"How are you able to get so close to the wildlife?"
I get asked this question a LOT. Usually I joke around and explain that since I'm only 4'11", animals don't see me as a threat. Sometimes people assume it's because I have a crazy long lens but that's not true. While I do have a great lens (I shoot with a 70-300mm lens for wildlife) it's certainly not the most powerful lens in the world. All the photos you see of my animals up close are accurately portrayed. I do manage to get within a short distance of wildlife.
Let me first say that I have a huge amount of respect for the wildlife I'm shooting. I never approach animals with a sense of entitlement. I fully recognize that I am in their home, and I never try to encroach on their territory or interrupt their nature behavior. Every animal I have photographed has willingly allowed me to be in their space and most of them have approached me first. You probably expect that I stand still and quiet, but it's quite the opposite. Acting nervous or excited will always make the animal flee -- this is the way a predator acts. Instead, I stay calm. I'll even talk to the animal; I let them know I'm there! No sense in sneaking up and spooking a deer.
Shooting wildlife requires a lot of patience and anticipation. It's impossible to know when a bear is suddenly going to appear in a perfectly sunlit meadow. That's why every encounter is such a gift; much of it is by chance! That said, if I'm anxious to shoot something specific, I go to a location where I know there will be an opportunity. For example, Radnor Lake has an abundance of Barred Owls. I have yet to get a good shot of one, but from talking with other photographers in the area and observing the birds themselves, I know exactly where to go in the park to see one.
Explore your surroundings. Familiarize yourself with the animals' patterns. If you want to find a bird of prey, learn to listen to the warning calls of other birds. If you want to photograph a bear, try not to be surprised by one in the tall grass. Learn to look for the plants they eat, game trails, and water sources. But above all, be aware and respectful. If there happens to be a crowd of people observing an animal with you, never block an animal's potential escape route (I have so many things to say about this, but that's for a later blog post).
Be aware. Be respectful. Be grateful. Not every encounter will produce the shot you want and that's okay. Regardless of whether or not I get the photo, being close to nature is a beautiful experience.