Magpies and crows were dancing around in my viewfinder, squabbling over choice spots on the elk carcass.Cathy and I had been looking for larger game, but being opportunists like the birds on the elk, we were happy to photograph whatever presented itself.The birds didn’t appear to pay the slightest attention to us as I fired away, and I was a little surprised when they all disappeared from the viewfinder in a flurry of black and white feathers.
Then I saw them–paws sticking into the top of my frame.A coyote had come to pay its respects to the recently departed elk.With only a glance at us and our camera gear, first one coyote and then its partner dug into the fresh meat, allowing us to shoot frame after frame of the wily beasts feeding naturally.How often do you find birds, let alone wary predators, that will tolerate a photographer’s close presence in the wild?Shooting from a vehicle sure helps.
Coyote & Magpies on Elk Carcass
Photographing from your car can often mean the difference between getting a great shot of your subject and watching its back end disappear over distant hills.Perhaps it’s a sad commentary on our dependence on automobiles.However, the fact remains that, in most of North America, wild animals see so many vehicles that they’ve become accustomed to them and no longer consider them a threat–which is kind of ironic considering how many animals fall victim to speeding cars every day.You might as well take advantage of the situation.
You’ll soon discover that your car offers many advantages over traditional blinds.For one thing, you don’t have to set it up.For another, depending on your particular vehicle, it’s probably much more comfortable than a traditional blind.If the animal moves away from a traditional blind, you’re stuck.If it moves away while you’re shooting from the car, you can often move right along with it.You can keep a large amount of equipment handy, and it’s conceivable that two or more people can be shooting out of a car at the same time.In many national wildlife refuges, special permission is required to set up a traditional blind.As long as you stay on public roadways, very few restrictions are placed on photographing animals from a car.
Not only is your car a pleasant alternative to traditional blinds, there’s almost no limit to the species you can photograph from it.Because we’ve built roads everywhere, there is undoubtedly a road going through the habitat of whatever species you want to photograph–even if it happens to be polar bears and gyrfalcons.We’ve photographed such diverse species as least terns, Wilson’s phalaropes, pronghorn antelope and alligators from our car.
Scissor Tail Fly Catcher
Sometimes, photographing from your car is a good idea not because your subject might run away if you step out, but because it might come too close if you do.Some species have lost most of their fear of humans, and having metal between you and them is a good idea.One animal that we prefer to photograph from the safety of our car is the bison.Every year, someone is gored by one of these large animals, and it’s often a person trying to take a photo.
There are few tips to keep in mind that may improve your photographic success from your car “blind.”First, avoid using busy highways as photography sites.Even if there are lots of animals present, they’re not used to seeing cars stop.Therefore, a stopped car is a reason to panic.Also, you’re liable to be rear-ended as you slow from highway speed to wildlife photography speed.Second, look for locations that species like to return to–perhaps a kill or a lone fruit tree.We’ve had waxwings almost fly into our car from their crabapple tree.We’ve also had good luck capturing shots of goldfinches returning to thistles growing beside the road.Fence lines along rural roads can be great places to watch for birds. Finally, when you find a subject that allows you to park right beside it, be sure to shoot a few good shots before you make the mistake of attempting to leave your car–unless you want to see just how fast your subject can disappear.
Endangered Least Tern
The equipment necessary for car-blind photography shouldn’t set you back too much (once you acquire the vehicle).A window mount is a good idea, and there are quite a few good ones on the market today.The one we use is homemade, and it works well.If you don’t want to make even that much investment, a bean bag or foam pad or even a coat laid over the window can give you satisfactory results–if there’s enough light.Just be sure to turn the car engine off before shooting.
You’re going to find a great many animals that won’t tolerate your close approach even when you’re in a slowly moving vehicle.We’ve found that placing camouflage netting over the car windows eases the fears of some animals while still allowing us to see well enough to find our subject.Keep in mind, however, that you don’t want to obscure your vision excessively if you’re going to be driving very far.You’ll also receive suspicious looks when you drive down the highway with your windows covered with camouflage.However, who cares about people making fun of your car as long as it gets you to the animals and back It doesn’t matter if you drive a Rambler or a Range Rover as you cruise the roadways looking for wild photography subjects.Remember, you’re behind the wheel of one of the best blinds on the market.
By Cathy & Gordon Illg