Did you know that if you rush toward an animal, they'll run? Who knew!
Let's look at the story of a turtle. One day in September of 2017 I was walking home from work along the Schuylkill river, and I came across a turtle sunning on a log. It was sunning, presumably assuming he was well camouflaged. I hadn't seen a turtle along the river, especially this close to the city center (near the Philadelphia Museum of art) and I had just gotten a brand new lens the week before. I knew I wanted to nail this picture.
I only had my 18-55mm lens on my camera, as I had left my 100-400mm telephoto lens at home. This meant I was only able to get so close without spooking the animal. The sun was setting soon, and I wanted to try and get a better picture. I ran a mile home and back to grab the 100-400mm lens and try to get a picture of the turtle while there was still some light.
Back at the spot I saw the turtle was still there, great! But the sun had begun to set to the point where there was no longer direct sunlight on him, so I had to try to make do with that.
I was able to get some decent pictures of him from the trail, but I decided to move down the river bank closer to his level. I got to the ridge and shot a couple more pictures.
At this point I decided to go down the slope of the river bank, and of course, I ran, like an sane person would trying not to scare an animal nearby. Did I think I was far enough away to not spook the turtle? Yes. Was I? No.
I knew I screwed up when I heard a plop in the water and I saw the turtle was gone. Iconography showing turtles as slow are dead wrong, and are feeding into stereotypes about these turtles. They are fast and flighty. The stereotype is harmful, specifically to my ego. I got outsmarted and out-maneuvered by a turtle.
The lesson in all of this is, don’t rush at animals, and watch that you don’t get too close. Each animal has a flight distance at which point they pack up and leave. If you need to get closer, ask yourself, will getting closer help the shot? Are you disturbing the animal? Will the animal kill you? If the answer to that last question is yes, as an amateur, you might be in over your head. Otherwise, carefully consider how to approach the wildlife without bothering it, go in at a zigzag pattern so you don’t look to be coming straight for it.
As for me? I haven’t seen that turtle, or any turtle, around the area since. For now I’m practicing on birds. Many of them don’t seem to give a crap about human presence.