Photo tip - Photographing wildlife in winter

29th December 2008
When the grey shroud of winter envelopes our chilly cluster of islands wildlife photography seems as fruitless as the trees and even less inviting. But I can give you some compelling reasons to grab your camera and binoculars and do some winter wildlife watching.

Generally wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk. If you want to capture these magic hours in summer then you need to wake up around 3.30 - 4.00am and return home around 10pm. Not very sociable and rather taxing! However, in winter you can roll out of bed at a slightly less offensive 7am and the light fades conveniently for you to return home for dinner.

You can get much closer to wildlife in the winter. Animals are often too busy trying to scratch and peck a living to be concerned by your presence. Food is harder to find and there are fewer daylight hours to find it, so there’s a frantic scramble to gorge on as much food as possible.

Winter provides photographers with sumptuous golden light all day long because the sun never gets high enough in the sky to create the harsh shadows you get from a midday summer sun. This means you have unbroken photography time between 7am and 4pm.

Not only is the sunlight on your side but the winter weather brings a host of other allies too. Frosty mornings can add a new dimension and character to a landscape shot, or can even be the main focus of the shot; when photographing a frosted spider’s web for example.

Mist and fog create atmospheric shots that can only be equalled by the thunderstorms of early autumn. When you have sunlight and mist together you get a magical kaleidoscope of effects that makes it very difficult to take a bad photo; although your camera’s exposure system may be fooled by the white of the mist and under expose your image. You can always bracket your exposures (you deliberately over and under expose a shot of the same scene so that one of the shots should be correct) or use exposure compensation (an override of the camera’s exposure meter in situations where you feel the camera could be fooled – such as very dark or light scenes) if you want to be sure you have captured the scene correctly.

Of course snow can also bring new life to the most mundane of scenes and it can create wonderfully rich colours when bathed in early morning light, or even street lights. Snow also makes it a lot easier to read the tracks of any wildlife in the area.

As the leaves melt away through the autumn the effect is like be handed some x-ray specs. Suddenly you can see through all the greenery and undergrowth and see every nest, skulking deer and rustling bird. It is far easier to get clear, uncluttered views of wildlife and the outline of a stark slumbering tree makes a fantastic silhouette against a dramatic winter sky.

So keep an eye on the weather forecast (I recommend Metcheck), get out that scarf you got for Christmas and get ready to make the most of the great British winter before global warming sees it off for good.

This is an article I wrote for Nene Valley Living about winter wildlife watching in the Peterborough area:

You can link through to read it more clearly here:

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