ADVENTURES OF A WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER LET IT SNOW
Making the best of the weather, be it rain, shine or snow.
AS THE DAYS SHORTEN AND THE COLOURS of autumn fade away, the first frosts of winter roll in like a bell tolling the bitter season to come. The contrast can be almost as severe as the conditions, utterly bleak one day and totally magical the next. When it’s dull, it’s dark, but the light quality on a clear winter’s day is stunning.
For the wildlife photographer, this can be a season of plenty, as natural food dwindles and wary creatures adapt in order to survive. Mammals are seen more regularly, as they forage new areas closer to man-made habitats. Raptors such as buzzards and red kites will scavenge roadkill or search field edges for earthworms.
Songbirds, or passerines, are a common sight during the colder months in gardens, parks and nature reserves, where bird feeders are used. I will always try and have a winter feeding station established somewhere close to home as this is a reliable source of photographic opportunities in a situation that is relatively easy to control.
Unfortunately, one thing you can never control is the weather, and inclement conditions will seriously influence the settings you use and the quality of the resulting images. There are some occasions when you just have to make the best of it, when travelling for example, but at local sites I simply won’t shoot in substandard conditions. For many people, quite understandably, a forecast of frost and snow is bad news, whereas children and photographers love it. This is especially true if a subject is already visiting an area regularly as you now have all the ingredients to make highly commercial images. A robin on a garden fork handle is a nice picture; in the snow it’s a front cover!
THERE ARE SOME OCCASIONS WHEN YOU JUST HAVE TO MAKE THE BEST OF IT…
A number of years ago I worked with a family of bank voles that lived under a flowerbed near to the bird feeders in my garden. Although I had stopped photographing the voles by mid-autumn I still spotted them regularly through the winter, and this led to an unexpected opportunity. The temperature had dropped and Arctic conditions were forecast despite it being late in the season. My thoughts turned to the voles and how to capture them in the snow. Using a flat piece of wood, about 50cm square, I created a platform above the ground, just high enough for the voles to move under. I then drilled out a 5cm hole towards the centre so they could climb through.
Later that day it started to snow and by the following morning the garden was covered. I set up my gear close to the ground and pushed a stick through the hole in the wood so I could compose the scene. Stick removed, I laid some food particles in front of the hole, hidden from view before sprinkling a handful of fresh snow over the top – the trap was set. My hope was that a vole would tunnel under the wood and then push up through the snow to feed. After about an hour I noticed movement and then a little head appeared. I shot using a single focal point with the aperture stopped down to increase the depth-of-field. A touch of overexposure helped to highlight the subject against the snow. Simon Roy is an award-winning wildlife photographer based in Yorkshire. His images have been highly commended in both the British Wildlife Photography Awards and International Garden Photographer of the Year competitions. simonroyphotography.co.uk