4 Tips for Successful Moody Wildlife Photographs in Wetlands from a Floating Blind

4 Tips for Successful Moody Wildlife Photography in the Wetlands from a Floating Blind

Are you deeply interested in wildlife photography? Have you realized that even if you mastered the technique, you sometimes have difficulties in categorizing your photos: portrait, close-up, macro, action, behavioral, etc.? It is not always easy to find your way around this complex art.

In this article, I share with you my point of view and my techniques on one of the categories of wildlife photography in natural environment: moody photography. It is a technique that I particularly like because it is in relation with my photographic approach.

Since this is such a broad topic, I have narrowed the focus of my column to wetland techniques with a floating blind. You may think that this is a reductive approach. Do not worry, because I am going to cover the basics of wildlife photography as well.

Moody morning in a wetland: great egret walking in a pond in Dombes. Amar Guillen, Photographer.
Moody morning in a wetland: great egret walking in a pond in Dombes.

The Story Behind This Article

When I started wildlife photography, I followed the main photographic rules:

  • To frame my photos, I used the rule of thirds.
  • My compositions integrated a foreground and a background.
  • My negative spaces were used to show the habitat of my animal subjects.
  • I focused on the eye of the animal to have this area very sharp.
  • I strived to capture an unusual behavior or a particular attitude of the animal in my photo, which added a touch of creativity.

These essential rules are the basic foundations of wildlife photography. Today, they are not enough to create interesting pictures that will make you different. Other rules have emerged to create meaningful wildlife photos.

I kept these rules for a few years when I became a professional photographer.

My goal was to provide the best possible photos for stock photography agencies. These photos were then sold to be used in magazines or books.

When I decided to change my status to become a photo artist, everything changed. It became impossible for me to make pictures that were unique. It seemed like most photos I created could be found for a few dollars in a stock or could be easily replicated by other photographers in the field.

Thus, I opted for a field that has not been exploited by most photographers: moody wildlife photography. Two years later, I had the chance to practice photography using floating hides. It was a real shock and an incredible catalyst. I had at my disposal an accessory to create the photos of which I had only dreamed.

In the years that followed, I developed a particular technique that I call "wetland environmental wildlife photography". It can also be called "wetland moody wildlife photography". The difference between the two expressions is subtle. I will explain in the following paragraphs.

Definition of the Word "Moody"

By definition, a moody scene is the pervading tone or attitude of a place, situation, or atmosphere of a creative space in which the subject is placed.

Application to Wildlife Photography

By applying this definition to photography, it is possible to define the ambient photo as a set of characteristics defining the context in which a photographed subject is found.

If the subject photographed is an animal, you have the definition of the moody wildlife photography.

Moody photography is a way to incorporate the environment. That is why I like to call my pictures "environmental wildlife photography".

In the rest of the article, I will only use the general term of “moody” that is most used.

If you are referring to the definition of wildlife mood photography, you need to specify a set of characters. This means that the composition must be large. The animal being photographed must occupy a small area in the photo. It is not a portrait or a close-up. Personally, in a moody wildlife photo, my animals do not occupy more than 10% of the photo's surface. Like all rules, there are sometimes exceptions, but they are rare.

Personally, even if I am enthusiastic about photographing wild animals living in natural environments, they are often only a pretext in my photos. They are used as points of attachment for me. Indeed, my art photos allow me to express myself, to translate emotions or to transmit messages. For me, a photo is a form of self-expression. I do not photograph to show animals. This has already been done millions of times. Photography is for me a channel to reveal some little thing that is present inside of me and you, whether it be wonder, curiosity, loneliness, excitement, pride, etc.

Tip #1 for Creating a Good Wildlife Photo: Choose the Right Decor

The mood of a scene is intricately linked to the decor in which the wild animal evolves.

I must remind you that the decor allows you to tell a story and to arouse emotions in the viewer. The decor in photography has an especially important symbolic dimension.

The choice of the decor in a photograph consists in questioning yourself about the symbolism that you want to give to the place.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing your animal photography backgrounds:

  • Do you want to evoke dreams, calm, quietness, and serenity? Many people evoke nature as a place of meditation and introspection far from the material contingencies and bustling noises of urban areas.
  • Do you want to evoke nature as a hostile environment, in which danger is lurking? We often hear that the law in nature is to hunt or be hunted. This can be seen in the glint of a predator’s eye.
  • Do you want to evoke nature as a place full of poetry and softness? There are many ways to capture the rustic beauty of the wilderness. While nature can be harsh and intimidating, it can also be beautiful and fragile.
  • Etc. You may find that there are other questions circling your mind, and this is a good thing, for it means that inspiration is sparking, and you may be considering ideas for your next masterpiece?

Before approaching moody wildlife photography, I advise you to ask yourself questions and find answers to define the scenery you will be looking for in the field.

Never forget that a moody photo must take the viewer to a real scene and make him dream, but you must also make him discover your photographic universe. That is why you must provide elements related to the message you want to transmit.

For example, if you want to create a dreamy scene, use mist or fog.

Be careful with your decors. I recommend you not to put too many elements to not disturb the reading of the photo. Be careful with branches, trees, and stones that would quickly become disturbing elements.

Tip #2 for Creating a Good Moody Wildlife Photo: Choosing the Light

The second element that helps create the mood of a photo is the light.

You must choose the direction of the light. Either it comes from the front, and you will shroud your subject in a mysterious backlight, or it can radiate from the side. The play of shadows will allow you to have beautiful subjective texture.

The light allows you to translate your emotions such as joy, sadness, and melancholy.

Personally, I vary my lights a lot by using warm or cold lights depending on my mood and the messages I want to convey.

Mid-day lights are harsher than morning or late day lights. They have an advantage. You can shoot with extremely fast speeds such as 1/2000th second. You can then photograph action scenes like feeding or flying.

Each light has its advantages and disadvantages.

Tip #3 for Creating the Perfect Moody Wildlife Photo: Show the Animal’s Emotion

Do not forget that the purpose of wildlife photography is to highlight wild animals.

Try to capture a particular attitude or behavior. Is the animal hunting or fishing? Are you watching a courtship? Is it snorting?

Remember that your audience often expects the exceptional, the unexpected. Try to surprise them. In our modern world, people are fed with videos or shocking pictures. People want to be curious. If you can, play the unexpected card.

Personally, even if I sometimes photograph them, I am not a huge fan of fight scenes or gory scenes. I am more attracted by elegant attitudes where the animals are proud. In the case of waterfowl, I pay a lot of attention to the head carriage or to the delicate movement of the legs.

Tip #4 for Creating a Good Moody Wildlife Photo: Take the Time to Mentally Visualize the Scene

Before firing your camera, take the time to visualize the scene you want to photograph. Think carefully about the photographic elements that you will integrate into your composition. They must all make sense and be organized together. For example, if you choose to include a tree in the frame, ask yourself what it will bring. If you choose to include reeds, ask yourself what their function will be.

Personally, when I compose a scene of moody wildlife, I use the technique of the hook point. As you will see in the pictures at the end of this article, I often include a small tuft of grass or a plant. The focal point is simply a way to catch the viewer's eye. It is important to pay attention to details rather than generalities. The small original detail that characterizes your photo will have a lot of impact with demanding viewers.

If you do not mentally see the mood scene, your audience will not either. If you can imagine the scene, the audience will interpret it with their own experience and imagination. But you will have given them enough concrete elements to project themselves into it.

Do not bore the viewers of your photographs with unnecessary elements. Put yourself in their shoes. Be simple and direct.

Moody Wildlife Photography in the Wetlands

The wetlands allow for exceptional moody photography because the temperature variations are significant during the same day. It is not uncommon to have beautiful mists in the morning to suggest dreams or mystery.

Even if birds are the main subjects of wetland scenes, mammals are not left out. I have photographed deer, doe, roe deer, wild boar, and muskrats. Everything is possible. It is only a question of perseverance and patience.

An Essential Accessory: The Floating Blind

To photograph wetland wildlife, the floating mount is certainly the best accessory. Indeed, it allows you to photograph the animals at eye level.

If you shoot from the shore, you will get plunging photos. The effect is much less interesting. Your photos will have less impact.

By photographing at eye level, you will avoid the plunging effect which attenuates the contrasts and makes the volumes disappear.

The floating blind will allow you to get up close and personal with birds that are often very fearful and will flee at the sight of a human being.

With a floating blind, you can safely approach and observe the animals. Once they are used to your presence, you can take your pictures.

Thanks to the use of a floating mount, you will be able to photograph nuptial parades, heron hunting, mating, feeding, fighting. Everything is possible if you know the habits of the animals and the environment.

Some Pictures of Moody Wildlife Taken in Dombes, France

The Dombes is certainly one of the best regions in the world for wildlife photography. Most of the ponds are private and perfectly managed by the owners. Fishing and hunting are old Dombes traditions. The owners of the ponds make it a point of honor to maintain them well.

The Dombes is a huge wetland located in the department of Ain in France. It is covered with woods and villages, but it is known for the more than one thousand ponds which welcome nearly 280 species of migratory, wintering, or summering birds.

The wonderful thing is that the backgrounds are absolutely fabulous. I think the reed beds are perfect and create a unique textured background to showcase the birds.

The variety of the biotopes of the ponds is extraordinary. Each pond has its own specificity. On ponds rich in plants, ducks and swans will offer opportunities. On ponds with mud flats, you will find migrating shorebirds that come to seek food.

The ponds are emptied every three years. This technique allows to regenerate the bottom. It also allows to have flowers growing right after a watering. The decorations are breathtakingly beautiful.

Grey heron in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Great egret in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Great egret in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Common pochard duck in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Great crested grebe in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Tufted duck in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Mating ritual between two great crested grebes in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Great egret in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Purple heron in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Tufted duck in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Great crested grebe in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Purple heron in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Grey heron in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Little egret in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Purple heron in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Little egret in a pond in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Eurasian coot feeding in a pond in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Eurasian spoonbill in a pond in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Purple heron in a pond in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Grey heron flying over a pond in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Little egret in a pond in the mist in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Great crested grebe heron in a pond in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Grey heron in a pond in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
Eurasian spoonbill in a pond in Dombes in France. Photo by Amar Guillen, photographer.
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