Light and shade

14 Feb 2014

My weekends are sacred. During the week, my job requires me to sit, move my fingers and sit some more. All day long. Every day again. And again. So when the weekend knocks on the door, I’m all in for some outings and a lot of shooting. When the temps are reasonable, like around –25C, outside is the place to be. Preferably with some sunshine.

Taking off, female Snowy Owl

That the sun shines in Manitoba does not mean that it is warm, but at least it is light enough to shoot some wildlife. Last time I showed the Great Grey Owls, north of Winnipeg. During one of those shoots, a birder told me there were Snowy Owls a little southwest of the city. Snowy Owls, here I come!

Now, Snowy Owls are by definition white. Everyone can understand that. I think the Voles and the Mice are calling them the “White Death”. The birds are completely silent, their wings make no flapping sound, or any sound for that matter. They are practically invisible until they move.

Flying low, female Snowy Owl

And even when they move it is hard to spot them. When I arrived south of Starbuck (not Starbucks, please) I thought I would be able to spot them without any problem.

Sure.

After about one hour driving very slowly on the back roads, I still had to spot my first bird. When I finally did, I grabbed my camera and started shooting. Only to stop two seconds later to let the big dumpster truck pass, rumbling and all. The above female was long gone once I picked up the camera again.

Male Snowy Owl

Then I spotted one owl sitting on a hydro pole. Wildlife and hydro poles don’t go together in pictures, unless you have nothing else to shoot. I stopped the car about 75m away from the bird and focused. Started to shoot and opened the door of my car. This male had no intention of having his picture taken and took off immediately.

Not a very promising start of the hunt. On the other hand, it confirmed that there were Snowies in the neighbourhood. That was a comforting idea. The next few birds were chased away by passing cars even before I could start thinking of shooting them.

Gauging the photographer

I decided to go on a small path, clean, but with some snow drifts. Hoping that the car would not get stuck I ventured into silence. After a while, I spotted another Snowy Owl, again sitting on a hydro pole. I stopped the car, turned off the engine and from about 200m away I approached the bird on foot.

I decided to shoot this one as much as I could until it undoubtedly would fly away. It let me get quite close, around 25m from the base of the pole. It did not seem disturbed at all by the giant photographer. Good for me. Over the 200m I must have shot at least 40 pictures. Each a little closer than the previous shot. Each with a little more detail.

Taking off, female Snowy OwlFemale Snowy Owl

Then it flew away. Having learned from a cookie loving photographer that those birds always fly away in a certain manner, I was prepared. While it didn’t fly towards me, I still got a nice shot of the bird in flight.

Then I decided to call it a day, four hours of staring at snow fields in a glaring sun was not that good for my eyes.

The evening would be a different idea with different challenges.

Looking south

The sun had been at it again and the forecast for an Aurora was quite good. We had had several of those forecasts before. All with a dismal result as far as the celestial greenery went. This evening would have to be better. I decided to set up camp a little south of Elm Creek, MB. My first shot was oriented south, just to see what the camera settings were going to be. You can recognize Orion a little left of the centre of the picture, right? Smile

Competing light sources

Once my hands were cooled off to a nice –29C, I shot my first Aurora of the year. This time with the city lights of Elm Creek in the bottom centre, Portage la Prairie showering light on the left and Winnipeg polluting the sky with light on the right. And, of course the Aurora smack in the middle. After a few similar shots, I decided to go north and lose the city lights of Winnipeg and Portage.

Lights over Portage la Prairie

Looking southwest I found that even with the lights, the Milky Way was looking gorgeous and deserved a shot.

Undisturbed KP=3

A last shot of the Aurora, now supposedly at its maximum strength, I thought I’d call it a night. Aurorae with a kp=3 is not really much to write home about. But I can write about them on my blog Winking smile.

When I looked at this last picture on my computer, I noticed that there was even some purple in the sky, as opposed to a little green band all by itself. The Milky Way stretching to the horizon in the north was a real bonus. In Europe I had never seen the Milky Way like this, too much light pollution everywhere.

So there’s my story for light and shade. Very light for the Snowy Owls, very shady for the Aurora. All in all a nice weekend with lots of photographic opportunities.

A weekend like I like them.

Until next time…