Wildlife In The Snow

Find the perfect setting, great light and a subject in its full winter coat, and you’ve got the recipe for wonderful winter wildlife photos

Wildlife in the snow

Photo Math:
   Perfect Setting
+ Perfect Coat
= Great imagery

The addition problem above requires no math skills, computer program, calculator or adding machine. To comprehend its meaning, all it takes is an elementary understanding of good photography and knowing one of my photo mantras: The Background Is Equally As Important as The Subject. In that math is often analyzed, let’s probe the addition a bit more deeply into its make up:

Perfect Setting: A freshly fallen snow.
Perfect Coat: In the winter, animals often look their best.
Great Imagery: Add in good light and great photos are a shutter click away.

Wildlife in the snow

Perfect Setting

I love to photograph animals just after a freshly fallen snow or in an area where snow envelopes the land and much of it remains virgin. The setting becomes a monochromatic wonderland in its expanse. The area takes on an entirely fresh look. Look to the left, right, in front or behind you and the fresh snow camouflages what would normally serve as a distraction. Old fallen branches, dead grasses, bright rocks and more are veiled in white.

Visit your favorite wildlife area that animals inhabit and wait for them to emerge. Duck ponds, local parks, open space and national parks are great locations to work in the winter. If it’s snowing while you’re there, use slow shutter speeds to exaggerate the streaking lines. It adds a nice effect and conveys the message that it’s cold. To arrest the descending flakes, use a shutter speed of 1/500th or faster. Avoid using flash. It will illuminate the flakes directly in front of the lens and they’ll appear as undesirable, bright white blobs.

Wildlife in the snow

Perfect Coat

Wildlife that dwells in cold weather climates needs protection. Nature provides that in the form of heavy coats. As autumn wanes and winter begins, the coats each animal wears during the frosty season fully develops. It’s thick, bushy and pristine in appearance. It makes the subject looks larger, fuller and more attractive. It implies good health to be able to survive the elements, cold and tough times because of the density of fur, and perseverance as a species to sustain and withstand the conditions.

It’s during the winter that many animals look their most attractive. As the warmth of spring appears and they begin to shed, it’s not attractive. When the winter coat is fully shed, the animal looks smaller and less dominant. The perfect coat is synonymous with winter.

Wildlife in the snow

Great Imagery

A perfect setting exists. The subject looks majestic in its perfect coat. Great imagery comes with great light, a complementary background, how active the subject is and composition to place the animal in the best location. The best light occurs at sunrise and sunset. It’s warm, the angle is low and it creates great shadows. Strive for front light during these times so the golden color falls evenly on the subject. Backlight could be dramatic, especially if the animal has a bushy coat. Block the sun with the subject so its coat glows and becomes a complete silhouette.

Sun and snow are a wonderful mix, but they present metering problems. Snow reflects light so the meter tries to make it gray. To prevent this, dial in plus compensation to the given meter reading. Just how much depends on how much of the composition is snow, how much shadow area there is, how intense the sun is and whether the subject is back or front-lit. Experiment and learn to master each situation accordingly.

Wildlife in the snow

Even though snow hides a messy environment, be aware of trees or bushes that merge with the animal. Endeavor to get the subject surrounded in white. This simplifies the composition. If there are other elements, use them as counterpoints to balance the composition as opposed to having them become interfering elements.

If the animal runs through the snow, it makes a great photo. Again, watch for the light and background while it’s running and use a fast shutter speed to arrest any blurs. Finally, use the rule of thirds to place the subject and make sure the head angle is good. The animal should face the camera as opposed to looking away. If it doesn’t look, be patient. Sometimes it cooperates and sometimes it doesn’t, but when it all comes together, Perfect Setting + Perfect Coat = Great Imagery.

Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.