This December and January we set out to photograph the Red Foxes in the winter scenes of eastern Canada. While we were happy to photograph the normal flame colored pelage of Red Foxes, we were also seeking the rarer color phases of the Red Fox found in North America: the Silver (or Black) which is a fully melanistic morph and the Cross, which is a partially melanistic morph.
The Silver Fox morph makes up about 10% of Canada’s Red Fox population while the Cross makes up about 30%. These genetic mutations are not found so often outside of North America and are considered extremely rare. While we were excited to see these gorgeous animals, we had temperatures as low as -39 degrees C with wind chill to contend with, which was a bit intimidating! Here’s a bit of information we’ve put together to help those considering winter wildlife photography.
Going outside during the harsh bitterly cold winter months may not sound overly appealing to most people, but it’s a different story for photographers. As much as the cold can make one want to stay cozied up inside, getting out can be very rewarding photographically. The winter months offer light and colors that are not available in other seasons. The soft pastel pink and blue shades of winter skies are very captivating, almost magical. Also, the landscape takes on a more minimalistic look. The leafless trees and smooth snow covered ground are conducive to clean non-distracting backgrounds for optimal wildlife photography. It is something definitely worth taking your camera out and braving the bitter temperatures.
With wildlife photography in mind, winter can also offer a high density of animal tracks in fresh snow. Tracks are a good indicator of what animals are in the area and where they are frequenting. This will aid in getting pre-planned shots, which are often better than those random shots you just happen into.
Remember, photography is all about luck meeting preparedness. Here are a few tips to make your winter excursions through the snowy landscape a bit more enjoyable:
1. Dress for it
This statement kind of seems like a no-brainer, however, many people go out not properly dressed, ending up feeling miserable. If you are going to be outside for a few hours then you need to be properly dressed for the occasion. If its is going to be chilly, snow pants, proper boots with winter socks and feet-warmers, gloves and mittens with hand-warmers, face mask, and a heavy winter coat are all a must.
2. Don’t crank up the heat in your vehicle
Though it may be cold, try to refrain from keeping the heat on high. If you do, your camera will have trouble focusing properly when shooting from the car. Also, having your camera go from a warm environment to cold can cause your lens to fog, ruining your shot, and potentially causing harmful condensation to form on the inside of your lens.
3. Overexpose slightly
Exposing for snow correctly can be a photographers biggest challenge in winter. White snow can sometimes be tricky to photograph the way your naked eye sees it. Normally it is best to overexpose by a half to one full stop of light to insure your whites will look accordingly and not a dull grey coloration.
4. Be prepared
First and foremost: Safety First. Always check the road conditions, and weather forecast to make sure that travel won’t be treacherous.
Secondly, have all your gear handy (camera + lens, batteries, cards), and be organized. There is nothing worse than being bundled up head to toe then having to remove this and that while out. Have your camera out and ready, set to a general setting that would work in the current light before heading out. My default is often Aperture Priority Mode with an F-stop of 8 and auto ISO with a minimum Shutter Speed set to 1/1000 to 1/1600. This will save you time fumbling around, removing gloves etc, if you unexpectedly have a photographic moment thrown right at you.
5. Be Aware
With big chunky boots on, and snow under your feet, your footsteps are probably a lot more noisy then they would be walking through soft summer grass. Be aware of the noise you may be making. Loud unfamiliar noises can spook wildlife, or disrupt a hunt. If you have a certain shot in mind, also remember your steps will be imprinted in the snow, therefore be conscious of where you are walking so you don’t ruin your photo.
Winter has so much unique photography to offer so get out and take advantage. The winter light and hues can add a whole new dimension to your portfolio, which is an opportunity that ought not be missed.
Like the photographs shown here? See the gear we used to produce these wintery images below:
Amy’s Winter Gear List:
Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR lens
Nikon 1.4 III TC Extender
Brittany’s Winter Gear List:
Canon 5D Mark IV
CANON 100-400 F/4.5-5.6L IS II
Canon 1.4 TC III Extender
Amy Shutt and Brittany Crossman are wildlife photographers with focus on conservation and natural history visual storytelling. They are the founding members of The Canid Project.