Fieldcraft When starting out on the wildlife photography road I came across many references to fieldcraft, and its importance when out in the field, trying to get close to your chosen wildlife subject.
I have to admit at the time that I didn't pay this much attention as most of what I was seeing & reading on the subject seemed to be common sense; don't upset or cause your subject matter discomfort or stress, respect the environment where you are filming etc.
But it's been over the past few months of being out in the field as it were, I have come to respect the concept of fieldcraft all the more, and realise how important it is when trying to get natural and inspired wildlife photos.
To me it can be broken down into two areas;
1) Fieldcraft relating to how you treat the environment you are in and and the subject matter you are photographing, and
2) Your impact on the environment and your intrusion on your subject matter.
Let me explain.
To me intruding in the space of your subject matter in order to get a photograph and purposefully causing your subject matter to stop its natural routine is just wrong. If an animal is resting or feeding and you intrude in such a way that said animal gets up and moves to a new location, or stops feeding you might want to consider what you've caused to happen through your selfishness: an animal might be resting in that location because it feels safe from predators, and now it's been forced to move it may now become prey to something else.
Additionally, an animal feeding might be collecting food for young back at a hide/nest. By stopping it from doing so, you might cause it's young to go hungry, or in worst cases, cause said feeding animal to become prey itself meaning its young will suffer if you've disturbed it enough that it moves location.
Consider your impact on the environment by just being there.
Consider how you are dressed and what you smell like. Really? Yes, really. I'm still amazed when I pass other 'photographers' out in the field who I can smell usually before I see. The odour of after-shave/perfume/shower gel/fabric softener hits me before I actually see them. If as another human I can smell you, then any wildlife, with its highly heightened senses will smell you miles away, and move on long before you ever see it.
I must admit I do smile when I see others out looking for wildlife dressed in bright colours, mainly reds, purples and yellows. Seriously, consider how that helps you to NOT blend into the countryside, and stick out making you visible to an animal before they are visible to them.
Consider why most of our UK birds and mammals are coloured the as they are; it’s called camouflage for a reason. So what can you do to avoid the above? Basically, consider fieldcraft.
I follow some simple rules:
1. Dress to blend into your environment. Usually this means dressing in browns and greens (and for me my trusty camouflage jacket).
2. By all means maintain a level of common cleanliness, but don't spray on loads of deodorant before heading out on a photo trip. Remember, you’re going out on a photo shoot, not a date.
3. If you find yourself walking down a gravel path in order to find your subject matter, consider walking on a grass bank/verge instead in order to minimise noise from your footsteps (of course only if safe to do so, and only if you won’t be causing damage to the environment in doing so). By minimising the noise you make will result in you standing less chance of spooking any animals by the sound you make.
4. When close to your subject matter and facing it, stay wth the wind in your face (upwind). If the wind switches and is behind you (downwind), your scent will be picked up and could cause your subject matter to become spooked.
5. Mobile phones on silent, and the same goes for cameras too. There’s nothing more annoying than hearing the electronic clicks, whirs and beeps of camera kit when out in the wild.
6. Use natural vegetation for cover. Depending on the environment, use trees and bushes as natural cover in order to allow you to get close to your subject. With practice, you can move between these with great effect as to get closer to your subject without spooking it.
7. Take your time. Don't rush to be close to your chosen subject. Move slowly and consider suitable cover so as not to disturb it. A long lens will help.
8. If you get sense that your subject matter has seen you and looks nervous, back away immediately.
9. Don't assume because you are the big human you have a right to intrude on an animals habitat. Consider yourself the guest and behave accordingly. If nothing else, remember words like “consideration” and “thoughtful” when out photographing wildlife.
It’s not all about you and your shot; it’s about the act of fieldcraft and being respectful to nature.