Skip to Main ContentAdditional Site Navigation
Nikon ImagingUSAAmericas
  1. thumbnail image

Nikon Global (View in a new window)
Video Wildlife

Wildlife… It’s In Her Name

Savannah Rose Wildlife photo of a raccoon looking at the camera through branches
Peeping Tom On an overcast winter day I noticed I had company just outside my bedroom window. Two very young raccoons lay napping in a tight bundle up in an evergreen brushing up against the house. I left them for a few hours, then noticed they started to become active again as the afternoon grew dark. I eased my camera lens out the window and waited. They were a bit curious of me and dropped down to a lower limb where I captured this photo of one of the twins gazing into my window. These moments of intimate contact are my favorite as a wildlife photographer. As I looked into his world, he looked into mine. They continued down the tree after this brief encounter and plopped into the snow before shuffling off together into the wilderness.

Her social handle is Savannah Rose Wildlife, and she’s a wildlife photographer. You could say she’s obsessed with the photographic pursuit of wildlife and splits her time between creating images for herself and as a camera assistant on wildlife documentary jobs. She’s also a tracker and scout.

Living in Jackson, WY allows Savannah access to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks as well as the Wyoming expansive public lands system.

Those interested in taking up wildlife photography will be happy to know that much of Savannah’s grizzly photography is created from the side of the road. Being in a vehicle or over 100 yards away ensures that both you and the bears are perfectly safe. However, she does spend a great deal of time in the woods, searching out elusive animals. And a lot of that time can be spent waiting and watching.

One factor I love about this ecosystem is the amount of opportunity to shoot wildlife you can have right from the road. While I prefer to adventure off on my own, I absolutely take advantage of this as well! I love the accessibility of the area to everyone of every skill level. You can roam into the high alpine backcountry or cruise the expansive road system if you prefer.

The single best tip I have for anyone who wants to elevate their wildlife photography or get into the craft is to familiarize yourself with track and sign. Good fieldcraft and naturalist skills make all the difference in the world. There are droves of excellent resources for all skill levels, from books to apps to websites.

It is of utmost importance to know that wild animals have boundaries you should never cross. When out in bear country, Savannah says to familiarize yourself with bear spray and how to use it in case of emergency. She also carries a GPS spot device with her that is capable of calling search and rescue through a satellite connection.

Savannah Rose Wildlife photo of a fox on a fence
Fox on a Fence I spent some time with a pair of red fox families in the spring of 2022. The most interesting characteristic about this father fox is he was delivering food to two dens next to each other, each with their own female, with a total of 11 kits. He was rather comfortable with my presence and would use the buckrail fences to dart around the boundaries of the property, which is where I captured this portrait. His winter coat is molting out in this picture, giving him a sort of haggard patchy look.

Ethics in the Woods

To Savannah, ethical photography of wildlife is her utmost concern. And she uses her social platforms to inform and educate her followers.

I believe that it is absolutely paramount that wildlife photographers give back to their subjects in some way. Otherwise, sharing their time is simply exploitative. I’m aware that I trespass in their home, intrude on their time, and I know to some extent disrupt the peace; although I try hard to be as noninvasive as possible.

Be An Ethical Wildlife Photographer

Feeding or baiting wildlife creates unnatural dependencies on human food sources, leading to conflict, spread of disease, dangerous proximity to roads and civilizations: all result in untimely death.
Unsecured trash is another form of this problematic food conditioning, though largely unintentional, which is why people should be educated on what harmful practices they might be overlooking.
Unethical photography practices like the usage of hounds to tree bears or mountain lions for photography puts an incredible amount of stress on these animals. It is unacceptable to run an animal to the point of exhaustion for some photos.
It is crucial to practice good field ethics when photographing wild animals. That means not chasing animals, putting too much pressure on fragile sites like nests or dens, or putting yourself in a situation where an animal might feel like it needs to defend itself.
Safety of the animal is important. Understand that your presence is capable of disturbing the peace. Always let an animal leave a scene if it wants to.

Challenge your beliefs and contemplate how you can be on your best behavior in our wild friends’ home. They deserve it!

Savannah Rose Wildlife photo of male sheep looking at a female in the snowy landscape
It Girl Three Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep rams swoon as an ewe in estrus passes by them. These iconic animals have one of the more aggressive ruts during the early winter, typically around the time of Thanksgiving. They are quite compelling to watch as the males kick each other in unsavory places, butt heads, and court their ewes while spreading their lips in a humorous flehmen response. On this day, I was laying in the road watching these boys in the snow. It was love at first sight when this pretty lady strutted by.

Favorite Subjects

My all-time favorite subject is the elusive mountain lion. I’ve watched them slink from shadow to shadow under the light of a full moon, careful not to reveal their presence even in the dead of night. I also enjoy spending time with grizzly bears, which are sentient and powerful creatures. Where the cats are shy, the grizzlies are proud. The cats are subtle, the bears are obvious. In addition to these incredible apex predators, my favorite subjects are always the ones that are the most hidden. Nesting Great Grey owls and goshawks, Martens and weasels, pikas and beavers, and the rare boreal owl. Truly, there are just too many amazing creatures to mention!

Gear that needs to last

Savannah notes that she is not gentle on her gear, and neither is the wild. “One of the main reasons I’ve stuck with Nikon throughout my entire photography career is the substantial quality of gear that endures my abuse,” she says.

A big part of Savannah’s photography includes the setup of camera traps. These remote cameras need to survive intense abuse by the weather and curious bears. Even though the cameras are housed in boxes, she explains that bears learn through touch. “They will not hesitate to get their mouth on anything they find interesting. My lenses have been slobbered on quite a bit and sport a few teeth marks as well but so far, they are still producing great quality images.”

Savannah Rose Wildlife photo of a coyote
Brown Eyed Girl Eye contact with one of the most misunderstood animals in the world. There is something so deeply profound about the coyote’s persistence, and the unfortunate irony to the degree humans persecute animals that nor only adapt to our presence but thrive in the shadow of mankind. Efforts to wipe them out have failed miserably; any time they are knocked down they come back stronger.

What is a camera trap?

A camera trap is a form of remote photography, in which you place a camera in the wild, that captures candid images of animals in their natural habitat, triggered by a motion sensor. The results are unpredictable.

I like to think that the unique quality of the animals’ presence interacting with your [remote’s] premeditated composition is like the subject having autonomy over how their portrait is taken.

Savannah tries to keep her camera traps out all the time but notes they can be laborious to maintain. It’s not as easy as just turning on a camera and walking away. And plenty of factors are outside of your control: severe weather, animals knocking the kit over, humans tampering with the setup, blowing branches setting off false triggers, and animals not behaving how you anticipated.

My gear does often get grief from bears as they are quite curious and tactile creatures. Usually, they take the opportunity to stop and play with the new toy they have found. Last year, I even had a black bear carry a camera to her bed site and chew on the case all night! Luckily, the camera inside survived the ordeal.

The f/2.8 window

I believe there is a vastly important window of creative expression between f/2.8 and f/4 that is worth the investment for my work, and why I use a 400mm lens and not a 500mm or 600mm. I absolutely love razor sharp depth of field in an up-close wildlife shot.

Savannah says the sharpness of an animal’s eyes while the rest of the image falls away into a dreamy background, “actually represents the moment of the encounter as accurately as possible.”

In a close eye to eye encounter, you’re transfixed as you stare into the animal’s eyes, and they stare into yours. My f/2.8 portraits represent this connection to me and that is the story I want to tell in my work.

The extra f/stop is also valuable in that Savannah often photographs at dawn, dusk and night-time, not in bright sunlight, so the fast nature of the lens means she’ll be able to come home with usable images that hold up from the most dramatic conditions.

Patience is a Virtue

I think I very likely have more patience than most. I’m perfectly comfortable sitting in a blind for hours, as long as there’s a chance of something magical happening … My finished work makes it look like I frequently am face to face with wildlife up-close, when in reality most of my hard drives are filled with animals grazing or walking away. The real up close, face to face types of encounters are in the minority for sure.

Savannah says she tries to be more of a “fly on the wall” when capturing animal behavior with her photography. “I believe there is an element of consent in wildlife photography that is not often discussed,” she says. Best-case scenario: the animals she’s photographing are indifferent to her existence. “Every once in a while you’re lucky to have a wild creature approach with curiosity. These fearless, wonderful moments of interspecies connection are what mean [the] most to me,” she adds.

Creating engaging videos

Along with sharing her photographs, Savannah shares her exploits using short videos on Instagram and TikTok, which she finds to be the quickest way to garner attention for her work. She explains: “Creating punchy, engaging short videos is an art form in itself that is still new to me, and I am enjoying learning how to best use this format to reach out to people.” Along with giving context to her images and bringing those stories to life, she’s found them to be a positive avenue for her business, gaining several thousand followers in a day from videos going viral. “A viral post is incredibly helpful for my small business, in which every order placed makes a difference,” she adds.

Photographic Wildlife

Grazing on Images of Wild Horses

Somer McCain photo of horses in silhouette against the sky
Ridge runners of the Stewart Creek herd area, Wyoming.

Wildlife and equine photographer Somer McCain has always had a love for horses, having grown up riding them. After moving to Colorado a few years back, she began photographing horse shows and wild horses. “I feel like I’ve found a niche that I’m very passionate about in the wild horses,” she explains. Other wildlife Somer often photographs include elk, pronghorns, coyotes, grouse, and raptors, which she’ll come across when searching for wild horses.

Check out her Instagram feed and you’ll see it is full of images of wild horses.

“As a horse person, being able to watch them in the wild feels pretty special. You get to witness behaviors and interactions that are otherwise micromanaged in domestic horses to minimize injuries. The flip side is that you get to witness the natural consequences of that and see life come full circle.”

Somer McCain photo of a family of 3 horses on the open plains
Small family band at sunrise in Lost Creek herd area, Wyoming.

Somer is acutely aware of the etiquette around photographing wildlife. For example, wild horse viewing dictates you keep a minimum 100 feet from the animals so you don’t disturb them causing them to change their behavior. Because of this she will often use a 500mm lens on her Z cameras.

“The horses I photograph vary from overly curious and walking towards me to some that will take off at the sight of my vehicle from a mile away. My main lens now is the 500mm and its managed to be a pretty good sweet spot for the variety of tolerance the horses have for my presence.”

Somer McCain photo of a horse in B&W
“Stallion keeping an eye on me near Pilot Butte Scenic Horse Loop, Wyoming.”

As with many other types of photography, composition and lighting are both integral parts of Somer’s photography.

Placing the horizon lines in the lower third of the images showcases the great open spaces they’re found on.

“I always knew wild mustangs were out there but never gave much thought to ‘where?’ So I definitely like to showcase the spaces they’re in when I can to emphasize that they do not live in a vacuum and make their existence in the wild more real for others.”

“I really like getting backlit photos when I can. I feel like it conveys the same sense of magic and wonder that I experience when I’m out there. And while I’d like to have my preferred lighting in all scenarios, it’s really dependent on if I can find the right horses at the right time. So I take what I can get and work around what the horses will let me have.”

Somer explains: “For instance, the silhouettes with the blue sky is one of my favorites and a really lucky shot. This particular herd always takes off when they see my vehicle and I was very fortunate to be slightly ahead of them and turn off onto a dirt two track road just in time to catch them up high on a ridge. One of my favorite parts of photographing wild horses is that a lot of my shots feel ‘lucky’ because I really can’t explicitly plan out shots that I want. It’s very much a hunt of sorts.”

She continues, “For less reactive horses I really like to get them with a softer light to emphasize the delicate and emotional interactions they can have with each other.”

Somer McCain photo of a horse with bokeh in the foreground
‘Tango’ pinto stallion of Sand Wash Basin, Colorado.

5 tips for photographing horses, wild & domestic:

  • For wild horses, a good ability to read horse/wildlife behavior in general is very helpful. Too much physical presence applies pressure to them that will cause them to move away from you or potentially have an aggressive reaction. It’s important to remember these are wild horses and will react to protect themselves or let you know if you ever get too close.
  • You must keep at least 100 feet from wild horses you encounter.
  • When photographing, the positioning of the legs can be important. Having their hind legs under them and their front legs really reaching forward implies a sense of power and forward movement. While having their legs “just anywhere” can make them appear gangly and awkward.
  • They also spend a lot of time with their heads down and hidden while grazing, so you have to be patient and wait for them to pick up their heads.
  • Be prepared to do a bit of driving when photographing wild horses. Many of the herd areas have mostly decent roads throughout hundreds of thousands of acres so driving a lot is a guarantee but seeing horses where you want them to be is not.
Somer McCain photo of a horse and foal
Foal and yearling sharing a moment near Pilot Butte Scenic Horse Loop, Wyoming.