Along with scenery, wild animals rank high on the list of favorite outdoor photo subjects, and for good reason. In areas such as national parks where they are legally protected from hunting, many birds and animals gradually lose their fear of humans, and can be approached much more closely than in other locations. As the following story illustrates, that can create some interesting situations if you get too focused on what’s in your viewfinder instead of your wallet, and forget about the real world beyond your lens!
Despite appearances to the contrary, parks are not petting zoos, animals that live there are still wild, and they can certainly be dangerous. Just follow two basic rules: Keep a safe distance, and never, ever offer food to a bird or animal to try to lure it closer for a good photo. The cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words may be true… but it’s not worth a thousand stitches!
Modern cameras with telephoto and zoom lenses make it possible to get photos that weren’t an option even a few years ago. Longer ago than I’ll admit, I was a youngster on a family vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the days before “bear-proof” trash cans had been installed and roadside bears were commonplace. Back in those Olden Times, most photos were taken with a simple box camera–no adjustments were necessary or possible. You just looked through the viewfinder and clicked the button. The closest equivalent today would be those inexpensive, one-time-use cameras.
The problem with those basic cameras was that what you saw through that tiny viewfinder was akin to the image in the passenger-side mirror on your car, except that the cameras didn’t come with that familiar warning: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” What you saw through that camera appeared to be quite distant, perhaps somewhere in the next county, even though you may really only be a few feet away.
Late one afternoon on my visit to the Smoky Mountains, a shout was heard in the campground: “Here comes a bear!” Sure enough, an adult black bear was casually ambling through the adjoining campsite, and lots of Kodak moments were being snapped by a small crowd of onlookers. One middle-aged man knelt down directly in the animal’s path, but a reasonably prudent distance away. He brought his camera up to one eye, closed the other eye, poised his trigger finger over the shutter button, and then waited, and waited, and . . . .
Perhaps the man was inexperienced with the camera, or maybe he was simply excited and forgot that a vast gulf existed between the real world and what he saw through that viewfinder. Soon a couple of people standing nearby began shouting advice to the photographer that it was time to relocate, but our shutterbug was either deaf or determined. Finally, a semi-hysterical woman, presumably a relative of the photographer, screamed at the man to “run!”
Incidentally, “run” is not good advice in any encounter with a bear in the wild, but our character was apparently finally satisfied that he had an adequate photo. I hope he got his shot before he lowered the camera, opened both eyes and found himself almost face-to-face with his subject!
I’ll never know whether it was quick reflexes, classic clumsiness or just blind luck, but without the slightest shift from his kneeling position the man managed to lunge horizontally a very impressive distance as the bear ambled past. The photographer’s agile move was deserving of consideration for a future Olympic gymnastics routine, where both I and the Russian judge would award him at least a 9.5 on a 10-point scale.
The good news was that the photographer apparently didn’t have a Snickers bar or other tasty items stuffed in a pocket, and the animal simply ignored him and continued on toward the nearest garbage can.
Sometimes it really is better to be lucky than smart!
Have you seen any examples of a “near-miss” as a result of taking a photo?
Life – it’s an adventure…. Find something to smile about today!
This story is adapted from the book Hey Ranger 2: More True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from the Great Outdoors © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.