I primarily take landscape and travel photos and occasionally expand my photographic subjects to include street photography and wildlife. In regards to wildlife, I’ve been pursuing the goal of capturing an image of a snowy owl for the past two winters. Well, this past weekend I achieved that goal with a trip to Sachuset Point Wildlife Preserve in Middletown, Rhode Island. Several times this winter I would check online for a recent sightings of this beautiful visitor from the north and noted a consistent sighting at the Wildlife Preserve. I would also check to see if they were any other sightings along the Connecticut shoreline. Well, being the middle of February it was apparent if I wanted to get an image of a snowy owl, I’m going need to go to the owl. So, I packed my camera gear and made the 1.5-hour drive to Rhode Island this past Sunday.
The weather was perfect and the drive through rural western Rhode Island to Newport beautiful with plenty of photographic scenes along the way. But I had a goal, a visualization of taking an image of a snowy owl, so no additional stops or photos. Approaching the wildlife preserve I started going through my camera settings, my plan of attack. Thinking about how I’m going to find this owl(s) as I have made several trips without success. Well, actually I did see a snowy owl at Hammonasett State Beach in Madison, CT last year, but this owl was too far away to pull off a decent image, even with my Tamron 150mm-600mm lens. Note to self, wanting to see an owl and taking a decent photo is not the same thing. For this trip, my anticipation was to not only to see an owl, but to get some great photos. Anyways, my question on how to find this owl was quickly answered as I approach the parking lot to the visitor center. To the right of the building, a large crowd of people was gathered and I was pretty confident I found the owl.
Grabbing my camera, monopole, and my two longer lenses consisting of my Nikon 70mm-200mm and the Tamron lens I was ready. The most difficult aspect of photographing the owl was actually finding a location among at least 100 other people without getting in the way of other cameras. Evidently, everyone there also was aware of the recent sighting of this particular male snowy owl that made the visitor center home since Christmas. The owl was sitting on some solar panels, only 50 to 75 feet from a hundred cameras and phones pointed at him. He was not put off by all the attention, rather he appeared quite comfortable being in the spotlight. Well, that was perfect for me, once I found a decent location I fired off several hundred images of my little friend. I was obviously quite excited and realized after reviewing my images later that day I probably could have been a bit more selective in pressing the shutter release. I had plenty of shots with only a partial face and only one eye, but what I really wanted was a head shot with both eyes in perfect focus; fortunately, I got those as well. It was thrilling to capture images of this beautiful owl and great to achieve my goal.
Using the Tamron 150mm-600mm can be a challenge hand holding this lens for a long period of time. Having a monopole was a saver for me, not only in terms of providing a more stable platform for my camera and giving my arm a break, but it also takes up far less space than a tripod, especially with a large crowd. To capture bird images, I recently have been experimenting with using the auto ISO setting, allowing the camera to automatically adjust the ISO to provide the correct exposure as the light changes. One less thing to worry about and focus on your subject. In the case of my Nikon D750 you can specify both a minimum and maximum ISO range (200 and 1600 respectively for this particular day). In addition, as I primarily use aperture priority, I also specified a minimum shutter speed to ensure I get good focus (1/500s). This is also set in the same menu as the auto ISO feature in the case of my camera. Check your camera manual to see if you have the same features and how to set it up.
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