Photographing animals in motion, was one of the first aspects of the invention of the lighter, quicker and more mobile 35mm camera to be put into use by photographers. There have been those photographers for whom making pictures of wildlife in motion was/is an addiction, or better said a sickness.
Action is motion, addiction is sickness (the good kind), therefore we have Motion Sickness. Well, sort of.
I came to nature photography from other types of image making, especially auto racing photography. Stop action image making of things going fast, sometimes well-over 200 mph, was normal for me. That should mean that catching animals in action would be easy. So you’d think. The truth is that much of auto racing photography is stopping action of vehicles (and drivers) that pass by “almost” the same spot lap after lap. Wild animals, are not so predictable, but there are lessons to be learned. Birds usually take off and land into the wind (man uses this with airplanes). They (birds that is) often lighten their load (defecate) just before flying. Those facts can be used to predict their actions and flight patterns. Mammals who are hunting or fishing, use the same stalk and attack methods that man does. Butterflies have preferred flowers. Those that contain the most nectar. They will often flutter right past the flowers that they do not care for. Learning which flowers they prefer helps in the making of action pictures of butterflies.
All action isn’t obvious. Implied action is important to tell stories. We all know that in this Charles Glatzer (brilliant) image of an Alaskan’ Brown Bear waiting patiently for a salmon to appear, the implied action will soon explode into actual action.
The slightest movement is action. The lift of a leg, is action that foretells us of more action to come. This Dan Walter’s image of a Spotted Sandpiper with an outstretched leg, shows minimal action, but it is still action and it tells a story. The bird is stretching, most likely in preparation for flight or maybe before wading into the surf to find food. I personally love these minimal action pix. They are an example (my opinion) of the natural art that wildlife presents to us. We just need to recognize it, photograph it, and share it.
Of course there is action and then there’s action. David Hemmings is one of the best known action/wildlife photographers in the world and he shows us why on a daily basis. This Brown Bear is likely chasing a salmon or trout. Does it matter that it is left to our imagination why the bear is running through the water? Sometimes great imagery plus our imagination, is better than knowing the actual reason.
This is yet another David Hemmings photo and it displays one of the most popular forms of action photography with wildlife, birds in flight. This Northern Hawk Owl seems to be posed in mid-air. The epitome of “stop action”.
Sharon Landis is one of the best flight shot photographers whose work I am privileged to view on a daily basis. She is becoming my “go to” photographer for Bald Eagles and this image shows why. Excellent!
In some ways flight shots of birds “can be” easier than most action photography. Quite often, they have that moment, especially if they are hunting from the air, or getting ready to land, when they almost perch in mid-air. Becoming in-sync with that moment, is one of the best ways to create action images with birds.
All action images do not have to be frame filling, in your face pictures. This picture of two Lesser Kestrels from Michael Fadda is one of my favorites in today’s post. The image is quaint and powerful (violent?) at the same time. Aerobatics and squabbles between animals are winning subjects, but being able to catch both in one photo is outstanding. Hopefully Michael thanked his subjects for sharing their story and their art.
This Todd Gustafson picture of migrating Wildebeest, is not only another example of action imagery that is not so tight, it is a great example of story telling images that are also natural art. An amazing sight.
Practicing action/behavior photography in zoos is a great way to perfect your style. Many of today’s zoos allow animals more freedom and the ability to live with other species that are natural to their world in the wild. This Laurie Rubin image of a young Giraffe chasing some Ostriches is rich and heart-warming.
Steve Race is another photographer that I follow for those great heart-stopping wildlife moments. This Gannet was caught in a full stretch just before hitting the water. That takes practice. For both the bird and the photographer.
Many of you may be growing weary of hearing me discuss how today’s equipment will allow current photographers do things not possible just a few years ago. The truth is, that wildlife action is on the top of the list of those things. Some of the images above were not possible without super fast auto focus, the ability to bump up ISO speeds for more shutter speed and depth of field, and sensors with such resolving power that huge crops are possible. With that being said, great action photography is never easy and probably never will be. It takes patience and persistence. It also takes practice and that means you have to be out in the field doing it quite often. Occasional photographers are not likely to get anything but the occasional lucky shot. I think you will find, that it’s worth the time and the effort. Catch some motion sickness.
If I would have continued with photography until I was 100 years old, I would have always made some wildlife images. It is true that macro photography, landscape photography, low light photography and abstracts of all sorts afforded me (and you) the opportunity to be a little more creative, and to showcase how I think and how I feel about the subject. I do however believe, that all photographers need to create some images that are not so much about us. Besides, there is absolutely nothing like spending a day watching our wild cousins. How they are like us, and how they are different. They will teach us lessons which we can share with the world.
I am happy that the final pictures I made were of wild animals. I was privileged to observe them and share with the world the natural art that they are.
God Bless, Wayne