The range of career possibilities for a nature photographer is very wide. While not everyone can land a job with National Geographic or Nature magazine, there are plenty of opportunities for photographers who want to focus their lenses on the natural world. Photographers can earn a living by getting a full-time position at a magazine or other publication, but most nature photographers work on a freelance basis. Freelance work is less steady, but it is a good option for photographers who have built up a reputation or an address book full of clients. Keep your eyes open for opportunities, as they can come from unexpected sources. Businesses, such as outdoor sporting goods and gardening companies, need professional-quality photographers to illustrate their promotional materials (catalogs, Web sites, posters, and other display materials). The greeting card and calendar industries are also possible venues for your images.
Simply stated, a nature photographer must have a love of and respectful appreciation for nature. It is also very important to have a good eye, a visual instinct that allows you to hunt out the most interesting subjects and frame them in the most compelling way. Beyond these essential attributes, the technical aspects of photography can be learned through a combination of formal study (in high school, community college classes, or YMCA workshops) and trial and error.
Nature photography also involves a lot of patience, determination, and an adventurous spirit. You may have to wait for hours for the clouds to clear, for the sun to reach just the right part of the sky, or for an animal to pass before your lens. Sometimes the light will be too harsh or too subdued; sometimes animals will be partly hidden by trees or grasses or will not stay still for your camera. You will have to learn how to cope with these frustrations and how to compensate for potential limitations. Sometimes only one shot from dozens of pictures will be worthwhile; you must not let frustration and disappointment prevent you from trying again the next day. Nature photographers must also be adventurous and willing to go to remote and inhospitable places, where the weather may be harsh, in order to take great pictures.
The Nature Photographer's Code of Ethics
- Humans should appear in nature photographs only when they enhance a picture's narrative.
- Pictures of cultivated plants, still-life arrangements, domestic animals, or stuffed and mounted animals are not considered examples of nature photography.
- Photographs manipulated in any way (by computers or airbrushing, for example) are not considered to be true nature photography.
- Do not disturb wild creatures by playing loud music, littering, driving recklessly, or driving off approved roads. If an animal seems agitated, draw back.
- Learn about the behavior of your animal subjects before photographing them. Know when not to interfere with animals' life cycles and respect their routines. Do not approach nests or dens too closely. Never remove fledglings from their nests.
- It is acceptable to remove insects and reptiles from their habitat for photographing, as long as they are returned. Permission to do so from the proper authorities must be granted.
- It is never acceptable to anesthetize an animal for the purposes of nature photography.
- Nocturnal creatures should be photographed in the early morning or late afternoon when they are less active. This will make it easier for you to get the shot, but you will not be disrupting them.
- Cave formations and paintings should never be removed, broken, or tampered with in any way.
- Avoid trampling on grasslands, marshes, and wildflower patches when photographing plants and flowers. Damage to these plants and flowers affects all species in the ecosystem. Stay on designated trails. Wildflowers should never be picked.
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