Wildlife and Nature Photography

Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography

robin - Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography

Knowing where to find a flock of robins based on the week’s observations resulted in this image of one feeding following an ice storm.

When people take a look at my images, the same question and comment seems to always come up. “How long did you have to wait to get that shot?” or “you must be really patient”. Yes I am patient, but rarely do I apply this to my photography. I find that being observant is far more advantageous, and yields better results than being patient. There are many photographers out there who will sit in a blind all day demonstrating great patience to get the shot. I however, prefer to keep moving and observe the wildlife around me and their behaviour, so that I can later put myself in a position to get the shot. This not only saves time, it also allows me to cover more ground and photograph more species.

I like visiting new areas, but I also enjoy returning to old favourites. By making several visits to the same location, I am able to observe the wildlife in that area and make note of their behaviour and any patterns that I observe. You may be surprised at how predictable an animal can be after observing it for several days in the same location. This to me far outweighs staying in one location all day, in hopes of a bird flying by or landing within range.

robin 2 - Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography

Rather than waiting all day in frigid temperatures for robins that may or may not show up, I prefer to use observation over patience.

Let me give you a few examples to demonstrate. During winter months one of my favourite locations to bird is along the Thames River. With the abundance of waterfowl, songbirds and the easy walking on the plowed trails, I find it hard to stay away. American Robins can often be observed all winter feeding in the various fruit trees that grow along the river banks. One winter, I observed the same flock repeatedly over the course of a week as I walked along the river from Greenway to Springbank Park. As fruit was consumed, the birds would move ever so slightly down the bank each day following the food source. One February morning I woke up to the remnants of an incredible ice storm. I immediately thought how great those robins would look feeding on the berries with the branches all covered in ice. I grabbed my camera, jumped in my truck and headed to the park. As predicted, there was the flock of robins gorging themselves on berries following the inclement weather. I fired off several shots and was very happy with the results when I returned home. No sitting, waiting or patience required, only knowing where the birds would be based on that week’s observations allowed me to achieve these images. My total time in the field that day was 15 minutes.

eagle 1 - Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography

After watching this Bald Eagle perched in the same tree at the same time on multiple days, I decided to return another day a bit earlier to capture its landing.

eagle 2 - Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography

The second of a series of frames capturing the juvenile Bald Eagle landing.

Bald Eagles and other raptors can be very predictable if observed repeatedly. I often find the same bird perched in the same tree at the same time every day. By paying attention to these details I save a lot of time, energy and gas when looking to photograph birds. One week while observing Bald Eagles, I found one particular juvenile bird always perched in the same tree everyday at 11am. I managed several static shots of the bird, but wanted some flight shots as well. Not wanting to wait all day, or being one to bait birds or chase them off a perch in order to get a flight shot, I simply returned to the location a few minutes before 11am the next day. As anticipated, the eagle approached its favourite perch and I was able to capture several frames of the large raptor in flight, prior to its landing. Again, no patience was required, only the power of observation.

eagle 3 - Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography

Being in position at the right time based on observation, resulted in this series of shots.

eagle 4 - Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography

The final shot, the juvenile Bald Eagle now perched in the tree. Total waiting time for this series of shots, about six minutes.

This past winter, birders flocked from all over Southwestern Ontario to the Thames River in hopes of getting a glimpse of the rare Harlequin Duck that overwintered on the river. A lifer for me, I found myself down at the river every chance I had trying to photograph this beautiful bird. It didn’t take long for me to pick up on this bird’s habits and behaviour. The Harlequin Duck is a bird of fast moving water and this particular bird demonstrated this perfectly. I was able to observe the bird repeatedly as he dove and fed in a small section of rapids. Once it had drifted downstream out of the rapids and into the slower moving water it would then fly upstream to just ahead of the rapids and perform the same drift again. I watched as this duck did this over and over again. Situated where there was a nice clearing in the trees, I was able to get multiple shots of not only the duck diving and feeding, but also flight shots as it passed by before making another drift.

I cannot tell you the number of birders I watched chase this Harlequin Duck up and down river trying to photograph it through trees and other obstructions. I spoke to a few onlookers holding cameras who had gathered in hopes of getting a shot. I explained that the bird would be back, and suggested staying put and being ready. Sure enough, only a few minutes passed and back came the Harlequin Duck in flight upriver and right passed us. The other photographers were not only excited to capture the bird as it flew then floated by, but were surprised how I knew the bird would be back. Simply observing the bird over the course of a few days was all I needed to understand and predict its behaviour, resulting in the shots I wanted and an incredible experience.

harlequin - Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography

A few days of observing this Harlequin Duck’s behaviour was all I needed to put myself into a position to achieve the shots I was after.

These are only a few examples of my experiences where being observant far outweighed being patient. For me, observation results in more images than waiting all day for them to happen. Knowing and excepting that the shot I am looking for may not present itself that day and moving on is where my patience comes in. Patience for me comes over an extended period of time rather than devoting an entire day to staying in one spot. Observing the same bird over the course of several days, not only gives me the opportunity to achieve the shot I want, it also allows the bird to become accustomed to my presence and less timid.

For most of us photography is a hobby. Our lives are too busy to spend eight hours a day in the field waiting for a shot to present itself. We can however find time several times a week to get out for a walk with our cameras, and closely watch the wildlife that we come across to pick up a few patterns. By doing this I think you will achieve greater results in not only what you see, but what you are able to capture with your camera as well.

Good birding,



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5 Responses to “Being Observant Outweighs Being Patient In Wildlife Photography”

  1. Tony Sousa

    Couldn’t agree more Paul. I’ve often gone out and been out for 6, 7 hours at a time and only in the last 10 min I got the pic I had been waiting all day for. Patience is huge when it comes to wildlife photography.

    • Paul Roedding

      Thanks Tony. Patience is a big part of it, and I find that being more observant helps me be a more efficient photographer.

  2. Leslie

    What a great post. I really enjoyed reading it and feel that what you say is quite true. I think there are probably many different strategies for finding and catching the birds and another one is to pay attention to the bloggers in the area where you are likely to be bird-watching. They are a tremendous source of information and have done some of the ground work for those who may not have as much birding time available. I just got back from a trip to Quebec along the north shore of the Saint Laurence and had done a little advance planning which helped me to add some new birds to my life list. And as for myself, I am beginning to see the patterns in my own area as well. Oh, and also we may have met on the banks of the Thames when the Harlequin was there and we followed your advice about looking for the Golden-eyes that it was hanging out with in the fast running water areas. It worked!

    • Paul Roedding

      Thanks Leslie. I agree, it really comes down to personal preference and style when shooting. I find that developing pattens really helps make me more efficient and makes better use of my time when in the field. Following area blogs is great advice. It keeps you connected to what is going on locally. I’m glad my advice of following the Goldeneyes in the fast water paid off for you. If you see me out again, please stop and introduce yourself.

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