For someone who's worked with photo professionals for more than 30 years, I should be better at taking my own photographs. That said, I have learned a few things that have helped.
In no particular order, here are some tips I've gleaned by watching or listening to professional photographers that have improved my shots in the outdoors:
While this may sound obvious, how many times have you left your camera at home and then seen something that would make a great photo?
Get in the habit of taking a camera with you as often as possible. If yours is too bulky, consider buying a smaller digital version that fits in your pocket. There are some good ones out there that don't cost a lot.
I took my camera with me on a recent walk on Mission Beach in Tulalip, Wash., and saw a blur out of the corner of my eye. It turned out to be a weasel that had scampered into some cracks in a rock retaining wall.
Weasels are curious critters, and it wasn't long before he popped back out of the wall to see what I was doing. I had my camera and was ready for the photo.
I get excited when I take a photo of a bald eagle or a heron and it's decently composed and in focus. But that's only the beginning. Look for birds or other wildlife actually doing something.
On the trip to the beach, I saw eagles and seagulls eating some spawned-out pink salmon from the Snohomish River that had washed up on shore.
It made for some good photos.
Whenever I tried to get closer to the eagles, who liked to eat while perched on a piling offshore, they would fly away. Ditto for the herons feeding on the shoreline.
It's fun to walk on the beach, in a field or in the woods and look for some great outdoor photos. But that often scares your subjects. Do some homework about where your subjects like to eat, drink and relax and find a good place to position yourself. Then be patient and wait for them to show up.
One tip: Be there early. Early morning and dusk are times that many critters are more active. Showing up at noon is usually not a good idea.
On my beach walk, I got some good photos of a heron by sitting on a log on the shoreline and waiting.
It took nearly an hour, but one finally showed up and waded up to me so close that I was able to shoot numerous photos before he realized I was there.
A bonus: While I was waiting, a seagull flew up to a nearby pile of seaweed and pulled out a live dungeness crab, which he proceeded to eat gingerly to avoid the claws.
I mentioned earlier that there are some relatively inexpensive digital cameras out there.
But if you're serious about wildlife photography, you'll want to spend the money for a camera with interchangeable lenses or at least a powerful zoom lens. If you don't have the money for a big telephoto lens, some camera shops will rent you one.
Generally, you want to be as close to the wildlife as you can to create a strong photo. And with a big telephoto, you will also need a tripod or monopod to prevent blurry images caused by a shaky camera.
If the wildlife is too far away for the equipment you have, you're better off just enjoying the view and not worrying too much about getting a photo.
Ever take a great shot and then realize the background was distracting?
Beware of background objects, such as trees or sticks, that seem to be growing out of your subject's head. Watch for anything that might distract and keep your subject from being the focal point of the photograph. When you look at your photo, where does your eye go?
Before you click the shutter, compose your shot to make sure the background helps your subject stand out and is relatively clean and pleasing.
Consider changing the depth of field on the shot to throw the background out of focus. Or use a clean background such as water or sky.
There are laws designed to protect some wildlife. For example, it's illegal to harass snow geese, which migrate to the Northwest each winter and attract lots of photographers and onlookers.
Laws are one thing, but there is also common sense and appropriate behavior.
It's not a good idea, for example, to honk your car horn to get wildlife to run or fly away to create a better shot.