The pairing of light and wildlife photography is inherently difficult. Cameras need at least a bit of light to operate, photography literally means, writing with light. Wildlife on the other hand, do not like light at all. If there is light, they can be seen. If they can be seen, prey can be eaten and predators perhaps, don’t get to eat. As a result, wildlife likes the dark and low light, cameras, not so much.
I remember one morning a few years ago, up on the Highwood Pass (see Highwood Grizzlies). The threatening clouds were sinking down from the sky and merging with the highway into a grey misting soup. It was rainy and misty and altogether not a morning for photography when a grizzly bear reared up on his hind legs and peered at me out of the fog. Now there is an image I’ll never forget. As I pulled over to the side of the road, the grizzly dropped down onto all fours and ambled a short distance away, then stood up again to have another look at me. A standing grizzly in the mist. I scrambled to get my camera out, knowing full well that there wasn't enough light yet.
While it was technically sunrise, and I had planned to be at this place, at this time, it was still way too dark for photographs. I spent about fifteen minutes watching the young grizzly bear, maybe a two year old, feed on the lush grass and dandelions along the roadside. What an experience. I took a few shots, just because I had to, but sure enough, they were just dark and blurry. The mountains were turning dark blue against the grey of the sky when the grizz ambled across highway and continued on up the mountain and out of sight. Good memories, but no photographs.
So, what can we do? The newer cameras like my Canon 5D Mark II, can shoot at a light sensitivity rating of up to ISO 6400. In reality, on the ISO auto setting, you’re probably more likely to get about 3200. That’s a big help, but what else? Well, a tripod, or a bean bag for your car window will help to minimize camera shake. Or, just wait. Wait for the light.
Unfortunately, the wildlife seem to have good intelligence about our abilities to shoot in low light and just as the rising sun is giving us a bit of usable light....the animals wander off into the bush. Light and the joys of wildlife photography, welcome to my vision quest.
Have a look at the images in the gallery below and perhaps they will give you some ideas.