If you want to photograph wildlife (or any subject outdoors) pay attention to these seasonal considerations:
Winter – Snow can cause your camera’s meter to register an improper exposure by fooling the camera into thinking there is more light than there really is. A simple way to avoid this is to fill the frame with the animal or use your camera’s spot meter to make sure you are reading only the light that is striking the animal, not the light that is striking the surrounding areas. See the exposure section if you need a brush up on metering non-medium tones.
Cold weather can also affect your gear. Cold weather shortens battery life. It’s a good idea to keep your spare batteries in a pocket close to your body. Often, if a battery runs low, warming it up will help restore it. Some photographers have actually taped chemical hand warmers to the outside of their cameras over the battery compartment. For more tips on protecting your gear in the cold, see Secret #22 – Protecting your Gear.
Photographing in winter can be a joy, but you need to protect yourself and stay warm. We recommend layering appropriate clothing. That means synthetics or wool instead of cotton. Always have a hat available too.
It’s hard to change film or settings on your camera with frozen fingertips. Glove liners, fingerless gloves, and hand warmers are a few strategies for keeping your hands operating. One product that Rod really likes is the ThermaBand by Crazy Creek. The ThermaBand is a wrist strap made of polar fleece material. It has a pocket that holds a chemical hand-warmer against the wrist, which, according to Crazy Creek, “prevents the radial and ulnar arteries from constricting, increasing blood flow, keeping hands and fingers warmer.” With the ThermaBand, you can wear lightweight gloves or the fingerless flip top mitten gloves. When you do expose your fingers, they stay warm and workable. The hand warmer packets typically last up to seven hours, which, in the winter, means all day.
If your feet are uncomfortably cold or numb, you’re not going to be thinking about making your best photos. You’re going to be thinking that your feet are uncomfortably cold or numb. Combat this problem with chemical toe warmers and insulated boots.
To keep the rest of you going, have some high-energy food snacks in your pocket too.
If you use your head before going out in the cold, the rest of your body will remain comfortable, and you’ll be able to concentrate on your photography.
Spring – Spring brings rain to many areas of North America. Take appropriate steps to protect your gear. It’s also a time for wildflowers and fertile green backgrounds for your wildlife photos. There is more daylight in the spring than winter, so you may have more opportunities to shoot, but also note that the sun will be higher in the sky than in winter causing harsher light with greater contrast.
Summer – Summer is the hardest time to photograph wildlife. The sun is very high in the sky meaning that you have to restrict your shooting time to very early morning or very late afternoon. Crowds are always an issue if you go to parks, zoos, or refuges. You will also notice that the animals you photograph in summer don’t have the pretty coats of fur that you see the rest of the year.
Avoid photographing wildlife in the summer if you can help it. There are exceptions to this rule, such as bears in Alaska or moose in Maine. But for the most part, you’ll do better waiting for fall.
Fall – Fall is the best time to photograph at zoos, parks, and wildlife refuges. Summer crowds are gone. There are few school field trips to the zoo this time of year, and it’s cooler, so the animals are typically more active. Some zoos even offer discounted admission fees in the fall making it cheaper as well. The light tends to be lower in the sky this time of year, so the light will be softer or less harsh. Contrast ranges will be narrower making it easier to get a good picture every shot. Animals from cold climates will start to get their winter coats in the fall, making them much more photogenic. Depending on the location and weather, you might even be lucky enough to get backgrounds full of fall color.
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