Wildlife photography is full of failures (and that’s okay)

An American black bear half above and half below the water

This is a photo of an American black bear checking out a remotely triggered camera in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Thanks to Paul Nicklen for technical assistance with this one (i.e. teaching this buffoon the basics of how to use and maintain an underwater housing). There were many, many failures while trying to get this one shot. So many failures. Oh, so many failures.

It took me three weeks in the field to get this photo, but that does not include all the technical planning required to figure out how I could actually make this remotely triggered over-under shot work. 

Once in the field, my housing flooded with water a couple times. And, sometimes rain on the out-of-the-water part of the housing ruined all the images (tip from Paul – use pledge or Rain-X on the housing to alleviate that problem). There were lots of other problems: batteries died, triggers failed and bears walked around the camera instead of in front of it.  That kind of stuff.  Still, it was a lot of fun, and when a bear finally did walk in front of the camera, and there was no water in the housing, and the trigger worked, and the bear didn’t maul the camera, and I managed to get this photo – I was very, very happy, even though it was a black bear and not a spirit bear as I had hoped for. But nevermind that. 

More importantly, this was three weeks spent not in a chair, not in my office and not in front of my computer. No email. No phone calls. It was mostly just hanging around in the rainforest listening to the river, the rain, the wind, the ravens and hoping to get a neat photo.  So the photo is really just a bonus. Even if I failed to get the photo, I had already won.

Wildlife photographers like to talk about all the challenges they face getting good photos – all the rain, snow, sleet wind, bugs et cetera, et cetera. “It’s not easy,” they say, “it is really demanding and rarely rewarding.” And from personal experience, I know much of that is true.  But I once spent three years working at a desk in a cubicle, and that was also really challenging and almost never rewarding. Given the choice, I would take the challenges of wildlife photography over the endless drudgery of the cubicle any day – and so would the people telling you how hard wildlife photography is. 

2 thoughts on “Wildlife photography is full of failures (and that’s okay)”

  1. Clive Williams

    You got some great photos of bears and wolves, but where’s the Wolverines?
    I can’t imagine them being very easy to photograph, given their elusiveness and the remote and cold and bug-infested places where they are found, but no doubt you would have had and taken your best chance to get a great photo of one had you not been stuffing your face with cornbread when that helicopter swooped overhead to ruin everything!
    I bet it still haunts you to this day, just as that huge northern pike I fought with for over 5 heart-pounding minutes (had to be about 40 pounds that one) before it escaped (shook its head and bent my hook straight) still haunts me to this day.

  2. Ha! You’re right Clive. I am still miffed about that helicopter that interrupted that encounter with the only wolverine I have ever seen! Like your monster pike, sometimes there just are no second chances. Thanks for reading

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