.

On page 2 of today’s Times is a wonderful photo of a fox near Churchtown shot by Kelley Hughes. It’s well done because it is shot from a long distance with a telephoto lens. The background is clean and simple, and the fox appears to be at ease with its surroundings.

There have been a lot of wonderful wildlife photos recently, including a deer with its fawn, baby bald eagles and a pair of woodpeckers. Wildlife photography be rewarding and frequently just requires you to be ready with your camera and respectful with your distance when you come upon the creatures in nature.

Art Smith is online manager of The Marietta Times. He can be reached at asmith@mariettatimes.com

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