|Purple Gallinule standing amid water vegetation. (Photo courtesy the Refuge Reporter)|
A photographer's idea of what constitutes good wildlife viewing is totally different from that of a serious seer, such as a birder. Photographers need to get right up to their subjects for good pictures, while a birder will be ecstatic at identifying a new species even when it's at flyspeck distance. Getting close to wild animals is not always easy.
Despite such a difficulty, wildlife photography is one of the most popular hobbies in North America. More people take pictures of wildlife, flowers, and plants than hunt or fish.
Florida has some of the most diverse photographic opportunities of anywhere in the country, from the coral reefs of the Keys to the cypress swamps of the Panhandle. Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to lens aggressive alligators, shy manatees, and beautifully plumed snowy egrets all in a single day.
Wildlife photography also poses considerable challenges because you are dealing with creatures with a mind and will of their own. Photographing animals is one of the best ways to become closely acquainted with their habits and their habitats. And sometimes there is a real element of risk involvedÂ— standing only yards away from an unpenned alligator who can move faster on land than you can.
Fortunately, alligators run fast only for short bursts, and you can foil them even then by running zig-zag, a maneuver they supposedly cannot do. I say"supposedly" because I have never been chased by an alligator, and I don't know anyone who has. Like many accepted truisms, this one is still unproven as far as I'm concerned. So, whenever a gator seems agitated, I move away quickly before I get to test the theory.
After photographing wildlife professionally for more than two decades, I have come to recognize that animals photographed in natural preserves look no different from those roaming freely through a forest. Even in a preserve, there's no absolute assurance the animals will appear when and where you expect them to. Furthermore, most Florida preserves are not fenced, so the animals may come and go as they wish.
There's certainly nothing wrong with being a purist and sitting in the woods, hoping something interesting will wander by. I just find it a lot more satisfying to pick a place where I know I have the best chance to see animals.
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