Have you ever flipped through National Geographic or some other nature magazine and wondered how the photographer got close enough to take such a clear shot of the animal s/he photographed?
Or were you taken away by the breathless expanse of Antarctica's penguin colony, of which a single puffin, nestled between its parents, commanded the photographer’s lens?
In the mountains and by the streams; on plateaus, highlands and in seemingly barren deserts; even in our oceans, our world is full of beauty and creatures begging to be seen.
That subtle, wistful longing whispers through photography clubs and major publishing enterprises alike but only those with an ear tuned to the craving heed the call to venture forth and photograph.
Are you among those numbers?
Do you, too, wish to see for yourself whether a seal’s pelt truly looks luxurious, a tiger’s stripes are indeed symmetrical and whether elephants in fact do revisit their ancestors’s graves?
Your desire to understand, see and capture the animal world could take you to places of terrible beauty; it is our pleasure to highlight just a few of them for you.
Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
Hugging the northwest corner of this US state, Reelfoot Lake is a treasure for anyone pursuing landscape photography as well as those who photograph wildlife.
Reelfoot Lake is known both for its bald cypress trees and for being the winter home of bald eagles.
As legend tells it, a Native American warrior wanted to marry a woman from another tribe but was forbidden to. He nevertheless captured his bride and ran away with her.
Upon hearing of this treachery, the Devil grew so angry he stomped his foot on the soil where the warrior lived. The nearby river rose up to flood the land and, when that water receded, a shallow footprint lake remained.
In fact, this part-marsh, part-bayou natural lake is one of the bald eagles’ favourite winter nesting homes. They start migrating from the north sometime in late November and, unlike other raptor birds, will mate as early as February.
Time to plan for: sometime between November and May.
Wildlife to photograph: beavers, eagles and deer.
If you don’t mind going a bit further, to the neighbouring town of Kenton, you could also photograph white squirrels.
Photographing Wildlife at the Poles
Recently, scientists were appalled to discover plastic embedded in what they thought was the world’s last pristine wilderness.
For all that they are remote and have exposure to some of the most extreme conditions on the planet – and are now afflicted with plastic waste, the North and South Poles support an amazing abundance of life.
Among other species, we find penguin colonies and curiously-engineered fish in Antarctica and bears, arctic foxes and hares on the globe’s northern cap.
Those creatures make either of the poles dream destinations for new as well as seasoned wildlife photographers.
Note: if you do plan to head to one of the poles to take pictures of wildlife there, be sure to plan your trip carefully; it takes a bit more preparation to take photographs of animals in such extreme conditions!
The Galapagos Islands
As one of the most biologically diverse regions of the planet, this archipelago is home to species found nowhere else on earth.
Best of all, because they have been protected for over a century, the wildlife does not see humans as predators; they are completely unafraid of us!
What can you photograph in the Galapagos that you cannot take a picture of anywhere else?
You may catch a hawk in flight in any nature reserve but Galapagos hawks are unique. Endemic to just a few of the islands, capturing the image of such a raptor would be a rare treat!
The same could be said for the short-eared owl and the Galapagos mockingbird.
If you are more into ground-level creatures, you can capture a giant tortoise or any of the colourful species of iguanas.
Although wildlife there is abundant and not shy at all, you may still want to bring your bean bag camera rest or, if you really want to do Galapagos properly, bring your tripod with its gimbal so you can move your camera as needed.
Find out what other equipment you should bring with you on a photoshoot...
Photograph the Wild Animals of Borneo
The world’s third-largest island, located just at the edge of the Pacific ocean, is home to a wide variety of unique animals to photograph.
There, you may concentrate on photographing only orangutans or you could widen your focus to include gibbons and proboscis monkeys.
If bird photography is more to your liking, only on Borneo could you find a red-breasted partridge or a mountain serpent-eagle. Imagine entering those shots in a photography contest!
What about macro photography?
If you wanted to try your talent at capturing the smallest creatures, the Borneo Rainforest is an amazing ecosystem where you could find (and shoot) a huge assortment of insects, many of them in the same general area.
Also, if you wanted to cross disciplines and try your hand at nature photography, you could not do much better than in Borneo.
Photograph the ‘Big Five’ in Africa
This could hardly be called a list of amazing places to photograph wildlife if we left off Africa.
The Big Five we refer to are elephants, buffalo, black rhino, lion and leopard, all of which make their home in the Kalahari national reserve.
If you had your heart set on capturing big cats like the cheetah or leopard, you can find them there, too.
However, if you wanted to photograph a herd of elephants, wilderbeest or zebra, you would have to plan a trip to the Serengeti.
The world’s second-largest continent has such a diversity of life, you may find yourself returning to capture it on film (or memory card) again and again.
Giant Pandas in the Chengdu Reserve
Did you know that the giant panda is considered a living fossil? They have been around for thousands of years. With an average lifespan of only 20 years, that is a remarkable statistic.
Even more remarkable is the fact that there are fewer than 2,000 of them left.
These solitary, reclusive animals are far from the fun, cuddly creatures they are portrayed to be but every bit as photogenic.
The Chengdu research base is one of the world’s foremost conservation projects. They have worked extensively to study and preserve this amazing animal... and now they’ve opened their park to permit viewing and photographing them.
It’s best to arrive early in the morning or late afternoon as that is when the pandas are most active.
You should bring your telephoto lens and tripods because, as you walk through the park, you will come upon pandas lounging in trees or in the underbrush.
As well as the renown black and white giant pandas, you will see red pandas – a relative of the raccoon, and a generous population of birds and insects, all available for you to photograph.
Here too, you may consider taking pictures of the panda’s natural habitats; the bamboo forest is magnificent!
And, if you have a bit of extra time, you may want to dash over to nearby Le Shan to take pictures of the world’s largest Buddha statue.
True, it’s not wildlife but it is outdoor photography and the statue, carved out of the mountainside, is quite remarkable to behold.
Photographing the Canadian Brown Bear
Like the panda, Canada’s bear population has somehow gotten a reputation for being adorable and cuddly. We don’t recommend you putting those ideas to the test.
On the other hand, packing your photography gear and heading to Canada is advised.
Canada is home not just to the brown bear but also grizzly bears, black bears and the unique kermode bear, also known as the Spirit Bear because of its white fur.
Like the white squirrels mentioned earlier, these bears are neither albino nor are they related to polar bears, which you can also find in Canada.
Apart from grizzlies, which will attack rather than retreat when confronted, bears are generally fairly shy creatures, preferring to avoid conflict... unless they are hungry, it is mating season or they are protecting their cubs.
For safety’s sake, it would be best to stay out of the bears’ habitat.
Photographing them from a distance with a super-long lens and setting your camera’s shutter speed accordingly could still yield an image worthy of entry into a photo contest.
Ours is a magnificent world full of amazing creatures; in fact, we’ve not even touched on underwater photography in this article even though there too are breathtaking life forms.
For all of you combing the earth to bring us images of seldom-seen creatures: thank you for photographing them and sharing your work. We wish we could go with you.
If we failed to mention your favourite place in the whole world to photograph animals, we would love to hear from you.
For all of you only just beginning as a wildlife photographer: we hope this short list of amazing destinations gives you a place to start.
Now pick up on these tips and tricks to becoming the best wildlife photographer.