Picture perfect: Tips to get the best wildlife photography in Missouri's State Parks

Kerry Hays, a park and historic site specialist at Roaring River State Park in Cassville, spends a lot of time behind a camera.

Whether it's shooting pictures of events at the park, doing work on his own or capturing some of the signature bald eagle photos at Missouri's state parks, Hays has spent a lot of time with cold feet and a camera bag strapped around his waist.

How did Hays get those great winter bird pictures?

"I used a Nikon D300 with a Tokina 70-400mm lens at 400mm.  The camera was set to ISO 400, f/5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/800.  I used Aperture Priority to limit the depth of field.  Just sat very still on my porch and waited for the right moment."

Here are his tips for wildlife photography:

Know Your Subject
 Learn all you can about animal behavior to capture spectacular images.  Know where they can be found and when they will be active.  The Interpretive Specialist at your park is a great resource to contact if you have any specific questions.

Know Your Equipment
 Acquire the gear you need to capture the picture you want and then learn everything you can about its operation.  There is nothing worse than waiting for the perfect shot only to have your camera’s autofocus miss the eagle in flight.

 Zoos, farms, ranches and, your own backyard are all great places to practice using your equipment and observe animal behavior.  Take as many pictures as you need to feel comfortable.

Use Basic Photo Techniques
Learn to see the world through the eyes of a photographer.  Always be aware of how the light affects your scene, how your main subject is featured, and what distractions are in your background.  Become neurotic about sharp focus-it’s the one thing that will separate your image from all the others.

Be Patient
When photographing wildlife, you’ll often have to wait for long periods of time with intermittent short periods of activity.  This is the best way to capture that natural image of an animal acting normally.

Be Safe
 Resist the temptation to see the world through your viewfinder or LCD screen.  Be aware of your surroundings and never place yourself in harm's way.

Practice Ethical Conduct
 Just like humans, all animals have a “personal space”.  Try not to be a stalker.   Be respectful by moving slowly and carefully.  Take a picture, move closer, and then stand still so the animal becomes comfortable with your presence.

In Missouri State Parks, every day offers innumerable opportunities to create the perfect image.  Settle in, enjoy the surroundings and wait for the right moment.  You won’t be disappointed.