The Wetland Explorer
By Eric Giesing
Growing up in Illinois, I only heard people refer to wheat fields or the Wizard of Oz when they spoke of Kansas. People always talked about the flat land stretching as far as the eye could see with nothing but crops everywhere. You can imagine my surprise then when I came to Great Bend for a job interview at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center and found the largest inland wetland in the United States. There was no wheat and certainly no Dorothy, but there was a diverse array of critters that instantly captured my interest and creative spirit.
Over the past few years, my wife and I have developed a passion for wildlife photography. Cheyenne Bottoms and the Kansas Wetlands Education Center have proven to be great outlets for that passion. With over 335 species of birds, 44 species of mammals, 19 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, countless species of insects, wildflowers galore, and beautiful sunsets and landscapes, Cheyenne Bottoms is a wildlife photographer’s dream.
So how does one go about choosing what to photograph when there are so darn many options? My recommendation to you is to determine what you most like to photograph, as this will also lead to what kind of equipment you will need to best capture your desired images. Do you prefer pictures of animals, insects, landscapes, or weather, or do you find a little bit of everything more appealing? You can choose to specialize in one specific subset of nature or you can take pictures of absolutely everything.
Wildlife photography can bring far off animals up close and personal or make the smallest organisms in nature larger than life. While wildlife photographs can be taken with point and shoot cameras or even your phone, some types of photographs require more specialized equipment, such as large lenses for birds or far away mammals, macro lenses for insects and wildlife flowers, and waterproof cameras for fish and marine species.
If you are more into composing your shots, then perhaps you would be more interested in macro photography where you have much more control over your subjects. If you are more into stalking animals and learning their behavior to predict their actions, then you might be more interested in lenses with long focal lengths and the use of ground blinds. In addition to equipment, certain skills are needed to be a successful wildlife photographer as well. Learning how to use light to your advantage, how to separate your image from the background, how to focus and take pictures fast enough to catch a bird flying like a bullet at you, and how to stalk an animal that is incredibly skittish around humans.
Photography for me is about the story behind the pictures, as some of my best memories have come from the adventures with friends and family to acquire specific images. Photography has also made me a better wildlife biologist and educator. We rarely take the time or get close enough to nature to see the beautiful detail in the world around us. Seeing the world through a lens slows down the world around me and puts me in awe of the natural beauty before my eyes.
If you were like me, I always enjoyed nature and photography, but never knew where to start. Maybe you are already into wildlife photography but would just like some more practice or tips to improve your craft. The Kansas Wetlands Education Center is offering a Wildlife Photography Workshop for Adults (17 and over) on Sunday, June 12th from 2-5 pm. This class will be free of charge and will be presented by Dr. Dan Witt, Wildlife Photographer, and myself, KWEC/FHSU Educator and Photographer. The first part of the program will discuss camera basics, equipment, and photo composition and editing, followed by a field trip to Cheyenne Bottoms where participants will get the chance to apply techniques learned and even print some of their pictures onto postcards to be taken home.
We hope to see you there!