It's that time of the week again when I'm going to be writing down a few tips about wildlife photography. So far we've looked at light, exposure, perspective and wide-angle imagery, this week I'll be taking you through the attributes of so called "poor" weather. Many non-photographers will perhaps think that strong sunlight and blue skies are the perfect conditions for wildlife photography, well I'm here to tell you that if you wake up in the morning and the conditions look ideal like that, you can roll over and go back to sleep! What you really want to look for are the vast variety of other weather conditions we get here in the UK. Rain, sleet, hail, mist, fog and snow can all make for different perspectives and will give your photographs a different edge to the standard blue skies and strong sunlight. As renowned wildlife photographer Laurie Campbell says: "There’s no such thing as bad weather for photography – you just need to find a way of holding a camera steady ".My favourite of all 'bad' weather conditions is snow. Snow cleans up an image as any distracting elements are draped in pure white and effectively removed from the scene. If there was a variety of colours that don't mix well in a particular scene, or that draw the attention away from the main subject, snow makes them disappear and allows the viewer to fully concentrate on the main subject. Poor weather tells more of a story than blue skies and bright sun, one of survival, determination and strong character. Along with the cleaning up of a scene, snow obviously has a strong seasonal element to it and will immediately remind us of deep winters and Christmas time. With the right subject, snow can add to a photograph to make an almost magical scenario:"The Monarch"
The image above was taken on the first day of heavy snowfalls this year in January. I was keeping my eye on the weather forecast intently, waiting for the first big downpour. As soon as it was announced for the following day, I knew the perfect subject to make for a magical scene: a red deer stag. I have a population of these close to my home in the Peak District and through regular visits, knew roughly where they would be. I set off just before dawn and soon enough was face to face with 8 adult males. This mammal is arguably one of the most impressive species in the UK with males reaching up to 190kg in weight and displaying up to 16 points on their antlers, multiply that by eight and you have quite a daunting prospect, especially when you're lying on the floor!
Soon enough I realised these stags were relaxed with my presence and the images I'd planned in my head were coming through on my camera screen - something that doesn't happen as often as I'd like! For this photograph I used my long telephoto lens to compress the scene and keep the stag sharp and the background blurry. It was important here for me to get as low as possible in order to make those falling snowflakes stand out well enough to see. By getting to ground level, the background was a dark patch of trees which allowed the bright snowflakes to take precedence. If I had remained stood up, I would have been looking down on the red deer and the background would then have been the snowy floor behind him, making the snowflakes blend in and almost disappear from view. Getting extremely low also allowed for the foreground snow to blur which removed some of the distracting grass poking through (now only slightly visible in line with the stag).
Technically speaking, to maintain the correct exposure of your subject whilst in snow, you'll need to dial in some positive exposure compensation. Essentially, with all those white patches in the scene, your camera sensor will think it is too bright and try and control this by darkening the image through faster shutter speeds etc. This will lead to an underexposed subject and snow that's more grey than pristine white. By using positive exposure compensation (in this case by +2 stops) you take control over the fighting in camera light meter and force it to expose correctly.
Hopefully this short blog post has fought the corner for "poor" weather and made you really think about getting out and about in all types. It's all far too easy to stay sat in the warm and dry when the wind, rain and snow comes, but getting up and out there is what makes the difference and gives your photos an edge. Also, you'll appreciate the warm indoors and a hot cup of coffee all the more on your return!
For more of my work you can visit my website at: www.jamesshooter.com or if you’re on facebook you can like my page at www.facebook.com/jamesshooterphotographyI’ll be back next week with another photograph and more tips.
Thanks for reading,James