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My Biggest Regret as a Wildlife Photographer

Written by Thomas C


Posted on June 09 2019

My Biggest Regret as a Wildlife Photographer 

Thomas from Alotech 
Wildlife Photographer | Guide | Podcast Host for the PhotoCast | Founder of Alotech 

This is a short article, but it covers an important fundamental for all photographers.

Starting out as a photographer, I made a ton of mistakes.

As I look back to when I was a younger wildlife photographer, I wish I started doing just one thing earlier that would have even helped me today.

That one little change would be always recording each time I photographed an animal.

This sounds simple, and it truly is.

Animals, just like us, many times are creatures of habit. And just like us they change up their routine depending on variables like the weather.

There are many variables I record now that I wish I recorded throughout my career.

Starting around five years ago (and I wish I began doing this earlier), I started to always record the exact GPS locations of all the animals I photographed. This is honestly the best decision I made back then because now my GPS has every location (or hotspot) I have ever been.

This information is so powerful because I work in certain geographic locations for only a fraction of the year, so I forget the exact location where the best hotspots are. Being able to just look on my GPS device and navigate to exactly where I need to be saves me time, and allows me to more easily locate animals.

If you don’t record locations today, then I highly recommend you start. You will find this really powerful for wildlife photography because if you are navigating in the dark you will no exactly where to go in order to be in the perfect place before sunrise.

Another benefit for wildlife photography is that if you are in a location enough you will start to see a heatmap on your GPS with all the times you ran into an animal like a Moose. Now, you can create a border around this area and focus all your energy looking for Moose in a small geofenced location vs. searching in areas with a less dense Moose population. This increases your chances of seeing a Moose and photographing a great image.

If you photograph landscapes this is also powerful. How many times have you seen an awesome location during the day where you know it will be an amazing location during sunrise/ sunset? Then, you get up before the sun rises and struggle to navigate to that location while it’s dark outside? Once you start using a GPS this will never happen to you.

Today, using a GPS to mark locations is simple because many cameras have built-in GPS and tag each one of your photos. Despite this functionality, I still prefer using my own dedicated GPS unit because I can include detailed notes, have more information, and can easily navigate to any point.

The GPS I have used nearly every day for years is the Garmin 64st. There are many reviews on this GPS; features that make it a great unit for wildlife photographers are that it takes micro-SD cards to expand its capacity, takes AA batteries, and it is nearly weather proof (mine has been submerged for ~1 second in salt water and is still going strong).  

With a dedicated GPS unit, you can also put in additional information that can help you tremendously for both wildlife photography and landscape photography.

Many animals, just like us, follow patterns and weather is a large factor in determining their behavior that day. Going back to Moose, weather really impacts their behavior at the location I go to in Alaska. Adding weather into my notes every time I mark an animal location in my GPS allows me to see patterns overtime, which helps me predict where I need to go to increase my chance in photographing that particular animal.

For shorebird photographers, taking notes about the tides that day can also help you see over time how different tides impact your chances at photographing a particular shorebird.

For both landscape and wildlife photographers, taking notes such as if a mountain blocks the sunrise or sunset can help you determine when you should get to a location. For example, I photograph in many locations where mountains block the sunrise, so I know to go to a different location as the sun rises and then make my way to the location a little after sunrise when the mountains no longer block that nice golden light.

Overall, recording locations on a GPS over time will help you become a better wildlife/landscape photographer because you will be able to use data to better predict where you should go and when you should travel there. 

What do you think about using a GPS to record locations, weather, and other information? Comment below to let me know!

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