Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2008

Behind the Lens: Investing time, patience pays when shooting wildlife

A bald eagle spies out territory with a keen eye from a cottonwood tree along the Kansas River, looking for a day's meal. Journal-World photographer Richard Gwin took this shot in the early morning hours.

A bald eagle spies out territory with a keen eye from a cottonwood tree along the Kansas River, looking for a day's meal. Journal-World photographer Richard Gwin took this shot in the early morning hours.

January 27, 2008

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I remember sitting in the Pratt High Library in the '60s and looking through Sports Afield and Outdoor Life, just to name a few outdoor magazines.

Plug that into becoming a photographer, and you have someone who not only loves the outdoors but gets paid to make photos of it.

My early days at the Journal-World found me cruising the county not only doing assignments but discovering a bounty of wildlife. One sees everything just going down the road. Taking different routes keeps the eyes looking and the mind thinking.

Capturing those things in photos can be a challenge. Equipment seems to always be an issue. Some people think you need a long lens, but that's not necessarily the case.

I remember the first wildlife shot I took. It was with a Pentax camera and a 150-millimeter, f.4 lens. I shot this nice picture of a blue heron in fog crossing a small river.

These days, I've scaled up, purchasing a 500-millimeter, f.4 lens, a Nikon D2H digital camera, some remote flashes and triggering devices and a good tripod, trying to be able to catch more interesting pictures.

I do a lot of driving around the country roads, meeting farmers and getting contacts on what some people see, including hummingbirds, deer, eagles and mountain lions - they're there, but again, it's how to capture that moment.

Area lakes are good locations to find wildlife this time of year. As the water freezes, feeding areas get smaller. The fish are the source of the food, and they freeze in the ice, making for an easy meal. And with the freezing water on the lakes, it drives the birds to bridges and where water is open.

It sometimes takes a lot of patience, but there are those times I've driven up on photo opportunities, too - you have to be ready, camera loaded. Sometimes, you need two cameras - one with a long lens and one maybe a mid-range lens.

One time this farmer told me about deer grouping in the cold. I thought, "OK, I'll go for it." I was up at 4 a.m., got some hot food and drove 30 minutes to the west side of Perry Lake. The farmer took me to a small field surrounded by trees and said every morning they feed on the wheat growing.

I must have waited nearly an hour sitting in the cold, with a light snow coming down. I heard the deer walking in the trees and calling each other. I decided, "Well, enough of this cold." I stood up and the trees shook, snow fell, and all I saw were little white tails as the deer were standing behind me. I stood up and they were gone - and I didn't get the picture.

Even if you don't get the picture, you get rewarded by trying to take wildlife photos. You can sit out there listening to nature, and there are no cars. There's a solitude to it.

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