The Most Important thing for a wildlife photographer??? PATIENCE
A good portion of MrShutterbug fans also photograph wildlife / nature / birds , so I'm going to write this in terms of wildlife photography from my experience.
When it comes to wildlife photography, patience is literally the most important thing you as a photographer can bring with you when you leave the house, I Bet if you surveyed the top ten professional wildlife photographers in the world what the most important tool for their photography is, nine out of ten would tell you it is patience.
Be patient with wildlife it is your subject after all
In wildlife photography, being patient with wildlife is just as important as being patient with light.
Often people ask wildlife photographers how to locate reclusive wildlife species like owls, foxes and other elusive creatures that are rarely seen. If you can think of a park or nature reserve near your home, I can almost guarantee it has a more extensive array of wildlife than you could ever imagine. British Wildlife is literally everywhere you just need to stop look and listen. Something I see regularly while out shooting is photographers who walk into an area, look around for a split second, and move on. These are the photographers who go home with pictures of squirrels, robins and other common species that are quite unafraid of humans and usually out in the open making a racket or can be found hanging around the garden bird table. In order to spot and photograph the other species, you need to patiently stop and examine an area from a more in-depth point of view.
Scan the trees from the bottom slowly up to the top. Are there groups of sparrows feeding on the fallen seeds? Is there a well camouflaged woodpecker clinging to the truck? Is there a hawk or owl perched above? These are examples of things to consider when scanning a location. Even if you don't see any wildlife after scanning, don't move. The wildlife will eventually come. Also, once you find an animal, don't just shoot it a few times and move on. If the animal gives you the opportunity to observe it, do so. For example, if you locate a perched hawk overlooking a field, have a seat a watch. Chances are if you watch long enough it's going to hunt, and think about the photograph opportunities then. How much more fulfilling would a hunting shot be, than one of the hawk just perched?
Be patient with light it is your best friend or your worst enemy
As everyone knows, the best light of the day is around dawn and dusk. I prefer dawn because the air is clear and crisp, and there is usually less haze than in the evening. Anyway, the weather and sky often will not cooperate with a photographers sunrise shooting plans. When this happens (and it will), don't be discouraged, and don't settle with a photograph shot under less than ideal conditions. Be patient and keep at it. Keep going out, and eventually you will find yourself with the perfect light.
You may not get good shooting conditions the first time you wake up for the sunrise, or even the second time, but if you are patient with nature, it will eventually reward you. Although you may think your favorite nature photographer always seems to find him or herself up on a mountain or down on a beach with the perfect light every time, what they don't mention is the five other days that week they woke up, hiked all the way up that damn mountain only to find haze and rain.
Just to prove there is method in my madness I am taking a trip to bass rock soon and have a boat chartered for 5.30in the morning so i can get early morning light photos of the 50,000 ganett colony as they dive into the sea. I will post pictures when complete and hopefully prove my point ;o)
Once you start using patience, you can seriously take most of the luck out of wildlife photography. If you wait patiently long enough, you will eventually be rewarded.
One of the most common things I hear is "some people just have all the luck!," or "wow you were in the right place at the right time!" It is a frustrating thing to hear. If you really start to patiently wait for things to happen, they will, and you can start to forget about luck. As I said before, wildlife will reward you if you wait and appear part of the background. Its the constant movement that puts them off!