The Life Cycles Approach to Wildlife Photography – Part 1: Learning and Telling the Story
Every chance you have with a wild animal in front of your lens is an opportunity not just to capture split-second moments of action or behavior, but to also learn more about its life story. The things this creature does daily to survive and thrive in an often harsh world. As photographers, we are storytellers. By telling an animal’s tale through your photography, you reveal one of countless stories being played out as part of a greater whole within the place this animal calls home. Not just the story of an animal, but also a family, a species, an ecosystem, and a planet.In this article, I’ll share tips on creating wildlife photography through capturing life cycles and histories, all those intimate moments that help define the lives of wild animals.
Although every animal and plant species has its own specific life cycle, all life cycles follow the same pattern. A new organism is born, it grows, matures, and eventually reproduces to create a new life cycle of animals. After successfully reproducing, it may die, or it may continue to produce generations of offspring throughout its lifespan. Some life cycles are measured in days, while other animals may live for a century or more. Regardless of the length of the cycle, this basic recipe is followed by nearly every animal species. How a specific species passes through each successive stage, though, is as varied as the species themselves.
Endless Photo Possibilities
With this concept in mind, think about the wildlife you have had the opportunity to photograph. At the time, you may have captured the moment, but this instant was only a small part of the greater story of a species, and its place within its ecosystem. By thinking about life cycles, we open up a nearly endless array of photo possibilities.Sometimes, when we have a cooperative wildlife subject, we expend all our creative energy in a burst, running out of ideas for images. Taking this approach, what more can you add to that story? What portions of its life cycle have you captured? What other details, events, or characteristics can you feature in your images?Thinking beyond the moment playing out in front of you to the animal’s full life and place within its ecosystem, gives structure to your shooting. As I may have mentioned once or twice in my other articles, I am a big believer in previsualization, seeing the shots before you take them. If your goal is to capture a species’ complete life, then you have already started creating your shot list. With this “shopping list o’ shots” always in mind, you have poised yourself to capture all the decisive moments, turning points, and interactions that make up a creature’s life.