Most of my work in wildlife photography has me visiting preserves and other natural areas within a few hours of my residence. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to do wildlife photography in national forests several hours away or travel out of state altogether. I even spend quite a bit of time in my own backyard. However, until recently, I hadn’t attempted photographing urban wildlife.
I was challenged a while back to shoot cities at night. While I enjoy taking on new photography challenges, initially this one didn’t seem to be a fit for me. Urban wildlife is a topic that comes up frequently during discussions on wildlife management, but it still is something that usually isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds when thinking of wildlife.
But this challenge inspired me to try something new. Going into this challenge, I had no experience with shooting urban environments at night, and certainly not while keeping an eye out for wildlife. This made it the perfect project to tackle to practice new techniques and expand my skills.
On my first night out, I spent much of the time walking along the sidewalk near the street. Despite it being a small town, it was still a Saturday night, so there were several people out. I tried to avoid the most heavily utilized areas, but I still managed to run across a few people. I have to once again apologize to the poor gentleman I startled.
While I’m out photographing wildlife, I’m frequently on my own. I don’t have anyone to talk to and I’m used to being quiet and still for long periods of time so as to avoid disturbing the animals. When I’m in public, I try to turn this off, but I still manage to stay fairly quiet. This is a habit I’ve had since I was a teenager, out exploring different wooded areas near my house, so it’s fairly ingrained at this point.
While walking along the sidewalk, I saw a man texting on his phone and did my best to try to be a little more noticeable to avoid startling him but failed. As I walked past him, he jumped and said, “Wow, you’re quiet,” sounding quite surprised. I laughed and apologized, explaining my mission.
But it was a great encounter. He worked at a local hydro-plant and was able to share with me some very useful information regarding sightings he’d had of coyotes, foxes, deer, turkeys, and raccoons in the area. It was a spot I hadn’t really known about or considered visiting, but thanks to running into him it was something I quickly added to my list.
Although I didn’t have any of the sightings he described on my first night out, I could see why the area would be frequented by the local urban wildlife. It was slightly off the beaten path, close to a water source, and had a lot of both natural and human made shelter available while still remaining very close to human sources of food, such as dumpsters.
So despite scaring the local human life, I was able to get some great tips on where to search for (and hopefully not scare) the local wildlife. He wished me well in my hunt and requested that I try to avoid scaring anyone else while I was out. I promised I would do my best and continued on.
While I wasn’t able to photograph the wildlife I was searching for, I was able to practice my skills and obtain some useful information. I also heard a coyote call nearby, as well as ducks, and saw several other signs that there was indeed plenty of urban wildlife in the area. The next time I’m able to go out, I’ll have that information and experience to guide me.