Indigenous people for eons have used the concept of a sit spot for better hunting, ceremonies and to just plain collect their thoughts. It is a fairly straight forward idea that can be applied to photographing wildlife or even street photography. In this blog I will go over the idea of a sit spot and how to apply it to local surroundings and to a lesser extent when on distant locations. There are no set rules with a sit spot but you will find that with consistent and intelligent application your opportunities to photograph elusive and common wildlife will increase greatly. You will not have to get closer to your subjects. They will come closer to you!
Hunter-gatherer societies both past and present use a variety of skills and coordinated efforts to put food on the table. One these skills involves a “sit spot” or a place to simply go and spend time at in frequent intervals. Sitting quietly in the same place that has good food, cover and water for wildlife will habituate most wildlife to human presence. Animals that aren’t threatened and feel comfortable with going about their daily business will not mind you and your camera quietly observing and capturing images. You will also find just as the ancients did that this repeated exercise, prize or no prize, is a quietly active form of meditation. Who knows, maybe the calmer brainwaves put the wildlife at ease.
Look no further than National Parks to see a grander scale of this idea working. Wildlife have learned that they are protected in the parks and hence, the chance of photographing a bear in Yellowstone NP is much higher than photographing one in the National Forest where they are hunted for sport etc. In the parks they have accepted human presence and for the most part go about being themselves. The same thing can happen if you choose your sit spot wisely and go there often.
The following are the finer points of using a sit spot to increase your chances of photographing wildlife:
- Pick an area that has good food, cover and water for wildlife. Sometimes this can be in your backyard, city park, public land etc. These resources do not have to be on top of each other. Just in the general area or so that you are in an area were wildlife are coming and going to these resources. Just make sure that it is a spot that you are willing to go too frequently. Which brings us to number 2.
- Frequency: The more quiet time that you can spend at your sit spot the greater chance of wildlife accepting your presence. They have to have time to accept your presence into their daily rhythms. If you are an infrequent and cumbersome visitor you will be alone on most outings. This is why your sit spot location will work better if it is local. You have to be there often for this concept to work.
- Pick an area that is safe from human threats and comfortable etc. and one that is relatively quiet. Don’t worry that your backyard or local park is too small. It is just as easy to spot a bobcat or coyote in town as it is in a National Park. I have a relative that lives in the suburbs of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex and he records bobcats weekly with his security door cams. Sometimes 2 or 3 at a time. He even had a bald eagle dive for a rabbit in the common area of the neighborhood.
- Wildlife periods of activity vary but your best bets are early morning and evenings. These time periods also can offer better light and side lighted subjects. Being at your sit spot at the same times will also let the “locals” know when to expect you. But don’t let schedule conflicts keep you from going out. The most important thing is to simply be “there” frequently.
- If this technique fails for all other subjects it will not fail for birds. Birds will eventually land on you. (hard to photograph while they are on the brim of your hat)
- Beginner’s sit spot: a bird feeder, bird bath or garden pond and a comfortable chair. This is a great way to practice with birds in flight, nature portraits (a future blog) and familiarize yourself with your equipment.
- Must have: Patience
You can also apply this concept on vacation or chosen photo destinations. The same principals apply. The main thing that changes of course is the time scale. Do your research on your chosen subject(s) and when you arrive go to those locations and sit often. People are amazed at what they see without ever expecting to see it at their sit spot. If you practice these concepts long enough in the same area you will eventually start to see wildlife while doing your own daily activities. My “backyard” is a tad bigger than most but being immersed in it has led to bear, coyote, raptor, hummingbird photos etc. galore. The included photos have all come from applying the sit spot idea to my backyard. Cheers…..