A lot of times when people comment on my photos saying things like "Great timing!," or "What a unique shot!," "This is great; how'd you do this?," or otherwise asking me questions about the situation I was currently in, I often reply that I was simply "in the right place at the right time." All of us who photograph any sort of wildlife, be it captive or wild, understand that, unlike photographers who do studio portraiture, work with people, pets, or are otherwise able to control the composure of their outcome in some way, being in the right place at the right time is a pretty big part of what we do. However, I directed this message at those of us who have spent considerable time with a particular species, individuals, facility, or habitat because I believe that offering that we were "in the right place at the right time" is something we say that suggests to other people that they, too have the same chances of achieving the same photograph. In fact, I would like to argue that "being in the right place at the right time," in our case, anyway, has little to do with luck or photography skills. Instead, I believe firmly that the time spent with the animals we are now familiar with, be it those members of a particular ecosystem that we frequent, a species we have learned the particular habits of, or the individuals in a captivity setting we have come to know, has far more to do with the images we produce than any other factor.
If, for example, you regularly visit a certain patch of forest, national park, or conservation area, you are likely to learn the hiding spots of your the species in that area, especially those you want to photograph. You may learn where to find them at certain times of day, how to tread so that you don't frighten or alert them to your presence, how to shift, wave, or speak to achieve a reaction for the photo you are trying to take, or at least you have some idea, you are not clueless. The same goes if you have concentrated your photographic efforts on a particular species. If you visit a captive facility, you may be familiar even with the individuals that you photograph. The specific qualities you become familiar with studying a wild population or a specific species are further intensified. Not only are you familiar with the habits of the animal, you know how to approach a habitat for a better angle, lighting, and when it's simply not worth trying.
Don't believe me? Think back to when you first began photographing. Did you approach the situation the same way? Did you gravitate towards the same area you start out in now? Is your "sweet spot," if you have one, the same? Did you zero in on the direct center of the viewing glass? I bet you don't now!
What I'm trying to say is that "being in the right place at the right time" is not simply a matter of luck, it's a culmination of a sensitivities and bits of knowledge that you've picked up over the course of time spent with your animals. Of course, a bit of luck is a part of it, but I think that learning your animals and your environment is a much bigger part of getting the photographs we do than simply being lucky. "Being in the right place at the right time" is almost a skill, and it doesn't mean you get a great shot every time. You only get that shot every once in a while, but I believe that it is not a matter of luck, but the result of an almost subconscious collection of information that you've unknowingly collected over time. After spending x number of years photographing wildlife, you deserve more credit than luck does.