It’s a glamorous profession if you like adventure and are captivated by the lure of the wild, and the photographs you take are often exclusive and one of a kind. However, wildlife photography is fraught with danger, and even though this is part of the excitement, no picture is worth your life or your health. So if you’re keen on becoming a wildlife photographer, you must follow the “Safety first” rule, for if you don’t you could end up becoming fodder for angry or hungry animals or become a casualty of the wild side of nature. The basic rules that encompass wildlife safety aspects are:
- Know the locale: Research the location where you’re going to shoot – the Amazon forests are a far cry from the African savannah. Know the terrain and the territory and be aware of the dangers and impediments you’re likely to face. If you’ve done your homework right, you minimize the dangers that you’re likely to face and are able to get your work done quickly.
- Know the animal: Read up on the habits of the animal(s) you’re hoping to photograph. You need to understand their behavior, know what they do when they’re threatened, and be prepared for evasive and protective action in any eventuality. Familiarity with the habits of the animal is the best way to avoid attacks and know when to retreat.
- Never get too close: It may be tempting to move closer for that fantastic shot you know is waiting in the wings; however, it’s not worth it when you have to pay with your life or your health. Use telephoto lenses when photographing animals that are dangerous and known to attack – the shots turn out just as good and you get to come back in one piece.
- Avoid the young ones: An animal that is normally safe turns into a terror when it thinks you’re going to attack its young ones. So if you see cubs, beat a hasty retreat unless you want the mothers to come chasing after you. No matter how cute they look, never pick them up or approach them – they’re not cuddly toys but wild animals that could end up getting you killed.
- Watch your step: The wild terrain is full of rocky paths and uneven ground; watch where you step and be careful about overhead branches as well. Lookout for snakes and protect yourself against leeches when journeying through rain forests. Be aware of swamps and rivers that could wash you away in flash floods; and watch out for gorges and canyons when hiking along narrow trails.
- Be aware of the weather: The jungle is a bad place when it starts to rain; the desert is not a pleasant experience when the sandstorms blow in; and the rivers could spell death when a thunderstorm sets in. Be aware of the weather conditions and forecasts before venturing out with your gear.
- Be properly attired: Wear the right clothes based on the climate conditions and terrain of the locale you’re shooting in. Prevent scratches from thorns and mosquito bites with full-sleeved clothing; wear high boots if you’re going into swamps and marshy land; and protect your skin and head from the harsh sun if you’re shooting in the desert.
- Carry the right equipment: Besides your camera equipment, take along a compass, a map of the area and a GPS so you don’t get lost and are stranded in the middle of a jungle or a desert. Also carry enough water and food to tide you over in case of an emergency.
- Let someone know where you are: Even if you’re travelling in a small group, tell someone where you’re going so people know where to look for you in the event you don’t return for any reason. It’s better to be safe now than sorry later.
- Take a local guide with you: If you’re not familiar with the territory or if it’s too dangerous, it’s best to take along someone who knows the locale well. They are the best people to point out the likely haunts of the animal you’re hoping to photograph, and they know their way around so you’re unlikely to get lost or stranded without any sense of direction.
Wildlife photography is exciting no doubt, but no measure of thrills is equivalent to your life; so stay safe, and your photographs and you will live to see the light of the day.