A Few Wildlife Photography Tips

Twin Moose CalvesA few wildlife photography tips or “pointers” you might consider when photographing Moose and other wildlife.

The most important wildlife photography tip I can suggest is to always focus the camera on the eye (or the head) of any wildlife photography subject. If the eye area is not in sharp focus, the general impact of the photograph will be lost.

The second most important wildlife photography tip (unless you want extra work in Photoshop), is try to maintain a level horizon line in the background of your photographs. Refer to actual horizon lines such as a shoreline, a tree line, or another point of reference to help you achieve this.

Third wildlife photography tip –  don’t be afraid to rotate your camera and shoot photographs vertically! In many instances the photo’s composition would benefit greatly from shooting it vertical, especially when photographing wildlife such as a moose from head on.

Fourth important wildlife photography tip –  try to avoid cropping out or “cutting” off the Moose’s limbs when possible. If you must crop, try to crop above the joints (such as the ankle and knee joints). Sometimes, as in photographing close-up portraits, some cropping will be necessary. If you are including all of the Moose’s body and legs, always include the “virtual” area hidden below (as in grasses or water, for instance) where the feet would normally show as well.

Fifth wildlife photography tip –  leave room in the photo on the sides and try to lead the moose or any wildlife subject into the space around it in the direction it’s headed, while leaving some “space” for the Moose or subject to go. This tip usually lends itself to a more pleasing composition in general.

A final wildlife photography tip –  don’t be afraid to take several images at different focal lengths (such as with a zoom lens). Include images that show the Moose or subject’s environment as well. Some of the best photographs that have the most impact are taken with the Moose or main subject occupying only a small portion of the overall photo. This method supplies the viewer with a ton of information! Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t get that frame-filling portrait of a massive bull moose adorned with a huge rack! Try to be diverse and capture both images when time and conditions makes it possible!

We hope you found these wildlife photography tips helpful. Good luck, and we hope to see you at an upcoming Maine wildlife photography workshop!

Moose Prints Gallery Grand Opening

Moose Prints Gallery ExteriorReprint: Bangor Daily News

Internationally published wildlife photographer Mark Picard and his partner Anita Mueller have opened a new business Moose Prints Gallery and Gifts at 58 Central Street, Millinocket, Maine. The gallery features Mark’s extraordinary Moose prints, wildlife and landscape images along with other wildlife themed gifts.

Much like a walk in nature visitors to the gallery can expect the unexpected from the time they enter “MOOSE PRINTS” front door.  Imagine being greeted by a life size image of a pair of twin Moose calves!  Actually the gallery walls are filled with stunning wildlife images, both large and small that depict the regions indigenous wildlife through the lens of a very talented wildlife photographer’s camera. Black Bears in Autumn, Bull and Breakfast, Whitetail Buck in Red, Three Moose in the Fog, Mt Katahdin from Secret Pond, Great Grey Owl in Cedar, and Kissing Moose are just a few of the titled images. There is even an image entitled “The Hitch Hiker” that captures a Moose calve hitching a ride on its mother back.  And then Mark offers the following explanation: “It only looks that way. The calve was tiring from swimming around its mother who was busy feeding. The calve finally found a rock just below the surface of the water and just exhausted, stood there waiting patiently for mom to finish. With a little anticipation I was able to position myself at the right angle to take what I consider one of those “once in a lifetime” images. Like many of my images it is all about anticipation and timing.

Although Mark will aim his camera on any wildlife species his specialty is Moose and he has been studying and photographing them in the region for the past thirty years. For the past eight he has offered both group and one-on-one photography workshops in partnership with local businesses which have attracted participants from around the globe.

He is noted for his creativity in the field; not only in composition and lighting, but also in his use of equipment, blinds, and knowledge of animal behavior. His images have appeared in numerous national and international publications, books, and calendars, including AUDUBON, SIERRA CLUB, ANIMALS, CANADIAN WILDLIFE FEDERATION, MAINE SCENE, NATURE CONSERVANCY, BIRDER ‘S WORLD , DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE, WILD BIRD , BIRD WATCHER’S DIGEST, SCHOLASTIC, NORTHERN WOODLANDS, NORTHEAST KINGDOM, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION, ONTARIO OUT OF DOORS, CHASE AND PECHE, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION, TIDE- MARK PRESS, RANGER RICK, VERMONT MAGAZINE, YANKEE and others.

Mark also has an impressive list of commercial clients including Abercrombie and Fitch, Somerset Entertainment, Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism and has recently provided images for the renderings on the new Maine Stamp.

Anita’s passion is Bird photography and co-leading photography workshops with Mark. She is a freelance interior designer with a retail background. She will manage MOOSE PRINTS day to day activities and plan special events.

The couple is excited about providing local residents and tourists alike an opportunity to view and purchase unique wildlife themed photography, art, and gifts. In addition to Mark’s work the gallery offers fascinating oil paintings on petrified wood, moose sheds, and nature themed jewelry, calendars, puzzles and cd’s.

They are celebrating MOOSE PRINTS Grand Opening throughout the month of July with a series of Saturday Open Houses beginning this weekend where they will serve light refreshments and visitors to the gallery can register for a chance to win a framed and matted print of Mark’s signature image “Eye on You”.  The public is encouraged stop in, shop the gallery, share their own wildlife stories or just take a break from the heat with a cold glass of lemonade. The Gallery hours are 10 am to 6pm daily except for Wednesdays when the gallery is closed. The gallery phone number is 207-447-6906.

Photography Workshop Gear – Tripods

Peekaboo Bull Moose in Winter

Peekaboo Bull Moose in Winter

As Spring still seems elusive here in the North Woods of Maine I am making the most of these last cool days to photograph Winter landscapes via snowmobile. With about 4 feet of snow in the woods, the sled makes it possible to get to some otherwise inaccessible remote locations. The idea of being able to photograph a particular spot throughout the seasons is appealing to me and ever present in the back of my mind is the possibility of photographing Moose! Much harder to locate when the snow gets deep, Moose tend to “yard up” where the food and cover are good so they do not have to expend precious energy. “Peekaboo” is an image I am particularly pleased to have captured this Winter as I believe it conveys a real sense of the elements.

While Winter photography is not for everyone, I have received several emails from people planning to attend this year’s Spring and Fall workshops asking about gear and lens recommendations. Let me first say, all skill levels of photographers have taken my workshops from the most advanced to the novice. One of my goals during the workshops is to have each participant learn ways to achieve better images with the equipment they have.  One participant a few years back stands out in my mind as a person who probably had the best time of anybody. Every time we stopped at a location to photograph he took a miniature sized Elf digital camera out of an Altoid’s tin (that he had strung around his neck), took a few shots, then carefully placed the camera back in the tin and smiled. He did not have the most exspensive equipment, he just had a great time!

The other end of the spectrum is a photographer last Spring who had an 800mm lens with tele-converter attached when a cow Moose and her calf unexpectedly appeared just behind us on the board walk. Needless to say he was scrambling for his other camera body and wide angle lens! Most of us fall somewhere in between when it comes to the extent of our camera gear – often times the amount dependent on just how much we are willing to spend and how much we are willing to carry. We tend to invest enough in our equipment to get good results and always have a wish list of upgrades that are sure to help us get even better pictures.

Wildlife subjects don’t always necessarily require the longest telephoto lenses to capture extraordinary images. However, when it comes to photography workshop gear I consider using a sturdy tripod and properly rated ball head a must. Often a “grudge” purchase, a carbon fiber tripod can cost between $200 and $900 USD. And that is just the tripod. You still need a tripod head which come in several styles and shapes. Ball heads usually are used in conjunction with the shorter, non-collared lenses. Don’t forget the camera plate, which attaches to your camera body and then to the ball head. They are in the $40 range. Even more efficient than a flat plate is an “L” bracket which allows you to adjust your camera from horizontal to vertical without changing the center of gravity or having to adjust your tripod. With an “L” bracket, the level and axis remain the same for each position. The” L” bracket secures to the camera body and allows the user to quickly shoot either horizontal or vertical with lenses that do not have a rotating collar. These “L” plates are manufactured by several companies, and typically will set you back about $150.

A good ball head works well for up to about a 300mm lens. Beyond a 300mm lens I recommend a full gimbal style head. Described by a friend of mine that recently purchased one as “a mechanical work of art”, I have to agree with him. A gimbal head cost between $300 and $600 and allows for quick and fluid movement. These heads are also manufactured by several different companies. The gimbal head is able to adjust to any angle while the camera and lens are suspended directly below the center of gravity of your tripod. In my opinion, there is no better way to work a wildlife subject with these longer telephoto lenses than with the gimbal style head.

"Mt Katahdin from the Cribworks Winter"One of my latest purchases was a tripod leveling base. It basically levels the tripod without having to adjust the individual legs on your tripod. I have found this really helpful when shooting several images panning in a sequence later to be stitched together creating a seamless panorama like the landscape image above. That final image is a composite of 12 images (6 across x 2 high) stitched together in Photoshop CS6.

About now you are probably agreeing with my use of the term “grudge” purchase when it comes to camera support. You are right, it won’t get you any closer to a wildlife subject or provide more pixels and the potential for higher ISO’s like a longer lens or upgraded camera body will. However, I can tell you that there is no other single investment that you can make that will have as much of an impact on the quality of your images. A good set up will allow you to capture crisp images with slow shutter speeds as well as track moving subjects with ease.

Photographing Wildlife in the Spring

Yawning Owl Redphase Eastern Screech Owl in Sycamore February 2010We are beginning to see signs of Spring in the hill towns of Western MA but Winter is holding on in Northern Maine where we will be moving to in a few short weeks. Certainly the recent high temperatures are keeping us from photographing the usual snowy landscapes and suspended icicles. In the valleys and lower elevations it is a good time to photograph wildlife. Keep an eye out for Screech Owls sunning themselves at the entrances to tree cavities facing southwest. Finding them is a challenge. This is where your state bird listserv comes in handy. Often times local birders will post locations or word gets out that one of these fascinating creatures has become fond of a particular daytime roost.
If you are lucky enough to find such a spot, patience is the name of the game. What you are waiting for is an opportunity to capture the behavior of anything but a sleeping owl! It can take hours if not days to get an image that I am happy with while waiting for a wing stretch, eyes opened, or a yawn, in just a momentary blink of the eye. If you are really lucky a Blue Jay or an ornery Chickadee, not appreciating the Owls presence, will display its feelings by “mobbing” (as it is called) the Owl. If the Owl sticks around long enough to hold its ground you may get an interesting image. Most times they just drop down into the cavity until the offensive bird gets bored and flies off to its next unsuspecting victim.

Moose Prints Gallery RenovationsAbout now Anita and I are feeling a bit like this “Yawning Owl” – tired! We just returned from Millinocket where we started the first round of renovations on our new home and Gallery space. With the help of trusted friends and talented contractors we raised ceilings, removed plaster and lathe, widened doorways, replaced plumbing, modified wiring and hung sheetrock. As you can see from this image it got pretty messy. Actually we are further along with renovations than expected and plan to have the gallery open for the June Workshops which brings me to the next subject.
It is not too early to register for my Maine Photography Workshops as spaces seem to be filling faster than in previous years. Our workshops offer an unparalleled opportunity to photograph the Katahdin Region of Maine including its spectacular landscapes and magnificent Moose. These all inclusive workshops (lodging, meals, and transportation to and from shooting locations during the workshop) make the most of our time together. There is no formal classroom instruction. Other than an afternoon break, we are in the field from sunrise to sunset. The most difficult decision you will have is whether you should attend in the Spring or Fall.
June (Spring in the North Woods of Maine) and now July provide opportunities to photograph a world coming to life after a long Winter. Moose feed heavily in the ponds this time of year, often times along side their cinnamon colored calves. Bull Moose antlers are covered in velvet and can grow as much as an inch a day. Picturesque indigenous wildflowers, rushing waterways, boreal birds and other fauna also provide inspiration and opportunities to learn new skills.
September and October workshops coincide with the Moose Rut and spectacular Fall color that the region is noted for. Now those 35 pound calves from Spring have grown a bit weighing about 400 pounds. The massive Bull’s antlers are finished growing, the velvet having been shed for the mating season. This is the time to capture these magnificent creatures in courtship and mating behavior with a backdrop of Fall color.
Several hundred participants of all skill levels have already taken my workshops. Whether it is a well planned all-inclusive Getaway Weekend or customized private one on one instruction you are guaranteed to learn new skills while exploring all that is unique to the region. Plan to attend one of my workshops in the North Woods of Maine this year and who knows, you may decide you like the area as much as we do.