Saturday, November 26, 2011
How to Approach a Snowy Owl
Approaching a snowy owl is tricky business. Too fast, too tall, too excited, too close translates to stressed owls and missed photo opportunities.
All of us have our own comfort levels. Owls are no different. Imagine how comfortable you might be if you had a member of the paparazzi aiming his camera at you. If he is far away, you might not be bothered by the intrusion. But imagine him rushing at you, firing away. How close will you allow him to get before you either confront him or run away?
Now imagine that you are sunbathing on the beach. Then 5 photographers quietly crawl towards you on their stomachs, until they are 50 feet to your left. They keep snapping your photo, but they aren't really bothering you too much. Still, its kind of creepy right?
The 5 photographers spend over an hour, firing multiple machine gun like shots each time you make the slightest movement. Then 7 more photographers arrive on your right, shouting and pointing and running right at you. Are you still feeling comfortable?
Most of us would have packed up our beach towel and picnic basket as soon as the first group of photographers tried to sneak up on us. A few of us might have called the police and the rest might actually enjoy having their picture taken.
So how do we get close to a snowy owl without scaring it away? Here are some tips:
1. Stay low. Snowy owls tend to stay relatively close to the ground, but they do like to be higher up than the rest of the creatures in their neighborhood. Crouch down until you are approximately 150-200 feet away from the owl. Then sit on your bum to slowly go the rest of the distance. If you can, you might try the good old belly crawl to approach the owl. At the very least kneel and crawl on all fours.
2. Move slow. The slower you approach an owl the better. When you come in for a fast landing, the owl has to quickly decide whether you mean to harm it or not. If you move slowly, this gives the owl more time to get used to you. In addition to moving slowly, stop every few feet to take a few shots. This allows the owl to hear you taking the photos and hopefully get used to all of those strange clicking noises.
3. Keep your distance. Owls need their space. Stay at least 50 feet away from them.
4. Stay quiet. The more noise you make, the less comfortable the owl will be. Owls have fantastic hearing. While you think that you are quietly whispering, they are clearly hearing every word. Even at a great distance.
5. Be patient. Snowy owls often like to sit in one place for a very long time. Sometimes hours. Eventually the owl will do something interesting. Just wait for it... In the mean time, please don't call to the owl or try to flush it to get a flight shot.
6. Do not bait the owls. Do not use food of any type to attract an owl closer to you. Baiting is bad for the owls.
7. Try to approach the owl with the sun at your back. This will allow you to be on the "right" side of the light. This means that the owl will be well lit and not have its face in shadow and the background will be pleasant rather than harsh, blinding light.
8. Stay out of off limits areas. Owls will sometimes be in restricted areas. These areas are restricted for a reason. If the signs clearly say "Do not walk on the dunes", please don't walk on the dunes. Even if it means missing the shot. Even if no one is around. It only takes one person to ruin it for everyone.
9. Last, but not least, watch the owl's behavior. If it seems nervous or agitated, do not approach any closer. The goal is to be able to view the owl without disturbing it.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Please keep the owls' safety and comfort as your first priority when photographing them.