The Secret of Stalking Wildlife

© Mike Spinak


I sometimes get asked how I manage to approach wild animals so closely, to get these photos.

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For many nature photographers, stalking wildlife means things like moving very slowly, avoiding eye contact and not looking at the animal, wearing clothes which are visually confusing about body shape and contours, using scent-free soaps and cosmetics, and so on, while closing the distance to the animal as much as possible. For some others, it means speaking softly to animals as you approach them, to let them know you’re friendly; maintaining eye contact, to recognize signs of behavioral changes which indicate when you are beyond the animal’s comfort zone; and the like.

These kinds of techniques are valid and relevant. (Just keep in mind that, in most circumstances, it’s silly to think you can sneak up on these animals while they remain unaware of you; the goal is more to prevent them from getting alarmed by your approach, rather than to be unnoticed.) I use these techniques, too, as often as necessary – which is fairly often, with unplanned animal encounters. However, while these techniques have a solid place in wildlife photography, they are not the main part of the equation, for me. In fact, I consider walking up to wild animals not-preferable; I prefer a different technique, when possible.

My preferred technique is to let the animals come to me. Animals coming to you will, generally, come much closer than they will let you come to them – and they will be more comfortable, and behave more naturally, when they do.

So, how do you get animals to come to you? It’s largely a matter of figuring out where they will want to be, and being there, first – placing yourself by the only watering hole for miles around, before dusk; placing yourself by the good sunbathing rocks where cold blooded animals will want to warm themselves, before daybreak; placing yourself by the food source where the animals will need to come and feed; placing yourself by the path the animals must walk along; placing yourself by the best perch in the area; and so forth.

If you haven’t tried to plan close encounters with wildlife by going where animals want to be, first, and thereby getting them to come to you, then: please do yourself a favor, and give it a try.


Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus), Mount Evans, Colorado


All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.

  • Iratxe - Hi Mike,
    I have just discover this very interesting site thanks to facebook. In my country, Spain, is not very common this kind of encounters whith wildlife. Here animal are very elusive, is very dificult to see them and almost impossible to photograph. You have caught a nice moment, the look of the goat is tame and beautiful.

    RegardsReplyCancel

  • Mark - Sound advice. Go figure that I usually see the most deer in my woods when I am walking and making all sorts of noise. Sit there quietly with a camera, and not a critter in sight! ;-) ReplyCancel

  • naturography - Hi, Iratxe. Thank you. Welcome to my website.ReplyCancel

  • naturography - Hi, Mark. Thanks for visiting. I’ve admired your photography for a long time.
    I also encounter a lot of animals when I’m outing walking, making all kinds of noise. I’ll suddenly stumble upon them, or vice versa. It pays to be ready!ReplyCancel

  • G Dan Mitchell - “My preferred technique is to let the animals come to me.”

    Absolutely!

    This also brings to mind another consideration that is often helpful – learning to understand and anticipate the patterns and habits of the animals. While I’m not primarily a wildlife photographer, I do some wildlife photography and I have a few obsessions. Photographing pelicans along the Pacific coast is one of those. Over the years and by careful observation I have learned to recognize certain “paths” that the birds may often take as they fly along the coast. I remember being very surprised to find that they frequently follow the same rather narrow routes year after year.

    For example, I know of one particular bluff along the northern California coast where I can almost always set up and within minutes find birds flying within a few feet of my position as they (I presume) ride the updrafts along the top of the bluff.

    DanReplyCancel

  • naturography - Dan, I completely agree about learning to understand and anticipate the patterns and habits of the animals. I somewhat touched upon this in my article Get Lucky, but I should probably eventually write an article specifically about it.
    I love shooting pelican photos, too. I just posted one for you. I hope you enjoy it.ReplyCancel

  • Roberta - Good advice. I also advocate the use of blinds and camouflage. I don’t specifically photograph wildlife, and even when I do I’m not usually interested in getting close, since I prefer landscapes with the animals being a part of the environment. But I do use blinds and these techniques for birds.

    I love your mountain goat too. I have a real love for goats but have only seen them once. Everyone else always sees them in the mountains, but they seem to elude me – which is probably why they are at the top of my ‘most want to see’ list.ReplyCancel