For many city-dwellers like myself, our knowledge of birds extends only to the sounds of invisible birds calling and commonly seen pigeons and ravens. I spent the weekend photographing with Connor Stefanison and Jess Findlay, two photographers from Vancouver, Canada whose keen eyes and understanding of wildlife allows them to spot numerous hidden birds populating our world.
On the trip, we focused predominately on photographing owls. This was my first encounter with wild owls, and the experience was unreal. We photographed snowy owls in the purplish, early morning light and short-eared owls hunting in the setting sun at Boundary Bay. On the last day, we had a truly extraordinary experience. While hiking along a mountain, a barred owl responded to a call Jess made. The owl continued to follow and call back to us on the hour-long hike. It even perched close enough to photograph. Because of the decrease in spotted owls over the years from logging, barred owls have filled the void. Barred owls are more aggressive for food and space. They are thriving and taking over the habitat of the endangered Spotted Owl through “bullying” techniques, like stealing nests and using their 20 percent larger size difference to intimidate. Much controversy surrounds the appropriate handling of the spotted owl restoration.
Initially, the US Fish and Wildlife Federation talked of taking human intervention by killing some barred owls to help the spotted owl numbers, but many questioned whether it was right to kill one species to help another. As for now, action is on hold. Although the spotted owls are returning to their habitat, it is still not at a healthy rate. According to an article on spotted owls published in Smithsonian Magazine “In 1990, barred owls in a forest west of Corvallis, Oregon occupied less than 2 percent of spotted owl sites; today, barred owls nest in 50 percent of the them.”
Two of the most important photography lessons I learned on this trip were composition and understanding the mechanics of the camera. First, don’t be afraid to take a little longer to compose your image before you fire off the shutter. It is so easy to get excited when we come across wildlife and to just start shooting. Taking a couple of seconds to check the edges of frame through your viewfinder can really take an image to the next level. Think of your viewfinder making a “Z” formation: top left corner, top right corner, diagonal across the frame to the bottom left corner, and bottom right corner, checking at each spot. Once you have adjusted your position, by either moving your feet or tripod, so that the subject is not too close to the edge and that there are no distracting shrubs or bright spots in the foreground or background, start shooting. Second, try to learn the mechanics of your camera.
Experiment with your settings when you shoot so that you know how fast your shutter speed should be to get a sharp image. Once you know that, you can go into any lighting and adjust your aperture and ISO accordingly. There is nothing worse than not getting a sharp image because the shutter speed wasn’t fast enough. Again, patience plays a role. If you take time before setting off the shutter to make sure your settings are correct for the situation, your images will come out sharper and be taken to the next level.
A lot of times it is easy to think that there is very little wildlife in your area, but try exploring local parks, looking high and low, to see what you find. Nature can be surprising sometimes and which with patience and creativity can create great images.
Thank you for reading,
Sources: Welch, Craig. “Smithsonian.com.” Smithsonian Magazine. 31 Dec. 2009. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Spotted-Owls-New-Nemesis.html?c=y>.
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