Up close with nature: Alyce Bender shares her favorite moments

Alyce Bender’s journey to becoming a photographer has been anything but typical. But this Air Force vet has proven that a love for nature combined with being prepared can allow you to supremely capture the beauty of nature.

Alyce Bender

Since going full-time into photography in 2019, Alyce has explored the world, with the goal of capturing habitat in its natural habitat. From moose in the Tetons to red-crowned cranes in Japan, her photography is inspiring to everyone who loves the great outdoors.

So how did Alyce go from serving her country to picking up a camera?

Alyce’s journey to photography

Alyce has always had a camera in her hand. But she didn’t start honing her skills until 2013 when she realized that her background in aviation and safety didn’t fit her military lifestyle.

“I’ve had a camera in hand since I was about knee-high. So it really kind of started with the camera being something that I was given as a small child, and it’s how I started seeing the world,” she said. “You know, I was exploring outdoors and nature through a lens.”

“One of the reasons I went full time for photography is my background is in aviation management and safety. That doesn’t really move around really well. So I needed something that would move with me.

“When I first got out and was doing photography, only part-time, I worked as an optometry technician. And then I worked in outdoor recreation for the base in Japan when we were stationed there. So I just kind of got tired of just kind of jumping from job to job and wanted to have a more cohesive career.”

Her love for the outdoors and nature quickly led her to focus on capturing wildlife and landscape images. She’s now a Tamron ambassador.

How Alyce prepares

For any wildlife photographer, research is important. You need to understand your subjects, and their environments and be able to predict their movements. For Alyce, it all comes down to being as prepared as possible.

“I do a lot of research before going into the field,” she said. “And I think that’s probably my biggest tip that I give to anybody who’s looking to go out and photograph. To me, there’s no reason to go into the field unprepared. What I normally will do is depending on what species I’m looking for, I will research behavior [and] environments. If I’m visiting in June, I need to know what they’re doing in June versus September. So seasonal behavior changes and environmental changes as well.”

She also relies on what others have reported.

“I also look for tips from other photographers or outdoor enthusiasts and naturalists as to where there have been local sightings I’m going. Based on that, I have a better idea. Once I get into the field, I can start putting boots on the ground kind of in those areas.”

Alyce finds that by being a naturalist, you’ll naturally become a better photographer.

“I’ve honed my skills and things like wildlife tracking and being able to read the science of nature. By doing that, I can be like, OK, this dung pile looks relatively fresh within the last couple of hours, or no, this is last week’s leavings. So, it does help to know if animals are currently in the area and be able to track them know which way they’re going, what it looks like they’re grazing on things like that.”

Knowing and understanding behavior helps to get the shot

Moose in the Tetons

Understanding the animal’s behavior also lets her prepare for when she’s ultimately ready to make a picture.

“If I want a bowls that are in rut, I’m not going to go looking for them in spring, because they aren’t going to be in rut then. But also, it helps me know I’m not going to be looking for moose necessarily midday unless it’s really cold out because they’re a dark animal they get overheated quite easily. So you want to look for them at the beginning of the day, at the very end of the day, especially as it gets warmer out.

“Knowing a behavior will also help once they’re in front of the camera. If I can anticipate their movements … [for example] This coyote just spotted or got the scent of another coyote, most likely they’re going to go inspect. Based on their ear movements, I can see they’re getting nervous, so they’re probably going to be going away. And if they picked up the scent of the wind to the right, they’re probably going to be leaving to the left.

“So behavior really does factor into not only finding the animal understanding when they’re going to have certain behaviors seasonally but also then at the moment, right then when you get there in front of the camera. So again, I think being a naturalist just really helps and sets things up when it comes to photographing.”

Lightweight, compact gear makes it easy to be ready

White Sands National Park

Because Alyce is regularly out in varying weather, it’s important for her to have gear that she can rely on.

“[Tamron’s] gear has made it possible for me to grow as a photographer. And in the field, the fact that I have lightweight gear that is high quality, durable and reliable, I don’t have to second guess my gear choices with Tamron. That makes things so much easier for me. I can just go out and do what I need to do. I don’t have to worry about rain, I don’t have to worry about snow, heat, dust… none of that. Their lenses are weather-resistant, weather-sealed through the barrels. It just gets so nice just be able to go out and focus on what I need to do not about the tools that I’m using.”

Alyce relies on Tamron gear for her Nikon D500, and she’s able to cover a wide focal length range with just three lenses — the 150-600mm f/5-6.3 G2, 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 and 10-24mm.

“Especially with wildlife, the Tamron 150-600mm G2 is my baby. That is my absolute number one go-to lens. The one that I use second most — I do shoot on the Nikon D500, a crop sensor body — is the Tamron 18-400mm, because it’s an all-in-one. I can do close-ups, I can do landscape, and I can do wildlife. If I’m scouting a new location, if I’m kind of just out midday when I’m not expecting to get anything great, but I want to make sure I have a camera with me, that’s the lens I take with me, because then I know I’m not necessarily going to miss a shot if something does come up.

“And then to round out is the Tamron 10-24mm ultrawide. With those three lenses, I’m covered from 10-600mm … in three lenses. It’s kind of insane to me, but I absolutely love it.”

Outside of her camera body and lenses, Alyce relies on Atlas Adventure and Athlete packs, along with a Benro Tortoise tripod.

“The fact that I can carry my entire kit in their Adventure pack with gear — with the trail gear that I need as well — and I could carry that all day without issue? It’s a game-changer.”

Perfect for even the most challenging of subjects

Red-crowned cranes

It’s because of her lens choices that she was able to capture endangered red-crowned cranes in Hokkaido, Japan.

“I was there in the winter, and I was able to photograph them in falling snow while they were doing their beautiful courtship dance. I would not have been able to capture those images without my Tamron 150-600mm G2. That experience in and of itself was why I purchased that lens. And I haven’t let that lens go since! Between being lightweight, and not being afraid to get it out in the snow… I’m just able to go out there and shoot, enjoy and just kind of be encased in this experience where I have five-foot birds doing beautiful courtship rituals in the falling snow. And it’s just phenomenal.”


She also was able to photograph Pika, which has been her most challenging animal to capture to date.

“Right now, Pika is the only animal I’ve had to make a second trip for in order to gather enough photographs that will work. I think it’s because I’m focusing on low elevation, Pika in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They’re suffering from climate change at a higher rate than others. But to photograph them, oftentimes, it’s in areas that are highly visited, especially during the summer months when they’re most active. And so you get a lot of interruptions from visitors because it’s such a visited park.

“Obviously, it’s a national park, it’s public land. I’m not saying that the hiker should read it, it just makes it a lot more challenging as these shy critters jump back into their burrows and stay there for a while before coming back out.”

Observe, and bring back life-changing stories

Silver Falls State Park

Ultimately what drives Alyce to keep photographing is the chance to be a storyteller with what she sees through her camera lens.

“What kind of gets me out of bed and doing this day in day out and sitting in 20-degree weather with snow and rain… what keeps me going is the chance to experience new places and to observe wildlife behavior personally.

“Having those experiences and, and being a part of it. Even though it is as an observer. Just to have that chance because I know there are so many people out there who don’t get that opportunity. And I never want to take it for granted. To be able to do that, observe it firsthand, and then bring those stories and those experiences back to those who would not otherwise be able to experience or have knowledge of these types of workings of nature, if you will, these locations. Doing that to both support conservation efforts, as well as to broaden people’s horizons.

“I have several friends that for one reason or another, they can’t travel. And so they will never be able to see what I see, even a small amount. And so for me to be able to bring these stories back, document them and allow them that window, I think is really important as well.”

To see more of Alyce’s work, visit abenderphotography.com or follow her on Instagram.

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