Become a Photographic Naturalist

Updated: 27 Feb 2023


From a young age, I have always held an incredible passion for wildlife and the beautiful natural world that surrounds us all.


During more recent years, I have attempted to portray that same nature through my photography and videography lens.


Eurasian Otters


As a result, I also became a self-taught naturalist, as I was curious to know a lot more about my subject matter.


I studied each and every aspect of my subject as much as possible, so that when I led my photography tours and workshops, I was armed with interesting facts and knowledge, which I could impart onto others.


If you’ve heard someone referred to as a “naturalist,” you might have wondered just what exactly that meant.


A scientist? … Maybe, but not necessarily.


So, just what is a naturalist? The definition of a naturalist is “an expert in or student of natural history.”


Natural history can be described as the scientific study of plants and animals, based primarily on observation.


Synonyms for a naturalist include natural historian, wildlife expert are a number of scientific-sounding titles: geologist, ecologist, biologist, zoologist, botanist and environmentalist.


But don’t let that deter you! You need not have a degree in science to be a naturalist!


Children can be naturalists.


Retired people can become naturalists.


Being a naturalist can be anything from a hobby to a full-time profession for some.


Being a naturalist means having a love of nature and the passion for its conservation, plus a little more.


It means paying attention to the daily and seasonal rhythms of the natural world and having the desire to learn not only the names of species, but their life histories as well.


Naturalists can tell you more than the name of a bird. They can tell you about annual migratory patterns, breeding cycles, and feeding habits.


So, how can photographers become a better naturalist?


Photographic images together with video recordings can provide a large amount of useful information about your subject. You do not need to travel to Africa and observe elephants, lions or Rhinos. There is always nature nearer to home.


Last summer, I had a beautiful Great Spotted Woodpecker nesting close to my home and visiting the feeding stand in my garden at least three or four times a day.


“Woody” – A regular visitor to my garden last summer



I was fascinated by his behaviour and soon got to learn all of his personality traits, timings, habits and how he interacted with other birds.


He loves insect suet from the birdfeeder and completely disregarded peanuts and other bird seed.


He was impatient and rather aggressive when hungry and would scare other birds from the feeder.


I got to know “Woody” very well as a result of observing and taking numerous close-up photos and videos. I was disappointed when he moved to another nesting site in late September.


Naturalists are generally curious individuals


They want to know things, like where geese go in the winter, how was a particular rock formed, when do the plants bloom. To find the answers, they observe, they read and they ask questions.


Time permitting, check out the work of eminent naturalist such as Sir David Attenborough, Joel Sartore and Paul Nicklin. There work in nature is truly inspirational.


There are also many organisations and charities to join such as WWF (World Wildlife Fund) , WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), Fauna & Flora International (Fauna & Flora International) … and so many more who would absolutely love your support.


Globally, I have always followed the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species. It was whilst researching the Red List several years ago, that I became aware of the plight of the Bornean Sun Bear.


Sun Bear – Threatened Species


The smallest of the Bear family, sadly their numbers have shrunk over the years and they have become a threatened species.


I have spent many months researching this delightful animal and I intend to visit Borneo at some point over the next twelve months and hopefully raise awareness through my photography and videography.


Have a minute? Check out the amazing work conducted by the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.


Naturalists are observant, perceptive, and patient. They tend to be quiet and contemplative, but hardy and not deterred by inclement weather or dirt. Naturalists are also generally systematic and organised, at least to some degree!


Records are extremely valuable: document field notes, photographs and the like.


Being a good naturalist requires little more than curiosity and observation.


But a few tools are useful in the field, such as a laptop, nature guide, camera and binoculars.


It is always helpful to take lots of photos and videos of your subject matter, as well as sketching and describing what you observe. At home, the accomplished naturalist will have access to the internet, reference books and nature guides. I would encourage everyone to become an naturalist in their own chosen way.


Be curious, explore and observe the natural world


For many years I have been interested in Owls and Birds of Prey in general. Watching a beautiful Barn Owl hunting at last light is a magnificent sight. So very graceful like a large white ghostly apparition in flight, it is one of the wonderments of nature.


A beautiful young Barn Owl


Having witnessed Barn Owls on several previous occasions, I wanted to know more.


I researched, researched and completed more research. I also joined organisations that would help me learn more and get actively involved with the conservation of this lovely animal.


Take a look:- The Barn Owl Trust 


Notice things, like the birds in your garden and what wildflowers that bloom during each season.


There’s no need to venture deep into the wilderness. You can study nature at a local park or visit a natural history museum.


All it takes is a little time to slow down and notice what is around you to gain an appreciation for our beautiful, fragile environment.


So take a little time, pick up your camera and head outside.


You might be surprised at what you discover!



Related topics:

Wildlife Conservation

Photography Tuition


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