Ricky Kresslein

How to Research Wildlife Photo Subjects and Locations


Occasionally I see an animal on TV or in a picture and know immediately that I have to photograph it. Some species just stick out as incredible. This is the research process I go through when I see one of these animals, or when I have a trip planned and do not yet know which animals I will find there. It starts with six questions:

I was watching the BBC documentary Seven Worlds, One Planet recently when I saw a fascinating creature. It was a monkey with long, orange hair and a blue face with the nose of a corpse. Best of all, it was running (or waddling) on two legs through thick snow. I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to photograph it.

What is the animal called?

The next day I got to work doing my research. One main issue was that I could not remember what the monkey was called. So I Googled “Chinese Snow Monkey” since I remembered they lived in China, and the first result was them. It turns out they are called the golden snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).

It’s almost always easy to find a species on Google just by putting in a few characteristics. Were you at your local park and caught a fleeting glimpse of a small, black mammal with its long tongue hanging out? Type “small furry black mammal with long tongue” into Google and its likely to come up. (Turns out that search brings up an Anteater.) Technology is amazing these days. Use it.

Where can I find them?

In this case, I knew the golden snub-nosed monkey lives in China, but I had no idea where. I again used Google, and this time typed something like “Where to see the golden snub-nosed monkey”. I usually read a few blogs and tourism pages before coming up with a good answer. It took me about thirty minutes to find out where these monkeys were hiding, but eventually found that there is a place in Central China called the Golden Monkey Nature Reserve, set aside specifically for this species.

When is the best time of year/weather conditions to photograph them?

The second part of this question, weather conditions, was obvious for this species. Snow. They are a snow monkey with big bushy fur to keep them warm and I would only accept a photo of them in those conditions. A summer photo would be alright, but it isn’t the shot I’m looking for. I did a bit of research and found that even though it rarely snows in the nearby towns and cities, these monkeys spend most of their time in the mountains where there is often snow in the winter. China is in the Northern Hemisphere, so the winter is at the same time as in the US and Europe.

How do I get to them?

During my research of where to find them I found that the park is easy to get to and has a couple of guest houses/hotels within its boundaries. This is often not the case, so it is important to do a lot of research beforehand. For example, most of the national parks in Thailand are near impossible to get to and stay overnight in. Once again, Google is your friend.

Where should I stay?

To find this info, I mainly use Booking.com and Airbnb. In this instance, I found there is a town not far from the park called Shijingzhen where there are several hotels and Airbnbs. This is probably where I would stay, at least at first while I learn the area. From there I could get a Grab (like Uber) to the park every day.

Do I need a guide?

Luckily in this case, the answer is no. It sounds like there are feedings done on a daily basis in the park, and viewing the monkeys there should not be difficult and can be done on my own. Again, other places in the world (especially in Southeast Asia) often require you to have a guide. Typically this is just a way to make money, but it also helps to prevent assholes from destroying natural habitats. This question can usually be answered online, but occasionally it’s necessary to find out when you get to the place.

And that’s it. Now we know what the animal is called, where to find them, when to go, how to get there, where to stay, and whether or not a guide is necessary. I’m all set to get my Chinese visa and head over to the park.

I hope you found this guide useful and use it next time you plan a wildlife photography trip. This plan also applies to landscape photography, with some slight adjustments. Do you have any tricks you use when planning your photo expeditions? Let me know in the comments.