“Be prepared” – yet another mantra of wildlife photography. Is your battery charged up? Do you have extra memory cards? Is your camera close at hand? These are some of the things that are critical for wildlife photography and for making sure you can capitalize on opportunities that present themselves. I had an opportunity to practice this mantra last night. I was at home, doing the supper dishes and took a break to watch the beautiful warmth of the evening light fall across our pond. I looked up and spotted a deer on the other side of the pond. She was having a big, long drink from the pond.
Luckily, I had my 600 mm lens already on the tripod and it and my camera were only a few feet away. So I quietly opened the back door and poked my lens through the doorway. It was then that I spotted the other two deer. Wow! What a great photo opportunity. Given that this was to be one of those fleeting moments and I’d have to shoot quickly, I rattled off shot after shot. But I did take time to check my composition and lighting. I had the lens on ‘tripod VR’ mode which is a vibration reduction mode specifically for when the lens is on the tripod. The sun was getting low in the sky and there were a lot of dark shadows on the far side of the pond. So I knew I needed the VR. But I also wanted a little bit more depth of field than the minimum (f4). Being on a tripod, using VR, and being careful in squeezing the shutter release gently, I hoped that my images would be sharp. Because the LCD screen on the camera is so small, you can’t really tell much by looking the back of your camera. I also didn’t want to bump up my ISO too high. I shoot with a Nikon D200. I love it, but it doesn’t have the new technology that makes the high ISO’s remarkably crisp and noise-free. I just don’t like to shoot above 400 ISO with the D200.
I continued to shoot and followed the three deer with my lens, as they slowly made their way along the bank of the pond, stopping to drink and munch on aquatic plants and hemlock branches. By this point, I’d been shooting for about 15 minutes – a lot longer than I’d expected. The deer hadn’t seen or heard us across the pond and so were happy to continue their leisurely browsing. Also, because it was 15 minutes later, the sun was lower in the sky and it was lighting up one particular patch of the pond edge, bathing it in the warm, orange-hued early evening light. All I could hope was that the deer would go to the spot while it was still lit up by the sun. This could be the image of the evening! In preparation, I began to pre-visualize the kind of image I wanted to make and also shot a frame just to check my histogram to make sure my exposure settings were ok. And I waited….
Sure enough, a few minutes later, one of the deer wandered right into this magical spot that was lit up by the evening sun. Great! I rattled off shots, being careful to keep the camera steady and pay attention to composition. Because of this bright, warm light, I could use a faster shutter speed which would increase my chances of getting some sharp images. Sweet!!!
As I was shooting, I had also noticed that the water was calm and that the red-brown and white of the deer’s colours, as well as the saturated greens of the hemlocks, were being reflected beautifully in the water. Once I’d noticed this, I’d pointed the lens down a bit to ensure I captured all of the reflection in the water. And I turned my camera to shoot some frames in portrait instead of landscape. This provided a greater variety of images and would also ensure I could get the deer’s reflection in the frame.
I continued to shoot until the last deer disappeared into the forest. Wow…. what an incredible shoot. Complete serendipity. This wasn’t planned. I simply capitalized on an opportunity that presented itself. As the saying goes, ‘luck is when opportunity and preparation meet’. This was definitely a case of ‘luck’.
Oh, and yes, I did finish doing the supper dishes….