Armchair Wildlife Photography

Article and photograph by Richard Holmes


As a refinement to civilized wildlife photography, discussed in a previous newsletter, I continue with the goal of not chasing after wildlife, but allowing them to approach me.

Rather than standing behind a tripod or crawling around on the ground with it, the logical progression toward this goal is to place a chair, an armchair of course, in a convenient photo location, choice of subject being important. The overriding principle is to avoid spending undue energy in the quest for wildlife photos.

I saw this technique in action while I was a guest of John Thornton and his wife, Beth, at their home in Stillwater, Oklahoma, last summer. I was given free range of Beth’s many flowerbeds, a butterfly haven, and had spent much time on their acreage moving among various flower patches chasing after butterflies. I’m sure John had done this many times. When I walked around the house I noticed that John had become stationary. He had the good sense to plant himself in an armchair near a flowerbed, tripod in front of him, and the late afternoon sun over his shoulder.

So I pulled up a chair to join him. As butterflies landed on nearby flowers, and we leisurely turned our telephoto lenses to get the photograph, an idea began to form in my mind about the wisdom of this approach. It was beautiful. It was productive. It was simple. We would merely remain in place. Every butterfly would eventually land on one of those flowers. And if it became partially obscured, would we get up to get a better angle? Of course not. To rise and follow a butterfly across a flower garden would compromise our principles.

We continued photographing in this manner and eventually I noticed a movement from the corner of my eye. It was the approach of wine, two glasses of it, carefully tendered by Beth. A small table appeared between our chairs. I said to John, “Do you always have such special service”? He replied, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” At that point I knew I had levitated to a higher plane of photography.

So with one hand at the ready for the shutter, and the other hand at the ready for the wine, it took only an instant to become accustomed to this marvelous concept of armchair photography. Now, unencumbered by the compulsion to relocate myself, I felt I had attained the ultimate refinement to civilized wildlife photography.