Wildlife photography has opened the door for me to spend a great deal of time outdoors leading to some rich and rewarding experiences. Below are 5 lessons that I learned along the way that can be applied to areas outside this specific art form:
I spend a great deal of time in the Canadian Rockies where I often stand in awe of the beauty of the mountains that have stood tall long before humans roamed the Earth. I think about all the things these mountains must've seen, and what they might see still in the future. Things like wars, significant inventions, and discoveries. There is something powerful and humbling about standing at the base of a mountain that has been there for millions of years that puts things in perspective, offering a reminder of just how short our time is on this planet.
2. Patience not required
I often hear that wildlife photography requires "patience". In my experience, patience is something I draw on when doing a task that I don't truly enjoy. The result ultimately being that my patience runs out. While capturing a stunning image may take a great deal of time, I don't (most of the time) feel that I'm waiting or being patient because my main motivation is spending time in nature. A great photo in that case becomes the byproduct of the experience and not the be-all end-all. So if I don't get the shot I was looking for, I'm perfectly happy to do it all over again the next day - in fact, I can't wait! Simply put, there's no other place I'd rather be so I don't watch the clock.
3. "There is no tomorrow" - Apollo Creed
If you're like me, you might have passed up an opportunity to photograph a commonly seen animal in search of a more elusive one. A few years ago while camping in the Canadian Rockies, I came across a herd of elk on an early foggy morning drive. The scene was absolutely stunning...but you know what I did? I drove past the herd in search of a grizzly bear as I felt that was the more interesting subject. After failing to find a grizzly bear, I passed by the elk one more time and only then truly appreciated just how perfect the conditions were with the fog and beautiful forest that they were in. I quickly rushed to snap a few pictures and regretted not stopping earlier as the elk were gone moments later. Three years later and I've yet to see elk in that same forest or in similar conditions. Moral of the story: an elk in the forest in front of you is worth two grizzly bears in the bush.
4. Soak it in
Each encounter with a wild animal is unique which is part of the draw in what makes wildlife photography so exciting. With that said, encounters can be few and far in between. This makes appreciating these fleeting moments even that much more significant. When outdoors, I take notice of the sights, sounds, smells around me to gain a deeper appreciation of the animal's world. I take special notice of how the animal is interacting with the landscape, other animals, and what it seems to be doing and looking to do. This has greatly improved my photography as I was better able to compose images after paying closer attention to the patterns of what my subjects were doing.
5. We are more similar than we think
My experiences with wild animals have shown me the love and care they have for one another. I've watched mothers put their lives on the line for their young and watched a distressed cow moose's repeated attempts at helping a bull moose whose antlers got entangled in some fence wires. Many people might feel that wild animals don't have emotions but if you spend enough time outdoors you might find yourself reevaluating that belief.
The lessons I continue to learn from spending time outdoors with wild animals have often been subtle but profound in their meaning, finding application in other areas as well. Time in nature has also been a great self-care activity as I always find peace and serenity in the solitude of being outdoors. It doesn't hurt when I walk away with a great image too.