Photography Advice: Get Out There as Much as You Can, and Always Bring Your Camera

The Youth category of the annual National Wildlife Photo Contest is one we look forward to every year. After all, connecting children with nature is a vital part of our mission. Plus, there’s a lot of talent in the 13- to 17-year-old age group! In an interview following her 2011 Youth Contest win, Jenaya Launstein offered some tips that any photographer from 8 to 88 could put to use. Here are the lessons she shared with us.

You’ve Got to Get out There Regularly

We usually go out photographing in nature a few times a week. It helps to live where I do (southwest Alberta, Canada, near Waterton Lakes National Park), as I get to photograph lots of bears (black and grizzly), deer, elk, moose, birds and other animals. I’m also a member of the Nature Photographers Network, which has really helped me grow in my abilities and skills as a photographer.

Getting the Shot You Want Can Take Hard Work and a Flexible Approach

I love photographing bears! We have lots of black bears and some grizzlies in our area, and my family takes several trips every year to other areas good for bears so we can watch and photograph them. I also really like photographing owls, and we do lots of outings trying to find some that we can photograph. My dad and I have done lots of hiking and dredging through deep snow in hopes of getting rewarded with a good photo opportunity.

Brown phase black bear cub
Brown phase black bear cub in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada. Photo by Jenaya Launstein.
Probably one of the shots that was the most rewarding and difficult at the time was when we went out in a wild snowstorm and found a northern hawk owl perched in a really cool old tree, scanning the snowy meadow for something to eat. I got some pictures from the truck, and then we hiked out and tried to get into a better position. It was snowing so heavily, it was hard to focus! I forgot my monopod in the truck so my dad braced himself against a boulder and I rested my lens on his shoulder. I ended up getting several pictures of the owl perched with tons of snowflakes all around him, and even one of him as he spotted something and flew from his perch. I love the mood the snow gives the pictures. When we got back to the truck, we both looked like walking snowmen!

Northern hawk owl in snow
Northern hawk owl in the snow. Photo by Jenaya Launstein.

Always Bring Your Camera—and Shoot Lots

“Probably the best suggestion I can share for getting good pictures of wildlife is to go out as much as you can, always with your camera. The day we got the pictures of the northern hawk owl in the snow we had actually almost left the gear at home, but at the last second decided to bring it because you never know when you’re going to spot something! So take every opportunity to be in nature with your camera, and then shoot lots and choose the best pictures from your shoot once you’re home. I’m also learning how important it is to learn as much as possible about your subjects and about photography techniques.”

Just Keep Shooting—Even When Something Goes Wrong, You Could End up With a Contest-Winning Photo

My family took a trip to Banff National Park this March and my dad and I decided to get up early one morning to try and find some wildlife to photograph. We headed out into the backcountry before dawn, and spotted these two bull elk bedded down in the deep snow, covered in frost from the cold night. We hiked out for a better angle to photograph them and got lots of great photos as the light began to break over the mountains.

Bull elk, Banff National Park
Bull elk fighting in Banff National Park. 2011 National Wildlife Photo Contest Youth division winner. Photo by Jenaya Launstein.
Suddenly, they both got up and started battling! I had been shooting vertical portraits of the bigger bull with my camera and 300-mm lens with 1.4X teleconverter on my monopod, so I reached forward to switch to horizontal, but my fingers were too frozen to release the lens collar and the snow was too deep to back up quickly, so I just shot. I tried to time my pictures so both bulls fit in with their antlers as the main focus, and was really happy with the way this one turned out. You can even see a little bit of snow falling off one of their antlers!

Photography Can Promote Wildlife Conservation

Photographs of wild animals help people realize how beautiful they are and how important it is to make sure we take care of them. I know my sisters and brother and I love looking at great pictures of nature, and we have come to really appreciate different species that we never would have seen around our home. I hope that my pictures help people care more about the animals I photograph.

Enter your own photos in this year’s contest!

For more information on the National Wildlife Photo Contest, including the Youth Category, go to