The Lessons of Wildlife Photography
By Karen R. Schuenemann
Once, if you’d told me that I would be driving hundreds of miles in HOPES of just seeing a bobcat, I would have thought that you were crazy. Then, nine years ago, my husband bought me my first digital camera. From the first day, the magical transformation began. Years before, I’d studied film photography. I photographed people and enjoyed street photography. But digital photography was a game changer: instant feedback without a darkroom.
Many terabytes later, the passion ignited from that very special gift has changed my life. I am now a wildlife and nature photographer, teaching classes and leading workshops from Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico, to the Tetons to Africa. This transformation happened at the intersection of passion and patience.
Wildlife photography has taught me many lessons. First, Nature doesn’t always read my memos, but she ALWAYS delivers! I just returned from an amazing workshop to Bosque Del Apache. When we arrived, we learned that Bosque and Bernardo were closed due to mud and rain. I had promised to show the seven participants the beauty and the birds of these refuges. I needed to quickly reimagine the plan, We drove to Albuquerque to visit an inspiring photographer, Tim Anderson, who produces the online magazine, “Shadow and Light.” Heading back, we decided to stop at Bernardo and hike through the thick, heavy mud. I’d figured we’d get some fresh air, and MAYBE see some birds. Guess what? In eight years of visits to New Mexico, we saw more sandhill cranes that day than on any other trip! Mother Nature delivered the goods! Two days later, as we waited on a dirt road in Bernardo, bundled up in cold weather gear, the MAGIC happened again. The sun broke through the storm clouds and thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes simultaneously lifted off. . This was one of the most incredible moments that I’ve ever had photographing birds.
Gratitude is a daily experience when I photograph wildlife and nature. The past few months, in particular, have upped the ante on anxiety in the news and in our daily lives. I recommit my joy in this world each time that I go out to shoot.
Photography teaches me patience in all aspects of my life. I tend to be high energy and my mind often races. However when I am with my camera, the world slows and the intimate behaviors of animals come to the forefront. Their tenderness towards their young moves me. The disconnect in our urban world with the wild animals and birds disappears. I feel deeply connected with the animals and watch them as they teach their youngsters to survive and navigate in our urban world. I have watched red foxes for DAYS and WEEKS play with their young kits, gently clean their faces with a tenderness that we often don’t see in humans! I store these experiences in my heart, and can readily bring them back when the news is suffocating and dismal.
With these sweet lessons, I traipse out to find the next wild animal in our wild spaces. This journey continues to teach me that beauty abounds, and that we just need to take the time to look.
I’d love for you to visit my website, WildernessAtHeart.com and join me on this journey!