The Wrong Way to Photograph Wildlife

If there’s one thing everyone – photographer or not – should know about wild animals, it’s “keep your distance”. This rule goes double when the animal is eating, and triple when their young are nearby. These are the most vulnerable times for an animal, and they will fiercely defend themselves and their food/babies from any swaggering intruder. Case in point: in this clip, taken in the Scottish highlands by videographer Johno Verity, sports photographer Dan Milner tries to photograph a stag deer from about three feet away, and gets a lensful of antler for his audacity:

I suppose the temptation of getting a wide-angle closeup of such a wild beast was too much to resist, but this is exactly the reason that telephoto lenses were invented (well, at least ONE of the reasons). He probably could have stayed inside the car and got his shot, but in our smug sense of human dominance, we can often forget just how dangerous animals really are; they can seriously and even fatally injure a person without hesitation.

Always stay a safe distance from wild animals, and never taunt them the way Milner does at the beginning of the video. They may not understand your words, but they can probably tell you’re trying to mess with them, and they won’t appreciate it. Luckily for Milner, the stag only wanted to warn him – it bucked him and then retreated, and he made it out of there with nothing but a bloody cut on his nose.

wildlife photography

In case you’re trying to decipher his equipment, you’re not crazy – that is a Nikon lens mounted on a Canon body. To be precise, it’s a Canon 1D (can’t make out which version) with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens (aka, the opposite of a wildlife lens). According to Milner’s blog, though, the lens actually survived the incident, which is a pretty good endorsement for Nikon’s build quality.

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4 responses to “The Wrong Way to Photograph Wildlife”

  1. Jacques says:

    “I suppose the temptation of getting a wide-angle closeup of such a wild beast was too much to resist, but this is exactly the reason that telephoto lenses were invented”

    Guys you are a photo blog site, you should know the difference in photos taken by a telephoto and a wide angle, compression :/

    Quite a disappointing thing to have read in your article. Then to make it worse end off with “(aka, the opposite of a wildlife lens)”

    Lenses are classified, fixed, telephoto, super telephoto, etc. Not portrait lens, Landscape lens, etc. Lenses have multiple uses and I bring up again the difference between a wide angle and a telephoto is the size of the animal gets so unreal on a wide angle that it is amazing.

    I hope that if there are new people who read this article that they do not try to learn those forms of definitions for a lens.

    • talia says:

      This isn’t a lens tutorial, it’s a silly piece of news. I appreciate the clarification, but laymans terms aren’t really that objectionable in this context. Of course there’s a difference, but the point still stands that you shouldn’t get close enough to a wild animal to shoot it with a wide-angle lens, because it’s incredibly dangerous.

      I also hope that nobody tries to learn the forms and definitions of lenses from this article, because that’s not what it’s for. We have other articles with that purpose that use much more precise language.

  2. Dan Milner says:

    Hi there, an interesting take on my stagging experience and thanks for sharing it out there.
    To put it in context, I’ve been a full pro photographer for 17 years now, shooting in some truly wild places from the Arctic Svalbard to Afghanistan. I was in Glen Coe (one of the most beautiful places you can ever photograph – just go!) Scotland, on a snowboard shoot for a US magazine. I mainly shoot action sports and remote expeditions.
    I know Glen Coe well and the stags/deer there are actually very accustomed to humans, often wandering past you less than 8 feet away (likely because people feed them). While that doesn’t necessarily mean every stag is ‘tame’ I did make the mistake of assuming that this one would back away rather than give me a head butt. I wouldn’t say that I was taunting the stag before trying to photograph it, but it certainly wasn’t the best way to approach a wildlife shot.
    I had the 14-24/2.8 on there as it was the lens I was using for shooting landscapes just prior to the driving past the stag by the roadside. Rather than change it I thought, lets get in quite close and do something different.
    Yes it was a Canon 1DmkIII body and a Nikon 12-24/2.8 attached with an adaptor. Odd I know! I’d heard amazing things about the edge-edge sharpness of this Nikon lens and was trying it out on my Canon body (having shot with Canon for over a decade at the time). This combo meant having only manual focus, but that’s easy with such a wide lens with such an inherent deep depth of field.
    Why this combo? I was frustrated by the absence of Full Frame mountain sport-suitable (i.e., rugged, weather sealed, 10fps, big cold-resistant batteries, etc) bodies from Canon at the time, and switched to full Nikon set up shortly after. I use the Nikon D3s and D750 now.
    I did get other stag shots later, using my long 70-200/2.8.
    Hope that helps shed some light on it all!

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