Season for Fur
Fall is less than a month away and with it comes colder temps and thicker fur. At the same time for many mammals, it’s time for fall mating rituals. When you add into this mix the colors of fall and the gorgeous light and you have a wildlife photographer’s nirvana! This all can bring to the table a huge challenge as a visual storyteller. You might think gear can be an issue, but I think that’s the least of them. The basics of photo creating gets in there quickly. There can be a lot going on in excluding those elements that take the eye away from the subject while including those that tell the story. But on the scale of the biggest, it has to be the romance. Here are some thoughts.
I’ve selected the images I have illustrating this post based on all the varied gear used to make the photos. The only common thread is it’s all Nikon and all digital. After that, it’s kinda all over the map on bodies and lenses. This is to make the point that while I might prefer the 200-400VR2 for my big game photography, I’ve used all sorts of varying focal lengths with success (you can click on links in the captions to learn more about the lenses). What’s the key to the right lens? You need a focal length that YOU are comfortable with to tell YOUR story. How to find that focal length? I quick way is to rent a lens like the Nikkor 200-500, and then photograph a big dog/horse at 200mm, then 300mm, 400mm, 500mm (nothing in between, not zooming to frame your subject) by using your feet to zoom. You will find the focal length you prefer to tell the story pretty fast. That is as long you don’t go to the “eyeball” camp. But there is more to this than just gear.
If you take a moment and look at these four images, they all have one important thing in common. At least I think it’s important, and that’s the light. Showing off that thick fall/winter fur, I prefer and overcast light that has direction. And that direction is backlight. Why? Lack of contrast I feel is very important because too much contrast brings shadow and that makes the fur look “thinner” because individual hairs appear. The lack of shadow makes the fur “thicker” as the hair is in mass. The backlight gives a slight sheen to the hair as well as poop the critter from the background. But most importantly, this combination of light brings out the bulk of the critter, its muscle and fur bulk that comes with fall. These are important ingredients leading down the road of romance. But there is still more to get to that final image.
Wrapping all this up into a photo that reaches out and grabs the heartstring is a combination of background and biology. Where does your critter live, how does it survive, what makes it unique, how does it procreate? These are just some of the questions you can ask and answer in your photograph that begins to tap the viewer’s imagination. And this is still not enough! The final punch has to come from gesture in the entire photograph, critter, and its world. And the time to work all this out is not while you’re standing in front of battling Moose, perched Dall Sheep, foraging Polar Bear or dozy Pronghorn. The time to work this all out is with that big dog/horse. It’s from that practice that you can make the most of those precious moments with that critter in the wild. It’s only by thinking it through and working out the kinks that you’re ready for the season of fur!