If you’ve ever walked along the banks of the South Thompson River or simply driven the scenic East Shuswap Road in Kamloops, you’re well aware of the beautiful trumpeter swans that winter in the area. The swans can be a challenge to photograph but images are definitely there for the taking.
Perhaps, luck will be on your side and you’ll stumble upon a swan or two that feels comfortable with the human presence. This isn’t the norm, but there are birds out there that have been fed at one time or another by humans and have become very trusting. More often than not however, these graceful birds will keep their distance.
One option to get close to the birds is to set up a blind and wait for the birds to come to you. Another way is to move in with slow, non-threatening, patient movements. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how close you can get when you make your move while the birds are feeding or resting. Obviously, the bird’s welfare should always be considered and if you’ve moved in quietly you should also move away quietly after the pictures have been taken.
Large birds such as the trumpeter swan are easier to photograph than small birds. Small birds such as chickadees or warblers often demand fast shutter speeds to freeze their rapid movements, but as the swan leisurely forages along the river with frequent times of rest, shutter speeds become less of a concern. Unless you’re after swans in flight or stretching their wings, correct exposure should be your main concern.
In winter, weather along the river is varied but dark overcast skies can last for days. The camera’s meter doesn’t see the swans like our eyes do during these grey days. We see the swans as incredible white birds, but the camera will record a correct exposure as a neutral-grey unless the exposure is manually controlled.
Digital SLR type cameras offer an exposure compensation tool. This allows the photographer to make small adjustments in how much light gets picked up by the camera and it can be controlled in very small increments. Adding more light will bring out the white in the swans.
This important feature is one of the easiest ways to get precise exposures and gives the photographer a feeling of control over the camera. If you’re not sure if you can do this with your camera, just turn to the exposure listing in your user manual to find out.
I hope you can get down to the valley and see the trumpeter swans this winter. They’re truly amazing birds and we’re fortunate to have them visit us. Until then, get outside on a cloudy day and practise your exposures by shooting some beautiful snow scenes.
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