Circle of Fear


Baby Seal
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan.

When starting out in wildlife photography there are a number of things that the photographer needs to think about. Apart from the obvious stuff, such as which camera, which lens, and which exposure settings to use, it is also very important to take into consideration the animal and the environment in which it is living.

When taking the accompanying photo, it was important to maintain the correct distance from the seal, since otherwise I would be entering the animal’s ‘circle of fear’. This circle is really made up of 4 rings – in the outer ring, the animal is not aware of your presence, and goes about his daily business without worrying about what you are doing.

In the next ring, the animal may be aware of your presence, but at this point he is not too bothered by what you are doing.

The third ring is where the problems begin, as the animal has now become fully aware of your proximity to him, and will prepare to flee. Obviously the environmentally conscious photographer does not want to be in this ring of the circle, as he will be upsetting the animal, causing him to depart from his natural habitat, in search of safer ground.

The final ring, or core, of the circle of fear, is the most dangerous for the photographer. This is where the animal is no longer sure that he can flee, and instead (depending on the animal) will prepare to attack in order to defend himself.

Normally a wildlife will restrict himself to the outer two rings of the circle of fear.

In order to take this photo of the seal, I was using a 500mm F/4 AFS Nikkor attached to my D200, with my Gitzo tripod as support, and I had spent the previous 15 minutes crawling across the beach on my belly in order to stay unnoticed by the seal. I was probably around 10-15 meters away at the point of exposure, and would estimate I was around the boundary of the outer ring and the second ring. I was at a safe enough distance so that the seal was barely aware of my presence, and I was safe.

Now in the case of the seals here, the risk of attack was not so great, but with more vicious animals, such as the bears I will be meeting in a couple of weeks in Bavaria, or the lions in Africa, the circle of fear may determine whether or not I return home……. 😉

Thanks to Claus Brandt of FotoCampus for teaching me the basics of the circle of fear on our trip to Helgoland 🙂

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