Spring Photography - It's a Love Hate Relationship
A fox and its kit share a tender moment
Spring is a time of rejuvenation, of renewal, and awakening. Mother earth emerges from her blanket of snow and blesses us with an abundance of new life. As a wildlife photographer I always look forward to spring. Spring for me is the return of the migratory birds, including my favorite sandhill cranes, it is baby fox kits ever so playful and entertainingly exploring their environment their first few months, it's bears emerging from their dens with spring cubs, it's the ever awkward moose calves trying to figure out their long legs, and it is longer days and more light to photograph.
Spring grizzly bear cubs are always a treat to watch
Spring can also be a challenging time to photograph. Most photos are best taken at eye level, laying in mud and wet damp ground is never fun. Before the trees bud out and flowers start to grow, the melting of snow leaves a dull brown palette that does little at all to enhance the background in any photo. Mornings can be super cool and temperatures drop quickly in the evening as the sun sets. While spring brings a bounty of photography opportunities it also does not make photographing easy.
The dull background of dead grass can be distracting in spring photos
I work with the not so pleasant ground conditions by always packing with me a yoga mat. When I am laying on soggy ground to photograph spring foxes or still cold and frozen sand that has yet to totally thaw as I witness the return of great blue heron in April the yoga mat keeps me and my camera dry and relatively warm. I also layer clothing at this time of year, so I am warm enough in the cool mornings but comfortable as the temperature climbs throughout the day. I usually wear waterproof hiking boots in spring as my feet are sure to get wet and there is nothing that can make you feel colder quicker than cold feet when out in the field. I also wear splash pants as I know it will probably just not be my feet getting wet especially when walking through puddles and boggy areas. When setting up my shots, I try to ensure I have a lot of distance between my subject and its background so the drab muddy ground becomes a creamy brown background that would compliment the breeding plumage of the sandhill crane, or provide a nice neutral background to a returning mallard. When the habitat does not lend itself well to get a nice photo, I switch to shooting video.
Giving distance between the subject and background allows for a drab background to be a creamy compliment
As I have spoken about before it is good to a shot list in your mind before heading out. In spring there are certain photos I am want to capture.
1. The returning migratory shorebirds trapped between two seasons winter and spring, with ice still on the lake and them standing on or near ice or snow.
A great blue heron back before all the ice has melted
2. Spring bear cubs playing.
3. Fox kits with their eyes still blue emerging from their dens.
A young fox kit whose eyes have not yet turned to its adult color
4. Moose calves within 24 hours of birth when their legs are still wobbly.
5. Eagles and osprey parents returning with food for their recently hatched chicks.
An eagle returning to its young with a small morsel of food
6. On video I like to capture the sound of loons and sandhill cranes two very distinct calls.
7. Coyote or fox parents returning to their den with food for their offspring.
8. Owlets grouped together in their nest or on a nearby branch as they get braver.
9. And as spring turns to summer grebe or loon chicks riding atop their parents' back.
Grebe chicks riding atop their parent's back
Depending on where you live, you shot list will vary but do plan one out as it will help you prepare when you go into the field. Layer clothing and wear appropriate footwear for the weather, consider investing in a yoga mat that is easily rolled up and carried, and try to find spots that will put some separation between your subject and the background are some of my tips for successful spring photography.