How to put the WOW in your Winter Wildlife Shots

Learn how to find wildlife and use your camera in the cold.

Winter is a great time of year to photograph wildlife in Ontario.  Some of the very best days I’ve ever spent photographing birds and animals have been here in Ontario during winter. 

One of the challenges of photographing winter wildlife is finding animals. It helps to be a nature geek – the more you know about the subjects you want to photograph, the better chance you’ll have of finding them! The good thing is there are plenty of resources to learn from: naturalist groups, guided hikes, park naturalists, field guides, online nature photography forums and bird sighting list servers.  Many parks also have wildlife sightings boards or binders with up-to-date information on where species are being seen.   

American Marten

Food is a key element of survival for birds and animals during winter. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the best spots to photograph wildlife are where there are reliable natural or supplemented sources of food available. Bird feeders, especially, are magnets for species during winter. As a result, they’re also a magnet for me…. I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent hanging out in the snow near bird feeders with my camera ready to shoot! 

 Boreal Chickadee

This brings up an important aspect of winter photography – dealing with the effects of cold temperatures on your camera gear. There are two key tips for cold-weather photography

1)  Cold temperatures drain your batteries quickly. Keep a spare battery tucked inside your jacket so it stays warm from your body heat. Swap them periodically when the first battery gets low.

2)  Bringing cold camera into a warm building or car will cause fogging up of the lenses. If you’re just taking a break before shooting again, pop the camera batteries out and leave the rest of the gear in the trunk so it stays cold. If you’re done for the day, pack the gear into your camera pack and put a garbage bag around the whole thing before bringing it inside. This way the gear will warm up gradually and condensation will occur on the outside of the plastic bag.

Great Grey Owl

As the temperature drops and the snow piles up in Ontario, wildlife photography is just starting to heat up! I’ll be out there in the snow, bundled up in my parka with my camera gear in pursuit of winter critters. 

About Ethan Meleg

Ethan is a freelance photographer and writer from the Georgian Bay area who specializes in photos  and stories on outdoor recreation, landscapes, ecosystems, birds and wildlife. He has been published by National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Forbes, Ontario Tourism, Lonely Planet, Popular Photography and many more. Ethan is a popular keynote speaker, workshop leader and magazine columnist. 

Growing up near world-famous birding hotspot Point Pelee National Park, Ethan often skipped school to watch songbirds during migration. Before becoming a pro photographer, Ethan had developed a career as a nature guide and communications specialist in national parks.

His greatest passion in life is exploring the natural world through his camera, whether on exciting trips or in his own backyard.

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