The Fur is Thick!
I was just talking with our forest biologist (a neighbor) last night and the thickness of the fur on the critters came up. When you see the bears and squirrels with a thick, healthy coat now and not 30 days from now, it hints to a cold and wet winter is coming. For photographers, it also means some great photography! Mammals look their best when they are fat, both body fat and thick fur. This combination fits what the public stereotypically think of a critter and when it comes to visually grabbing their attention, this is important. So how can you take advantage of this in your photography?
One of the first things I would do is head north. Winter comes earlier in the far north so critter are already getting in condition there when some down south are still finishing up with the spring brood. How far north? All the way! Depending on your budget and how much you like to explore, I’d start at the Arctic Ocean and work your way down. Sept is great there and Oct is great in Anchorage just to give you a reference. Then you get down to Yellowstone where late Oct rocks! It’s all hooked into cold, cold temps at night and cool to coldish during the day. That starts the whole cycle.
Take advantage of the gorgeous, gorgeous fall light! Light in the fall I think is some of the most romantic, moody and emotional of all light during the year for critters. This does mean getting up early, stalking light and chasing it all day long until the last beams slip away. Do this means you are dressed to deal with the chill! The mammals have a thick coat for a reason (and put on all that fat) and that’s because it’s cold! This is a great time to underexpose and take advantage of those long shadows!
And for most of the ungulates, it’s the time of year when love is in the air. You wanna get close, you wanna capture great biology, you wanna capture that unique photo, there is nothing like sex! Critter sex that is. When their mind is on each other, they could give a rat’s ass about dumb photographers and that is key.
And wrapping this all up in a successful trip takes homework. You gotta know the critters biology, you gotta find where they are this years (because last year don’t count, they have legs!) and if it is cold there when you wanna be there. And understand the weather you might be getting into. I was just told a a story from last year where three photographers headed out to photograph elk but didn’t do their homework. They spent three days stuck in their truck as a snow storm closed in on them and left stuck on a back country road. It’s going to be a great fall for photographing mammals, the fur is thick!