Finding Your Perfect Shot

On a National Wildlife Refuge

Photographers are always looking for the perfect shot— that one epic sunset, the insane wildlife moment, the rare bird that has been on your life list for years. Sometimes you find the perfect picture by accident, but more often than not you have to get up early and go out exploring.

National Wildlife Refuges across the country offer birders, hunters, anglers, and photographers a place to get out and enjoy the splendor of the natural world. We asked five photographers to share some of their favorite photos with us and explain what they love about getting out and exploring their local National Wildlife Refuge.

What is your favorite National Wildlife Refuge?

Top: American Kestrel; Bottom: Lazuli Bunting, White fronted Geese, Short Eared Owl

Craig Strobeck @cstrobeck 
William Finley National Wildlife Refuge and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge — Oregon and California

My favorite “sentimental” refuge is William Finley south of Corvallis, Oregon. I was introduced to that refuge 45 years ago as a student by a biology instructor and have been visiting ever since. It is within 30 minutes of my home, and offers an amazing respite from a chaotic world. My other favorite is Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. The diversity of wildlife available there is truly amazing, especially during migration periods. The sheer vast openness of the refuge makes it a true adventure to visit.

What do you love about visiting National Wildlife Refuges?

Top: Osprey; Bottom Row (L-R): Owl, Great Blue Heron, Green Frog

Chris Markes 
Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge — Oregon

I love photographing at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge as it honors the pursuit of truth which then feeds the soul.

Why is this place important?

Top: Ae’o (Hawaiian Black-necked stilt); Bottom Row (L-R): Black-crowned Night-Heron, ʻAlae kea (Hawaiian coot)

James Petruzzi @Hawaiianimages 
Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge — Maui, Hawai’i

In Hawai’i, its vital we maintain lands set aside for conservation and the preservation of rare ecosystems — in the case of Keālia Pond NWR, it’s among the last of the vanishing wetlands of coastal Maui…not only does the Refuge preserve a habitat and maintain a vital wetland watershed, but the excellent visitor center and interpretive signage along the coastal boardwalk provides outreach and education to ensure visitors understand the role wetlands play in the overall health of our island.

What makes a National Wildlife Refuge a good place for photography?

(L-R) American white pelican fishing at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Adult killdeer and chick, Great blue heron swallowing a carp at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Jim’s winning entry selected this year for inclusion in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2017 calendar. Pictured is a male California quail photographed at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Jim Leonard
Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge — Oregon
Read more of Jim’s Photography Tips.

Each season brings you a different variety of wildlife. Some staying a few months and others just migrating through the area. I think maintaining the refuges in their natural state without human development has helped preserve the wildlife. Also having large and small open water areas creates good habitat. In some areas, the wildlife is accustomed to people or vehicles driving through

What is your favorite thing about visiting a National Wildlife Refuge?

Top: Kolea (Hawaiian duck); Bottom Row (L-R): Ae’o (Hawaiian Black-necked stilt), Laysan albatross

Hob Osterlund
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge — Kauaʻi, Hawai’i

As a volunteer as well as a visitor, I’ve enjoyed the countless experiences watching visitors being turned on to birds for the first time. My favorite are the amazed kids. They sponge up all the information they can absorb, then share it with everyone around them. National Wildlife Refuges are vital to our exposure to our sibling critters on this planet. How can we love and protect them if we don’t have a visceral experience of their presence? Their greatness?

What are your recommendations for other aspiring photographers out there?

Top: Siletz Bay; Bottom Row (L-R): Orchid (Piperia elegans), Ensatina salamander; Bufflehead duck

Peter Pearsall
Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Read more of Peter’s photography advice.

To all aspiring wildlife photographers out there: Just keep shooting. Dreaming about the latest camera body or super-telephoto lens is fine (I do it all the time!), but don’t let that get in the way of spending time in the field observing and photographing wildlife with the gear at hand. Happy shooting!

Find a Refuge near you!

The National Wildlife Refuge System cares for a national network of lands and waters to conserve, manage, and sometimes restore the natural resources they contain. We have everything from grasslands, to estuaries, and mountain ranges. And we operate everywhere from wilderness areas to urban interfaces. From all parts of the globe, more than 47 million visitors flock to these natural treasure troves each year. What are you waiting for?

By Holly Richards, Public Affairs Office for the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Pacific Islands