I like to think of wildlife photography as having three categories. Which one do you fall into? I've done them all. There's no wrong answer, but I strive for number three...asking for permission. Here's the breakdown.
When you see an animal and you're excited. You really want to get a picture. You pull up your camera, the animal runs. You may even run after the animal. You try to follow the animal, grabbing a photo where ever you can. You most likely don't even get a shot. If you do, it's not good. At best, it only validates the siting.
I really wanted to use voyeurism here, but that is more a sexual thing. Not the objective here. Covert photography is when you see the animal before it sees you. You stay quiet and try to be hidden and secretively catch some photos without the subject knowing. You're a wildlife creeper.
This one is always my goal and the most rewarding. This is when you gain the animal's trust before taking a picture...kinda like you're requesting their permission to take their photo. If you can acheive this trust, you can have an awesome experience and get some great pictures. How do you do this? Keep on reading.
I recently had a fun experience with some bears where I practiced all three of these techniques. I found a spot where there were lots of signs of bears in the area...there was lots of bear scat (poop), there were small trees bent over, lots of tracks, and some downed trees where it looked like a cub or cubs had climbed on them and tore the bark off the top. I had a good feeling about seeing a bear here. The area was made up of some service roads that basically made a triangle that I now refer to as the BEARmuda triangle.
I was on my eBike slowly moving down the road and I came up on a bear laying just off the road. It immediatly jumped up and ran into the thick brush. I made my way around to the other side of the triangle to see if she would come out there. Never saw her so I went elsewhere. I came back to the area about 45 minutes later to just hang out for a while. I parked my bike and slowly peeked out into a crossroads and there was a bear (probably the same one). She didn't see me at first because she was walking away from me and about to go into some brush. So I, of course, got excited and pulled up my camera and ran out into the middle of the service road, which is white powdered sand. I'm wearing fairly dark clothes, so I stand out like a sore thumb. She saw me and ran. I didn't get off a shot. This was my paparazzi move. It wasn't the right way to go about it, but I have had a bear drought and really wanted to get a picture. I got no shots going about it this way.
So again, she went into the middle of this "triangle". So I decided to walk the perimeter to try to see her again. I went all the way around. As I was coming back to the area I saw her, I could see her in the road behind a lot of tall grass. So I got down on a knee and waited. It looked like she might come my way. I grabbed a couple shots of her through the grass. But she ended up going the other way. She never saw me. This was the covert technique.
So I made my way back to that intersection where I left my bike. I decided to stake out that spot where I could see down four different roads. I was off the road a bit behind a shrub. After a little while I spot the bear down another road. She came out and wandered down the road going away from me. She looked back a few times. I think she knew I was there. I didn't move but grabbed a few photos. This was more covert, but maybe the beginnings of permission.
I waited there a little while longer and she came out again in the same spot. She immediately spotted me and stood up on her hind legs to sniff the air. This would have been an awesome shot, but this time I was trying to make friends. I didn't move at all. My camera was at my side. I knew if I brought it up she would spook and run. We looked at each other for a few seconds. She went back down on all fours and sniffed around but didn't run. She wobbled around a little bit, then the second bear came out. It was a cub, probably 1 to 2 years old. But what happened here, I believe, is I got her permission to be there. We agreed that neither was a threat to the other. Now that she was cool with me, she let her cub come out into the open. They gave me a couple minutes. I decided to take video since the weather was ugly and didn't make a great photo. I thought the experience was more rewarding (video above). I feel this is where I got permission.
I've done this many times with bears and deer, once with moose and a bobcat. It happens a lot with squirrels. But once you have this connection with a wild animal, it's such a cool experience and why I do this. I try my best to share it with you.