Every workshop I teach I am asked about ‘secrets’ of being a professional photographer. I have my standard responses – work locally/regionally, know when not to photograph, spend time looking, write – that people seem to understand if not fully appreciate.

I think what they really want to hear is: ”buy such and such camera and such and such lens, go to such and such place and on every odd-dated Tuesday photograph such and such. Then do such and such and send it without delay to such and such. Oh, and be sure to notify your bank of the huge sums of money that will shortly come your way.”

Well, of course it doesn’t work that way but that doesn’t stop people from wanting it to work that way. These are the same people who are convinced that if they only got a better camera and a faster lens they would surely be able to make it as a pro. Right after I finish with this I am going out and buy a better pen so that my writing will improve and some expensive new pans so I can compete with Emeril.

The other ‘secret’ that I mention is the need to be an information junkie. It is actually more than a need; it is as essential to being a successful professional or very accomplished (not necessarily the same) photographer as breathing is to being a successful human being.

Of course no one gets this. People want to take pictures not read books or ask questions or struggle to figure out what the heck that was that they just took a picture of. That would be work and unpleasant and, “by God, I do enough of that in my office.”

This is why information is essential to all photographers. Information helps you to be a better photographer. The more you know about whatever it is you are photographing the better your pictures will be. It is just that simple. If you love photographing wildflowers the more you know about their natural history the easier it will be to find them, the easier it will be to recognize a good one and the easier it will be to emphasize the important characteristics of them in your photography.

If you love photographing barns the more you know them the easier it will be to find them, the easier it will be to recognize a good one and the easier it will be to emphasize the important characteristics of them in your photography. If you love photographing wildlife the more you know about natural history the easier it will be to find your critter, the easier it will be to recognize a good one and the easier it will be to emphasize the important characteristics of it in your photography.

And especially with wildlife photography the more you know about your subject the more you will be able to anticipate important and interesting behavior and therefore be ready to get the shot when it happens and not be distracted lamenting your blinkies.

The side effect of all this is that you will simply enjoy the photographic process more and photography will be far more satisfying. If enjoyment and satisfaction are not your ultimate goals (okay and to make some money as well) in photography go crawl back under your rock and wait for the Great Stick of Enlightenment to visit and give you a whack on your head.

Well, you must be interested in what I have learned in my reading on the natural history of South African animals that I will be photographing very, very soon. If you are not you soon will be! Here is some of the stuff I have learned.

Elephants are really big. They are so big that they are able to communicate infrasonically which means that they are able to make sounds below the threshold of human hearing. By using infrasonic sound they can communicate with other elephants several miles away. This is why you never see elephants with cell phones.

Elephants also have really big grinding teeth that migrate from the back of the jaw to the front of the jaw as each tooth grows, is worn down to a flat useless nubbin and is discarded. At any one time they only have four teeth (one on each side, top and bottom) actually do the work that teeth do. That is why you also never see elephants in dentist offices. Think about it. You would know if there was an elephant in the dentist chair before you…….you can fill in the punch line this time.

I just finished reading that male juvenile giraffes (teenagers) “have a preoccupation with necking” as if male juvenile anything’s don’t. Male juvenile giraffes neck so much apparently that they become distracted and the behavior actually ‘prejudices their survival.’ And this is news that any parent of a teenager doesn’t know already? Giraffes also have really long tongues- 18 inches long in an adult giraffe. It is no wonder then why they like to neck. Teenagers, with far shorter tongues, have no excuse.

Cheetahs are the only cats without retractable claws. This, in effect, gives them track shoes and much better traction when they run and chase down their prey. They also can cover 30 feet in a single bounding stride and have shortened faces and enlarged nostrils to make air intake more efficient. They do not have tongues that are 18 inches long. This is why you never see cheetahs and giraffes necking.

Pangolins (you might know them as scaly anteaters) have tongues that are as long as the length of their bodies, which can be three to four feet long. The tongue actually curls up in an expandable pouch in the top of their throat and is attached to two floating ribs that act as an anchoring prong. I think I ate anchoring prongs once in New Orleans.

And finally, and this is a good one, rhinoceroses have backward pointing genitalia. No, I am not making this up. If you think about it, trying to raise that hefty body up sufficiently to mount a hefty female is really more than is appropriate to ask a male rhino. That is why they (the genatalia and the rhinos) face backward to do the dirty. If you think about it, with a face like a rhino’s perhaps a little backing up is not such a bad idea. As you would expect there is a survival advantage to this behavior – you can’t tell if they are coming or going.

You would think they would have evolved little reflective surfaces on their horns to allow them to see where they are going. I mean really, it would be like trying to find a haystack with a needle! It can’t be easy. It does though put backing up my truck to the trailer in a whole new light.

And finally, rhinoceroses are mostly silent but they do make a characteristic noise when they are about to mate. You can tell when they are ready to mate because they make a repetitive noise when they back up. You’ll know it when you hear it: beep…beep…….beep….beep.