Every couple of years I like to share with you a post which contains
all wildlife portraits. These are all mine and most have been shown
previously on these pages. They range from moderate closeness, to
tightly cropped, either by my lens choice and/or close proximity to
the subject, or by cropping during the editing process.
There is something that a really close look at animal’s face conveys
to us, that more distant images can not. I am not speaking of just
details, but of sort of that “window to the soul” feeling that we get.
We take what we learn from being close to people, and extrapolate
toward our wild friends.
As you can see, I have included some limited information or comments
with each image. All images were made in the wild, unless otherwise
Human beings are mammals. It is not hard to understand why our
relationship with mammals in the animals kingdom, is somewhat
different than it is with other critters. We can “sort of” relate to
Profiles have their place in wildlife portrait photography. North
American Badger in Colorado, and a White-tail Deer in Illinois.
I show the deer photo not to display a great example of a super close
penetrating image of this species. I am using it because it doesn’t
work, despite some great winter light, and some nice detail.
Anytime we come “into” an animal so deep that we are visually close
enough to kiss the subject, make sure the composition is fluid and
smooth. This comp is uncomfortable and we feel like I literally
chopped the deer’s ears off. It might be improved with an even tighter
crop where what doesn’t show, looks like it was intentional by me,
instead of looking like I cut off part of the subject.
Win some, lose some.
Rocky Mt. Bighorn Sheep (ram) in South Dakota.
This is a tight crop, created when I was in the field, that works. We
are into his face and eyes but there is no doubt that he has ears and
horns. There is some rhythm to the comp, and the animal appears
endearing rather than injured.
Despite the fact that the deer photo has better light, and therefore
better eyes, this ram photo is in my opinion, a better portrait.
Sometimes it is the “little critters” that are the charmers.
White-tailed Prairie Dog in Colorado, and a Thirteen-lined Ground
Moose. Minnesota I believe.
American Bison, Wyoming.
Mammal portraits do not have to be static. Muskrat.
Wild burro mare and foal, South Dakota. These animals are only
technically wild. I shook an empty plastic bag at them when I was a
thousand feet away, and they came to investigate.
Zoos are great paces to practice animal portrait photography. The
Cinereous Vulture and the Andean Bear that you see below, also
afforded me the opportunity to practice side profiles and “straight
on” portraits. Those captive circumstances also allowed me to return
time and time again, so I could wait for the light to become more
dramatic. Drams, and contrast, have a place in portraiture.
The most common wildlife photography practiced in every corner of this
earth, is that of birds.
Birds are colorful and active. If mammals provide for photographers
and future viewers of their images, a commonality and almost a bonding
experience, birds give is a glimpse into something different. They
look different (feathers beaks, etc.), and most of them fly. Bird
portraits in some respects, bring them back to out level.
I was making some very tight portraits of this Red-tailed Hawk when it
burst into flight. This image is sort of an action portrait.
This photo of a foraging Sandhill Crane is another example of a type
of action portrait. The action is the foraging but what makes it a
portrait in most people’s minds, is the fact that the subject almost
fills up the entire picture frame.
Another action portrait. This one is so tight within the picture
frame, that it is almost uncomfortable to look at. The beautiful bird
and light, and the spectacular action pose resurrect the image’s
Another tight action pose. This is a Caspian Tern with a wedding
gift for the lady he hopes to inspire.
Male Northern Bobwhite.
A huge crop with this one! A Rough-legged Hawk.
A Great-horned Owlet. This is another large crop.
A male Redhead Duck.
One of my favorite birds. An American Bittern just outside my car window.
Reptiles and amphibians seem like difficult subjects for close-up
portraits. Really, if you can spot one that is landlocked and somewhat
in the open, they are obliged to remain where they are. Always, put
your subject ahead of your pictures. Be kind, make your pictures, and
Painted Turtle, and two female Common Snapping Turtles.
Northern Water Snakes are feisty and they can and will bite. While
they are quick on land, they are at their best in the water. I
captured this portrait right next to a waterway.
Among my favorite subjects are frogs. This Bull Frog appeared to have
left its pond during a rain. The ground remained soaked for a while
and before it contemplated making the trip back to the pond, I
“quickly” crawled around in the wet grass with camera and (ground
level) tripod. I made my images and left, after thanking my subject.
Little critters are ripe of portraits as well. It often requires
serious close-up/macro equipment, and a lot of time and patience.
Bee Fly posing like a championship boxer. Patience and quick reflexes
can leave you with interesting poses.
I was thrilled to find this snail half out of its shell, and taking a
walk. It was very slow (sort of snail like) but you can’t photograph
it if you don’t see it and you won’t see it is you don’t look.
This originated on film.
Wildlife present us with a myriad of possible images to be made.
Certainly great action and behavior mean a lit, but never quit making
portraits, and remember that close-up images do not have to be
completely still shots, void of movement or emotion.
Portrait photography will always be with us, make sure you are ready
to take advantage of every opportunity.
There’s always another pretty face waiting for you camera.