A GREAT (Gray Owl) Photo Opportunity!
click on the photo to see a larger
photos are © Ethan Meleg, all rights reserved
If thereís one thing Iíve learned in nature photography, it's to make the absolute most of a good photo opportunity. As the old saying goes " make hay when the sun shines". This winter has been one of those exceptional situations.
Great Gray Owls started showing up in the region where I live (central Ontario) in early winter. Before long, the region was full of Great Grays, a species that's normally scarce this far south. Residents of northern boreal forests, the owls move south about once a decade, when prey population cycles in their home range crash. This winter the invasion has been particularly huge - a dream come true for an addicted bird photographer like me!
Knowing I might never see another influx of Great Grays of this magnitude, I set myself a goal to photograph the owls with intensity. To capture as wide a range of behaviours and situations as I possibly could. To push my personal photographic envelope and make shots that gave justice to the beauty, hardiness and elegance of Great Grays. This was the best chance I was ever going to get.
For three consecutive weekends this January (2005), I made the 3 hour drive from my home to photograph the owls at a relatively unknown location where I could shoot undisturbed (I'm sworn to secrecy about the spot!). I spent long days out in the field, shooting thousands of photos in a myriad of situations. The weather ranged from a balmy 0C and sunny to the worst blizzard I've ever been out in, with driving snow and wind-chills to -35C. At one point it was snowing so hard I was unable to see an owl sitting on a spruce tree only 40 feet away! And I loved every minute of it!
My photographic approach started out as usual - to capture basic full-body portraits with simple, clean backgrounds. I see many photographers stop shooting at this point, satisfied they've captured the definitive photos of a species. To me, this is just when the real shooting starts! So next I set my sights on making images that conveyed a sense of the snowy conditions, which was easy to do considering I was in a blizzard. Sunnier weather on my next shoot inspired me to work on in-flight images, which I spent many days at. A combination of persistence, gallons of hot coffee, and the incredible autofocus technology of my new EOS 1DmII body landed me the action photos I had been dreaming of. And lastly, when a crystal clear winter sunset turned the sky deep purple, I shot in the fleeting light to capture moody environmental shots of Great Grays with my wide-angle lens.
The experiences I had with Great Grays this winter were some of the most incredible moments I've had in over a decade of nature photography. The memories of cold days spent out with the owls will warm my thoughts for years to come... remembering the sheer thrill when one owl struck a mouse only a foot away from me, or the serenity of watching the sun set behind a perched owl, the sky ablaze with colour. How could life get any better for a nature photographer.... making the most of those unique moments!
About the Photos:
Great Gray Owls photographed with Canon EOS 1DmarkII body, EF 600 f/4, EF 70-200 f/2.8IS, EF 17-40 f/4 lenses. Digital capture in raw format, converted with BreezeBrowser. Minor Photoshop adjustments made to match the original scene. All images are copyright Ethan Meleg.
site © Ethan Meleg, all rights reserved. No form of reproduction,
including copying or saving of digital image files,
or the alteration or manipulation of said image files is permitted. Any unauthorized use of these images will be prosecuted
to the full extent of federal copyright laws. Site design and maintenance by Ethan Meleg.