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Bat Photography by Merlin Tuttle - Planning your photo shoot

Planning Your Photo Shoot


First, use quality equipment and become familiar with your camera and accessories well in advance of your trip. Review your manuals and shoot test rolls in the anticipated variety of lighting situations so that you'll know exactly how your camera will perform. In most situations, point-and-shoot cameras will not take the crisp, high-impact photos BCI needs.

Note: Today's point-and-shoot cameras have come a long way in the digital revolution. A high-end point-and-shoot (in the $350 to $500 price range) has the same controls as a DSLR. It does not, however, allow replaceable lenses or through-the-lens viewing.

While I am not advocating photographing bats with a point-and-shoot, I usually keep one handy in my shirt-pocket – even while toting my DSLR. A photographer once told me: “The best camera in the world is the one that is with you.” Today's point-and-shoots are great for preliminary (scoping) shots, mine/cave entrance shots, taking pictures of insects inside caves, shots of researchers studying an object, etc. Merlin lists several examples of where a point-and-shoot might augment your DSLR.

So although a point-and-shoot will never replace your DSLR for production photos, you might get a photo that you wouldn't have gotten otherwise. That makes it worth carrying in a pocket.

Before going on a trip or to your study site, plan a list of pictures that will best illustrate your subject. An ideal set of pictures tells the story visually with little explanation. Write the list down and methodically look for opportunities to check off each photo during your time on location. Do not wait until late in the trip to begin taking pictures or save the most difficult for last. You may have appropriate lighting for a certain picture only once or twice on an entire trip.

For example, if you were planning photos of a mine gating project (see photos on this page), your shot list might include:

- Demolition of an inappropriate mine gate.

- Partners and contractor reviewing plans.

- Helicopter or heavy equipment moving steel onto the site.

- People working together to move steel into place in front of mine shaft.

- Wide angle shots showing mine shaft in scenic context or with old mining works in the background.

- Tight shots of the project to show details of people working.

- Media interviews in front of new gate.

- Final shots of completed project with partners and/or contractors.

- Special attention to participants in action.

0030324 This shot of a gating project shows the placement of the steel and workers in action. Photo by Jim Kennedy.


Always know why a given picture is being taken, and plan the framing and composure to enhance the intended message. Pictures should tell a story, so be sure each one shows the activity in a self-explanatory fashion. The photograph should not have to rely on the caption to explain what is happening.

Candid shots rarely work. It may sound like a lot of effort to set up a specific shot, but in the end it saves time and frustration. Simply pose people doing what they normally do. Some good reasons for posing your subjects are:

- to improve lighting

- to improve background separation (contrast)

- to prevent confusing arrangements or people looking away

- to better illustrate a given activity


Posing doesn't mean that people should look at the camera. It simply means that you should seek the best possible view of your subjects and leave no unnecessary items in the composition. Plan your images the way an artist would plan a painting. For example, if your picture shows someone at a table, be sure the table is cleared of all extraneous materials, such as soda cans, then set up only those materials that lend credence to the subject, and be sure that all the important parts are visible. Then have your subjects start moving, talking, etc., just as you shoot, so the picture doesn't look stiff.


In some photos the photographers attempt candid shots. Inevitably, some of the people are looking out of the photo, are wearing inappropriate clothing or have hats that block their faces.

In this photo, the photographer carefully selected and positioned visitors to the site. Note how each person is focused on the bats, with interested expressions. Photo by Merlin D. Tuttle

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Last Updated: Tuesday, 02 August 2011
Unless otherwise noted, all images are copyright ©Merlin D. Tuttle and/or ©Bat Conservation International