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Speed. It doesn't kill but without it a wildlife photographer might as well be dead.  When shooting wildlife, it’s imperative to be quick on the draw or a shot will be missed.  Even with lenses being faster than just a few years ago, if unprepared to take the shot the camera might as well stay in the bag.  Another major element is using fast shutter speeds to freeze the action.

One of the biggest things photographers encounter is determining the right shutter speed for capturing the sharpest wildlife action shots.  When workshop attendees ask what speed I suggest they comment soon after how much better their shots look.  Another is taking time getting everything ready and missing THE shot.  It’s important to have everything ready and knowing the equipment when photographing a bird taking flight or baby bears playing.

Shutter Speed - It’s not hard to find shutter speed recommendations for capturing great wildlife images.  One comment is to use double / double the focal length of the lens.  Thus, for a 400mm lens it would be 1/1600th of a second (400 X 2 = 800 X 2 = 1600).  This can be handy but my preferred trigger point is 1/2000th or even more.  This really helps freeze the action.  With also shooting at around f/7.1 or f/8 to increase depth of field, this means bumping the ISO up a bit.

A good starting point for wildlife ISO is 640, even in sunny conditions.  This is sure to provide the needed shutter speed to capture sharp talons, claws, wing detail or water droplets flying.  As light changes, keep an eye on the shutter speed in the viewfinder so any adjustments can be made quickly.  Cameras today handle high ISO much better so don’t be concerned about pushing it to 2000 or even higher if needed.

Equipment Knowledge - Answer these questions: Which way to turn the shutter speed / aperture dial if changing from 1/1000th to 1/2000th or f/8 to f/5.6 because of a change in lighting?  How quick can I change the ISO if it needs to go up?  If you don't know the answer to these a shot is possibly blurry.  When something special happens you need to know how to work the equipment to get the shot, especially if some clouds move in front changing the exposure just before the action happens.

flower with cluttered backgroundISO 4000, f/6.3, 1/2500th sec.  Because it was a very overcast day, the ISO was bumped way up to get enough shutter speed for these fighting Kodiak brown bears who don’t confront each other in slow motion.

baby mountain goat jumping
ISO 640, f/6.3, 1/2500th sec.  Shutter speed, timing and knowing behavior all came into play for shooting this jumping baby mountain goat.


Tips.  A lot of wildlife shots in motion can be made easier by getting focused on them early.  A good example of this is with birds in flight.  The further away focus is obtained the easier it is to get the shot, especially when using a large lens.  Trying to find a flying bird through a large lens with it close can be fairly difficult because the field of view is very narrow.  If able to focus on the bird at a distance, follow it on its path, keep it in focus and get the shot at the desired location and position.  Over time closer focus becomes easier.  Another thing to keep in mind when doing this is to follow through.  Keep panning with the subject after clicking the shutter button so there isn’t any unnecessary stoppage of the camera causing a blurry image. 

Patience.  While speed is important in getting a lot of shots, some that look like they require all facets of speed also rely on patience.  For these instances just stand there and wait for the anticipated action to occur and be quick on the shutter to get the action, like with being on an egret or other wading bird waiting for a meal to swim by.  The desired shot is of the bird lunging into the water for a fish and coming up with it.

There are a couple of ways to do this.  First, sit there with your eye glued to the viewfinder and finger on the shutter and wait for the action to occur or keep a watchful eye on the bird knowing that certain actions will happen just before it moves into action.  Here is where knowledge of the subject comes into play.  For hunting herons and other similar birds they may make a slight movement of their body position before plunging into the water for a meal.  Some you just have to stay on as they move so fast.

Knowing wildlife behavior patterns helps in getting good action and behavior shots.  Keep a mental notebook while working different species of seeing what they do before doing something else.

Conclusion.  Wildlife action shots are the ones showing behavior.  It's nice to have portraits, but when you're able to bring some behavior into the image it makes for more impactful photographs.  Headshots and profiles do make their way into print often, but when able to incorporate behavior you're able to tell more of a story.  After all, isn't that what photography is all about, telling a story.

NOTE - This article is set to appear as the featured article in the Outdoor Photographer Classes / Tours / Workshop section for the month of September. You're getting a look at it a week early. There are a few more photos with descriptions on the website. Once it comes out you can go on there and leave a comment at the end of the article. It won't be active until September but the link will be

flower with cluttered background
ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/2000th sec.  A fast shutter speed allowed for great detail of the shrimp being flipped in the egrets beak.

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ISO 800, f/6.3, 1/2000th sec.  Skimmers are a must for getting early focus.


This workshop is designed for all levels of photographers. Whether you are a beginner or intermediate photographer, you will learn something regarding the technical concerns of photographing bald eagles such as exposure, focus and flight photography. For the seasoned photographer, this is a great trip for building a very impressive portfolio of bald eagle photos. This instructional-based workshop includes critiques in addition to the daily shoots and as much in the field hands-on help as you desire. First Lights small group size allows for in-depth instruction combined with personal attention that is designed to the needs of the individuals in the group. You will hone your skills on eagles in flight, anticipating interaction, close-up portraits, and wildlife landscapes.

boulder beach acadia national park
Eagle coming in towards another group of eagles on a fish


Because of all the fires in and around the area where this workshop was scheduled to be held in California I made the decision to cancel the trip. I don't want to do a shoot that needs clear skies at night to be smoked in creating poor conditions for shooting. There could have been a chance things cleared up but as of the time I was getting ready to go to Oregon things weren't looking good so I contacted those who had signed up to let them know. Each pereson understood the situation and they have already switched to another trip. In 25 years of leading trips this is only the third time I have had to cancel a trip due to unforseen circumstances. The other two were with my mother passing away and the other due to injuries I got last year just before a trip was to go off.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do for a Milky Way / Star Trails trip for next year but keep an eye out on my workshop page to see when one gets added as I do enjoy leading these trips and teaching night techniques. When I get something together it will also be announced in the newsletter. Arches is really changing their policies on night photo trip groups and it looks like the Eastern Sierras is a hotbed for fires. Last year when I did my scout trip I had to contend with smoke in one or two places and now there are numerous fires in the area this year causing the cancellation. My trip to Joshua Tree was nice earlier this year but I'm not sure there's enough there to put a full trip together. I'll have to think this one through.


A week on Kodiak Island in July without rain? Yes, it is possible as this trip had provided three separate trips without any rain during our shooting. And oh the shooting. This year after our first day in the field I asked people how many shots they took and after a review one person was surprised to find out he had taken more than 2,000 images. With a good bit of action going on in front of you it's easy to get heavy with the trigger finger and let it go. He did slow down a bit after that but he and everyone else ended up with some really nice images.

The action in front of us was pretty good and from the different places we went we ended up seeing 15 to 20 different bears. Among those was a mother with three small cubs we photographed three different days. On the other two days of shooting we went to another bear location and out on a boat for a day of sea life that provided whales, sea otters, puffins, seals and a few other subjects.

While the day on the boat was nice, it was bears that was the main attraction. There were probably three special moments that most everyone will have etched on their memory banks as well as their memory cards. One that stood out was when a yearling cub started chasing a three or four year old up the hillside as moom looked on. All of a sudden the bear being chased realized it was being chased by a yearling and stopped and turned towards it. That's when mom changed her mood and went after the youngster now going after her cub. As they got close to each other shutters were flying as everyone had their attention focused on the action. A few pay swipes at each other created some great interaction / behavior shots. The action between the two last just over 30 secondds but it seemed a lot longer while look through the viewfinder and firing away. I myself took 24 images with both participants in the shot. Multiply that by six people being with me and there were a lot of shots taken. The fight was a typical bear fight where there is more posturing and a slap or two than really going at it hard as they know they don't want to chance getting hurt over a little territorial spat, especially the mother. You do see scars on bears but that usually comes from a claw hitting just right and it heals pretty quickly. Mating rights fights are the most intense.

jumping baby mountain goat
ISO 1000, f/7.1, 1/2000th - Fast shutter speed to get all of the water droplets with this head shake - Love the eye

A couple other fun opportunities were when two of the three small cubs were playing with each other right below our perch just above the river. They were too close for my 600mm to get them in fully but they still provided some special shots for everyone. Another time the mother with two yearlings came up into the grasses just next to us and began crawling all over each other. There were also the obligatory head shakes with water flying, youngsters playing with each other, nice portraits of bears looking right at the camera and lots of fishing for salmon.

Most of our time was spent right near a fish weir used for counting the salmon going up the river so there were some fun shots of youngsters climbing and hanging off of this and other interesting shots. Because of the weir being our shooting location, the salmon would get stacked up in the waters right in front of us so there was a good amount of fishing and eating going on.

What was nice seeing was the yearlings actually fishing successfully. Quite often the sow would be doing the fishing and taking the fish over tot them but a few times the youngsters would get a salmon on their own. We never did see one of those monster Kodiak bears about 10 feet tall but we did see one boar about 8 feet wander into the area once. The big guys usually stay away from most of the other bears and show up around mating time to find a few sows.

Like with most bear trips, there is not action going on all day but everyone found out all it takes is two or three times a day with something special going on to make it a great day. And this is what we had pretty much every day out. Otherr times you just fill in the gaps with bears meandering in and about with them walking around in t he water, resting in the grasses and such.

Want to get in on the action? I'm looking to do my next Kodiak bear trip in two years. Contact me to let me know if you're interested and you'll be the first to know when things are getting close to set up.

baby elk playing in water
The cubs got so close I couldn't get their whole body in and it happened so fast I didn't turn to vertical. One moment just walking across and then stood up.


How often has this happened to you? The weather is great right before you arrive and then gets wonderful when you leave. I got to Oregon a couple of days early to go by a few spots for the workshop to check things out and remember which routes were best to get to a few places and while there the weather cooperated nicely. When I got the group, though, is when the conditions started changing. While rain can be a major factor on the Oregon Coast, that is something we never had to deal weath. We we did face was fog and clouds. After numerous days of morning and evening fog we switched to Plan B and did our shooting during the middle of the day when things cleared out.

Fog can be wonderful at several spots on the coast and we took full advantage of the moodiness it provided. Small harbors, a bridge, a lighthouse and some sea stacks made for good subjects for this but at time we would be at a spot and the fog would get so thick our primary subject would fully disappear.

This year I chose Bandon and Newport for our two shooting locations. I have a bunch of cities along the coast to stay at but thought this would make for a nice trip this time around. The workshop started in Bandon for three nights and ended up in Newport for three nights.

Some of the key highlights in Bandon included Face Rock beach that also includes one of favorite sea stacks called the Wizard's Hat. This makes for a wonderful foreground subject from a couple of different directions. At this spot, I was able to get the group working on some long exposure shots of the water as the waves were moving in. We used a variety of settings and filters to work on this but one night we stayed out there long enough the sky allowed for exposures ranging from 10 to 30 seconds to really smooth the water out.

The beach here also provided for a bunch of other shooting as well including shots of kelp washed up along with some very interesting driftwood in some very unique locations. It would really be interesting to be in this area in the winter when the big storms are churning bringing ashore massive trees from across the ocean from Japan.

glowing edges computer technique
A 15 second exposure of the Wizard's Hat a couple of nights before the workshop started when it was clear at sunset.

A couple of side trips were made from Bandon to Charleston and Cape Blanco. At Charleston we visited what is probably my favorite small boat marina on the coast and a very nice botanic gardens. We spent a good bit of time at the marine shooting the boats in and out of the fog. From the images I saw everyone came away with some really interesting shots from both stops. On our trip to the lighthouse at Cape Blanco, we started off in thick fog and finished with some nice light for both the lighthouse and an overview of the sea stacks off of the cliffs. We also did some shooting of the Coquille Lighthouse in Bandon from both sides of the river.

We did lose one evening shoot due to high winds. I don't want to put people's equipment in danger of being damaged and there's not much worse than being on a sandy beach with 20 mph winds sand blasting the coating off of a lens. We ended up doing a program with a lot of Q&A.

After three nights in Bandon it was up to Newport where the group photographed the bridge and marina in some pretty good conditions. We also did the tide pool at Cobble Beach near the lighthouse. We also ended up with some nice midday light on the Yaquina Head lighthouse. A couple of stops at Seal Rock beach allowed for more sea stack shooting in various conditions. One of the shoots was at midday when the light was nice. Another stop I always like doing in Newport is to the Oregon Coast Aqaurium. We usually show up just a little before feeding time at the puffin enclosure where it causes a flurry of activity. Right now they have a lot more murre's than they have had in the past so the puffins seemed a bit out-numbered. Also at the aquarium is a nice tide pool display along with a couple of really nice jellyfish tanks. I could spend my whole time at these two locations. With the way cameras have improved so much you can really bump up the ISO to get fast enough shutter speeds for shooting in the dimly lit jellyfish exhibit.

TIPS FOR WHEN THE WEATHER IS NOT IDEAL ON A TRIP - !. Be out there just in case the weather breaks. 2. Take advantage of the storm clouds or fog to create mood in your shots. 3. Look at the small things where weather does not cause any issues. 4. Don't include the sky or minimize it as much as possible.

Trying to decide if I want to do the same route for the trip next year or to do Newport and Cannon Beach. The dates will also be pushed back a little bit until the last week in August with the hope of a few more days without fog. It's still the dry season so it will be good in that regard but tryinng to find themperatures that are not conducive to creating fog.

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A fishing boat approaching in the fog at the Charleston marina

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ISO 6400 was need to even get an exposure of 1/200th at the jellyfish exhibit. Handheld no less as tripods aren't allowed.


After a couple of years break due to issues at Arches National Park the Milky Way / Star Trails trip is back on for this wonderful location for night photography. A phone call to a good friend who llives in Moab cleared up a lot of information about what the park is doing for photo trips into the park, the use of light for illuminating formations and a few other things. And best of all, the small airport north of town now has daily round trip flights from Denver so there is no ride from Grand Junction to get to Moab. The trip is going to only concentrate on Arches for four nights of shooting. Whenever you do a night shoot, you add an extra night to allow for a cloudy night taking away our main subject so this trip is four nights unlike numerous other Arches night trips that are only three nights. There will be some new very eye-opening Milky Way techniques that will amaze you on this trip. The advancements taking place with star photography keeps pushing the envelope and we will incorporate these into our shoots. The price is a little higher than you might expect for the duration involved but hotel, vehicle rental and permit costs can't be avoided. It's going to be well worth the cost so make sure you reserve a spot for this great opportunity.


The costy for workshop deposits for trips starting in 2019 and going forward is going up to $500 for trip in the Continental United States and to $750 for trips to Alaska and Europe. With hotel, car rental and other costs going up the increased amount is needed to help offset these. For those who have already made deposits for trips in 2019 a special payment dropdown item will be created for you to reflect the proper amount due for the trip you are signed up for. It will take me a little bit of time to geet everything changed on the website so if you see a deposit of $300 anywhere note that it is acutally $500 and will be correct on the PayPal payment page.



Whether you need travel insurance for your next First Light trip or any trip you're planning on taking, make your first and last stop at Yonder Travel Insurance. Use the link on my Sponsors page to take you to your one-stop shop for all your travel insurance needs. Throughout my website I state that travel insurance is recommended. Some people have learned the hard way by not having insurance when they have had to cancel late or something unexpected has come up. Show your support by using Yonder Travel for your next travel insurance needs. Please use the link on my site each time you go shopping for this, even for other trips. What's nice with Yonder is they donate a week's worth of meals to a child in need with every policy sold.


burrowing owl in flight
A sow sat down in the grasses and her two yearling cubs started crawling all over her.