It takes years to get good at wildlife photography — stick with it

This week, I’m explaining what it’s like to be a wildlife photographer, in order to give people who want to get into the field ideas about how to do it … or reasons to find a more rewarding occupation.

Wildlife photography is, from the outsider’s perspective, an incredibly adventurous way to make a living. In reality, though, it’s not quite that exciting. Sure, in the moment when you’re mere yards from a bull elk, snapping amazing photo after amazing photo, it’s pretty cool. But about 98 percent of the time, you’re either hunkering in a ground blind, shivering yourself silly in the cold, seeing nothing at all worth taking a picture of; or you’re driving hundreds of miles in the pre-sunrise dark in order to be where you want to be when the sun comes up. Or you’re doing your taxes, paying bills, or completing the mountains of paperwork you need to do as an independent business owner. In short, it’s not as sexy as the pictures you see in the magazines make it out to be.

Granted, some of the more successful wildlife photographers do actually live pretty adventurous lives. But even they spend a lot more time planning their adventures, dealing with paperwork, and traveling to and from their assignments than they do actually shooting photos. And even they don’t have guarantees that they’ll get the pictures they’re after.

And even the best wildlife photographers on the planet started out the same way – sitting in a ground blind, waiting for a moose, or an elk, or a mule deer to wander past. They paid their dues by shooting pictures for their state Game and Fish or conservation group magazines. They learned to plan so they’d have a better chance of finding the animals they were after, and they got used to sitting still for hours in extreme heat, bone-chilling cold, and other nasty weather.

And they also learned how to use the camera and protect it in those situations. I’ll talk more about the camera on tomorrow’s show.