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The Two Types of Wildlife Shots
by Tom Maddrey


There are lots of things that can make wildlife photo great, but there is a surefire method of sinking a wildlife portfolio, and it has to do with your choice of when to push the shutter.

My photographic passion is wildlife. When I go out into the field, I am always planning my trips, exploring, and trying to find some amazing animals to shoot. I also am lucky enough to get to look at the web pages and portfolios of my students and colleagues in the field. It is pretty clear to me that there are two primary categories of wildlife shots, Portraits and Behavior, and if you want to be a complete shooter, you need to have both!

This is where many photographers start when first shooting wildlife. Imagine a newly minted photographer who takes their trusty new zoom lens to the zoo. Over 95% of these images will be “Portraits,” that is, images of the animal, usually including the face, of an animal that is generally not moving, or doing much of anything. I liken “Portrait” shots to an encyclopedia shot of an animal. It is a snapshot, a view of the animal that gives you identification, and usually little more. These are imperative shots to have in your portfolio, and often, if you are selling stock, the images that clients expect to see first.

But if you have been shooting wildlife for any period of time, you will quickly find that you have many many many portraits of the same species. There is very little besides cropping, framing, etc, that separates one Snow Leopard or Tiger from another. It is very important to have the portraits of many species, but it is not nearly enough. To be a complete shooter, you must see these animals in action, in their “Behavior.”

Behavior shots is the visual representation of wildlife being wild. That is, doing natural things, in usually a natural setting. If you photograph animals in the zoo or in captivity, you often have to wait long hours to see natural behavior. If you go out in the wild, you often have to wait long hours to see anything, but when you do, all the shots will be “Behavior” shots. If you take a look at the images of wildlife that you are most drawn to, I suspect that there will be few portraits, and many behavior shots.

These shots all show the animals in a state of action. There is something going on here more than just a portrait. These kinds of images help to give context to an animal. As a wildlife photographer, giving your subjects context is one of your most important jobs. The addition and mix of behavior shots in a wildlife portfolio cannot be overstated. These images are the ones your clients and viewers will gravitate to, and the ones that often take much more luck and skill to photograph.

Portrait + Behavior
Sometimes, shots fall into both categories. These images are ones that show some kind of action, with the benefits of a portrait. They give context and identification. Some of the best shots can fall into this category.

To make portfolios that dazzle your viewers, it is important to have both Portraits and Behavior shots, and maybe a little of both

Tom Maddrey is the founder of the Eclipse Photography Institute, and a commercial photographer based in Dallas, TX. Through his work at Eclipse, Tom has taught thousands of photographers how to see their photography in a new way. In addition, each year, you may find Tom leading groups of photographers in Alaska, Montana, California, and all over the world.

The Eclipse Photography Institute exists to help photographers of all levels increase their technical, creative, and business knowledge as it pertains to their work. Through on demand, online seminars; incredible DVDs; workshops; and one on one training; Tom and his team of world class instructors help photographers achieve their vision.

Visit www.EclipseInstitute.com to see the courses offered, and to purchase DVDs. To see more of Tom’s work, check out www.TomMaddrey.com. Finally, Tom and Eclipse have long been supporters of great camera stores, and Arlington Camera is our home base and simply our favorite.

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