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Photography in National Parks: 3 Things You Must Know

I recently cam across some footage of a woman with her cellphone out frolicking with three bears in Yellowstone National Park. She seemed to be having the time of her life, obviously living out her childhood fantasies of being Goldilocks and capturing the magical moment on her iPhone 12. It was magical, it seemed, until the 1500 pound bear charged her aggressively. She then beat a hasty retreat back to her car and seemed less enthralled with the local wildlife. She became even less so when she was charged criminally, given a hefty fine, and convicted of tampering with wildlife.

This brings up a good lesson that all photographers must learn before embarking on the foray of a lifetime trying to capture that stillshot that will make you NatGeo famous. Most of us who are interested in photography and wilderness exploration will remember Timothy Treadwell, the self proclaim bear enthusiast who, along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, was eaten by a bear that he underestimated. That being said, here are three things you should always do when documenting wildlife

  1. Learn the local laws regarding animal interaction. In Ohio, for instance, you are not permitted to spotlight deer at night. I once knew a police officer who was stopped and detained by a local game warden when he was observed using the spotlight on his patrol car, while on duty, to illuminate deer at night. He wasn’t shooting them or attempting to shoot them. He was merely looking at them. National parks have similar laws in place that are meant to protect the visitors and the local wildlife. Make sure you research these before you get the trouble associated with violating federally protected wildlife, it can be long reaching.
  2. Protect yourself while shooting. I can’t stress enough the importance of having the weaponry at your disposal that might be needed to save your life in a dangerous animal encounter. Remember the Timothy Treadwell incident. It went on for three minutes and involved two people. An adequate firearm could have saved the day for the unfortunate pair of conservationists. Even ber spray might have made a difference.
  3. Maintain your distance. No matter what, wild animals are all survivalists and they are dangerous. The best way to stay safe and be effective at the same time is to buy the proper equipment and stay as far away from them as possible. If you can’t afford a 600mm – 1000mm lens, consider renting one or investing in less expensive bridge camera options; some of which can easily reach 1200mm focal length and beyond.
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