Hunters set traps. Not necessarily a trap that catches the prey, but more commonly one that lures it in. Sounds simple enough right? It’s not. They have to consider the environment. They have to consider their prey. Their wants, needs, and habits. They also need to consider themselves, the angle of their attack when their prey falls into their trap. So it is with you.
My aunt in Arizona has deer and roadrunners in her yard quite frequently since she put in a watering hole. Here in Florida my neighborhood has retention ponds on both sides, opening me up to turtles, freshwater creatures, and everything they attract, like the endangered Sandhill Cranes that freely walk the neighborhood. Those without fences in their yards consider them a nuisance. The cranes, trying to eat the sunbathing lizards, destroy their screens. They invite people like me chasing them down the street with cameras to walk right into people’s yards I don’t even know. I don’t know how many people I’ve met by walking into their back yards chasing birds or turtles. Most of the time a smile and wave will suffice here. They understand. If the waters were not fenced off it could easily attract gators as well. When I lived in different areas of Virginia and Germany, the wildlife scenery was different in each of those places. So consider your environment. Consider the prey available to you that you could possibly lure in.
Wouldn’t it be easier to build a trap to increase your chances of attracting wildlife? Sure you could go chasing it naturally, but you lose control of your composition. Common landscaping like a simple flower bed or flowering shrubs like Hibiscus work will bring in all sorts of beauty from bees burying themselves in the flower to an array of butterflies and open the world of macro photography to you without ever leaving your home. Every day is an adventure when you wander your yard seeing what you can find, and the gas is free.
So first consider your prey. What do you want to attract? What species are available to you? What do you see in your yard every day anyway? What can you use to lure them into a composition friendly area that lends itself to your personal style to create a target rich environment? If you REALLY wanted to, you could even consider what colors would work best in a photo of a really specific animal in a shot you’re after.
Next, what plants do well in your setting? Do they need to be replanted yearly or will they come back each season on their own. What kind of plants will thrive in the area where you’re putting them? How much light does the spot get throughout the day? What’s the average rainfall? How much care will the plant species need? If it’s a low water plant, will your sprinklers be too much for it?
The next thing to consider is how to organize it all, and you need to consider the angle of your attack. Traditionally, landscaping beds go from the tallest in the middle, medium height in front of that, and finally the plants that stay low to the ground are planted around the edges. If I wanted to shoot butterflies, I would consider bright colored flowers in the middle row, with something thick and not flowering in the top and bottom. Lure the butterfly into the area that provides the best photo op while making the other areas unattractive to it. The top and bottom can provide thick backgrounds that won’t show your neighbor’s house or the car parked in the street. No matter how soft your f/stop, we can still see it. Bear the composition in mind when planning your trap.
Staying on the subject of the angle of attack, consider yourself and photography style. I would plant them in the area with the most even light (consistent shade) at the time of day I would normally be out there hunting. Why fight nasty specular highlights when you’re setting it up from scratch?
Some people believe the picture doesn’t count if you take it in a controlled setting, especially a zoo. While I wholeheartedly disagree, there is a difference between taking a picture and making a picture. If you compose your image so it looks like it could have been taken in a natural setting, if it’s pleasing to your eye and sensibilities, then you’ve made a good picture and you should be proud, and sometimes fighting obstacles to accomplish that composition make it even more so.