Behind The Shot: “Snowed In” by Bobo Bird – Ontario, Canada

Wildlife portrait of a Great gray owl in Ontario, Canada against a backdrop of snow and winter conditions

“Snowed In” by Bobo Bird

The Great grey owl or Great gray owl (Strix Nebulosa) is a very large owl, documented as the world’s largest species. They are distributed across the Northern Hemisphere.

I have been trying for two winters to get pictures of this amazing-looking bird, but without success. One day, a friend told me that one had been spotted wintering about an hour drive from my place. So off I went with my head full of visions of the kinds of shots I wanted. Prior to that, I did a bit of research about their habits, etc., and also looked at tons of pictures on the Internet to get some idea of what to expect.

Day 1, it was not there, day 2 the same, day 3, I caught a glimpse of it in a tree about 300 yards away. Day 4, aha, it was by the side of the road, and I managed to pull off a couple of shots before it left. Nothing great but pleased to get a couple of shots.

Not satisfied, I went back another 12 times only to see it two more times. Once while it was snowing heavily and the other time on perhaps one of the coldest and windiest days I have ever experienced. Conditions in Ontario, Canada this past winter (2013/2014) were perhaps the worst we have had for a long, long time. Regularly -20c to -40c with winds of between 30-80 kmph. Frankly, there were no good days.

Given the conditions, three out of 15 was pretty good even though on most days I would return home with little or no feeling in the fingers or toes.

This particular shot was obtained on the “snow” day. The bird was sitting on the bush and swaying with the wind. I was hoping it would take off but it just sat there. As the snow got heavier I decided to abandon trying to catch it in flight and concentrate on a portrait with the streaking snow as a backdrop.

Usually I am on a pretty high shutter speed to catch flight. Here I wanted the snow to streak so that shutter speed had to come way down. After a bit of experimentation, 1/400 appeared about right for the snow and at the same time freezing any movement of the bird. Aperture was set to f/9 to get better depth of field. Using burst mode and AI Servo (Canon), I was able to maintain focus even though the bird was swaying in the wind.

Typically all my shots are taken handheld, but I had to dig out the tripod for this series of “slower” shutter shots. – Bobo Bird

This image is available as a print here. You can see more work from Bobo Bird at his website, Follow him on 500px.

Equipment and settings: Canon EOS 1D-X, EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X zoom lens (with built in 1.4x extender) @ 400mm, Manfrotto 055 Series tripod – Manual exposure – AI Servo autofocusing – 1/400th @ f/9, ISO 800