I like photographs that zoom out and capture the environment of wildlife. It captures the character of the animal.

As my past ecology professor lectured: studying the ecology of an animal in the lab or other experimental environment is futile, it has no ecology.

You have removed the objects it interacts with.

The overly shallow depth of field and large aperture of portraits displaces the animal, transplanting it into a vacuum of intelligible bokeh and color. Often the best photographs–especially in journalism–are those capturing a fleeting moment of interaction that brings life to still shot and tells a story. Unless you’re capturing the expression or focusing on a specific feature of an animal, zoom out. Capture the surroundings.

Zoomed-out photos are especially great when the environment is full of complex and interesting forms found in such natural objects as boulders or thorny vegetation. Looking at this photo of rock squirrels in Pace Bend Park along Lake Travis in Austin, you can get clues to the natural history of the squirrels. In the photo you can see prickly pads, yucca, mesquite, and other thorny vegetation they forage. The rock perch they use to get an advantage on foraging or avoiding predators, the nooks and crannies they use to hide and escape predators or den their young, the middens of discarded shells of the seeds they ate. Oftentimes the most interesting and cute feature of an animal is in its behavior. Forget the looks and go deeper. Scurry and crouch among the rocks to find that moment.

Super telephoto captures are great for identification. But, sometimes the quickest I.D. and most interesting photo is caught by backing up and capturing the animal with its environment.