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Photographing Wild Animals At Large

( Originally Published 1902 )

Outfit required.—Camera preferably the graflex or some such type of box that allows of focussing while the plate is ready to be exposed and has a draw of bellows sufficient for the use of low-power telephoto lens. Long-focus lens of great rapidity, tripod, etc.

Few of the vast army of photographers realise what it is to hunt wild animals with their cameras; still fewer of the sportsmen appreciate the amount of sport which may be had when the camera takes the place of the rifle. They don't consider that for the camera there is no close season. Game of all kind —and all animals are the camera's game—may be hunted with more or less success at all seasons of the year. If we consider the skill required for camera hunting, we must realise that more is needed than when the gun is used ; for it is necessary not only to approach nearer to the animal, but, even when near, hours may be spent in trying to secure either a favour-able place or a suitable attitude, and during all this time every precaution known to the hunter is called into practice. Stalk a deer with the camera and you will realise how small a thing will mar the chances of success. A twig incautiously broken, the grazing of the camera against a dry branch, or any of the hundred and one accidents that may at times happen to the still-hunter, and where is your photograph? Gone ! Whereas had you been using the rifle you might easily have bagged your game. Stalk a big bull moose, even though it be during the close season, and unless you by chance find an animal that is absurdly tame, as occasionally they are, you will find excitement enough if you would come within fifty feet of the big creature. Learn all you can about still-hunting, do not relax your vigilance, and take nothing on chance, and you may succeed; fail in any one precaution, and you will have no picture.

Once when I was on a trip trying to secure some moose pictures, I came across a fine large bull ; the situation was perfect from a pictorial point of view. He was in a large pond where the lily-pads were abundant; in the near background was a bank of trees, mostly birch beyond stood Mount Katandin in the misty distance; the moose was feeding in shallow water, the light was bright, and as the wind was in the right direction, everything pointed to a successful picture. We were in a canoe; slowly and noiselessly we came through the smooth water ; scarcely a ripple did the canoe make. Nearer and nearer, and still the bull had not seen us. When within about seventy feet (I was using a telephoto lens) I stood up slowly and quietly, while the animal was busy feeding. No sooner was I in position than he looked up. A finer picture could not be imagined. His enormous antlers, still in the velvet, seemed almost out of proportion to his size. And he stood absolutely still while I, trembling with excitement, focussed the camera and pressed the button. Instantly the huge beast made a dash for the shore and in a second was lost to view, and I sat down congratulating myself on having secured such a splendid picture. Imagine my disgust when, on going to change the plate holder, I discovered that in my excitement I had neglected to draw the slide. My chance was gone, and never again did another such opportunity present itself. All of which only goes to show that coolness and presence of mind are as much needed in stalking animals with the camera as with the gun. Every little detail must be thought of. That sounds easy enough, but how often it happens that we lose our very best chances through forgetting some trivial item ! The only way to avoid such experiences is to have a regular system of examining the camera when about to make a picture; have a regular routine, and follow it out in all cases. It becomes a habit, so that after a time we do it automatically.

The question of a camera for this branch of work is perhaps more important than in any other. A tripod camera is in nearly all cases out of the question, except for small animals. An ordinary hand-camera has the objection that one has to guess at the focus, a most difficult thing to do; and most hand-cameras are made to use a short-focus lens, which in wild-animal work is utterly useless. From my own experience the graflex camera seems the one best fitted to the work ; its great length of bellows will allow the use of the hand-camera telephoto lens, which has a magnification of 3 1/2 diameters. Armed with such an instrument, almost any kind of work may be done, and with the least possible difficulty and the greatest possible chance of success. It is perhaps needless to say that no outfit is complete without a telephoto lens. For animal work the kind known as the hand-camera one (such as that made by Bausch & Lomb) is the best; it only magnifies 3 1/2 diameters, but that is as much as can safely be risked for hand-camera work or when the objects are constantly moving. With a plastigmat fitted with one of these telephoto lens I have made exposures of one hundredth of a second on live animals in motion, and obtained very fair results. This was on a bright day, of course; in cloudy weather one fifth will yield a perfectly exposed plate. For all animals that can be approached near enough, use a long-focus lens in preference to the telephoto, as the lens without the telephoto attachment is both quicker and more easily focussed. The plates necessary for the work must be of extreme rapidity. Isochromatic plates will of course give somewhat better results so far as the general landscape is concerned, but, owing to their sensitiveness to dampness, they are scarcely to be recommended except for trips of a week or so. The exigencies of camping do not allow of the care necessary for their protection.

As has been said before, a short-focus lens is of practically no use in animal photography; when large animals are the subjects, they are rendered too small unless you are fortunate enough to be able to approach to within very short range. Even then the results are far from satisfactory. The shorter the focal length of the lens, the greater will be the distortion due to the exaggerated foreshortening, so that for all animals, large or small, use a long-focus lens—the longer the better, so that its speed is great enough. For a four-by-five plate I use nothing less than a nine-and-a-half-inch lens, usually one of still greater length. Do not forget that the light in the woods is much less powerful than it appears to be, so that it is seldom safe to make instantaneous exposures even with a rapid lens, while the telephoto attachment can only be used with a time exposure. Absolutely safe plate-holders are more important in wild-animal work than in any other, as, owing to the varying conditions, the roughness of the country in which the work is usually done, the length of time that a plate has to be ready for use with the slide drawn, and the difficulties of guarding against possible danger of having the plate struck by light by protecting the camera with a black cloth, the plate-holder is subjected to the most severe tests.

It is impossible to give precise instruction for photo-graphing animals; each species is so different in its. characteristics that what would be true of one kind might be absolutely untrue of another. Not only does each species require particular treatment, but frequently individuals of the same species are so entirely peculiar in their habits as to require entirely different methods. Sometimes we find squirrels that will pick up a nut when thrown to them, and sit down to eat it while we secure the picture, while others will scamper off and on no account allow themselves. to be photographed. Still more noticeable is the individuality of any of the deer family. I have seen a two-year-old bull moose, after making a wild dash away from the canoe, come back and begin feeding within forty feet of us, remaining thus for ten minutes or more while I made a number of exposures. We were in plain view all the time, and the wind blew directly from us to him ; yet, for some unknown reason, he entertained no fear of us, even though we talked and moved about without taking the slightest precaution.

Of all the animals none is easier to photograph than the 'possum. Whether he is very foolish or exceedingly smart, I have never quite made up my mind. His slowness of movement enables us to control his whereabouts so that with little trouble he can be photographed in almost any place or position. Occasionally he acts "cussed mean " and will do nothing but "play 'possum." Take him by the tail (the only natural way to hold him) and place him on a branch; he will not so much as hold on, but will let himself fall, even though the distance be great. Nothing you can do will make him show signs of animation until it suits his convenience. But once he is in his right mind he is a perfect model for the animal photographer. Another excellent subject for the camera is the porcupine. The only great objection to him is that he cannot be handled. His movements may be influenced by pushing him with a stick, but that is done only at the loss of some of his quills. One time I had some photo-graphic illustrations to make for a magazine. The story dealt with a porcupine. In making the pictures I "used up" seventeen animals; that is to say, in trying to induce them to assume the attitudes I needed, they lost so many quills that their beauty (what little they possessed) was completely destroyed, often without an exposure having been made.

Small animals such as mice are most satisfactory in pictures, and they may be photographed with comparatively little trouble. The best pictures are those which show the old and young together. Sometimes the nest is a satisfactory accessory. But in all cases choose such surroundings as would illustrate something of the animals' life and habits. You will probably find difficulty in restricting the range of most small wild animals; if so, try using a glass box, or a box with a glass front. In this arrange your accessories, and make the exposure when the animal assumes the position you wish. To avoid reflections on the glass let the sun shine directly on it and don't use a very dark background.

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