[Note: I'm often asked how close I was to an animal in a photo. In this field note you get see how close an animal comes to me.]
[Note: Some of you may have heard me talk about the wintering grounds of the monarch butterflies, or have read my previous field notes about photographing them in Mexico. I will be returning to this area for 5 days in the last half of February 2009 to capture video. I would like to bring a few people, no more than six, with me to experience the millions of butterflies. What I want to do is not so much a workshop as a project. I want to use the butterflies as a means of linking communities of school children up here and down there. Anyone who is involved will have the chance to contribute to a project that will share the full story of the monarchs with children on both sides of the border and also introduce the children to each other. I will try to set up visits not only to the butterflies, but to the schools as well.
If you are interested in this trip, or having a school that you are involved in take part please let me know. I will provide details to anyone who is interested. At this point I'm not looking for a commitment from anyone, I just want to gauge how much interest there is.
Most of you know that I'm interested in more that photography for photography's sake. I want to encourage everyone to share their experiences of nature and to try to use their images to make a difference. This is a great opportunity. It's a chance to see one of the most amazing spectacles on earth, to take an active part in conservation, to educate, and to build bonds between two communities. If you are interested in a worthwhile, intentional use of your time please contact me at CharlesStCharles@NatureOfTheWild.com. ]
Life is full of tiny magical moments. I hope you enjoy the one in this field note!
We've had quite an extraordinary time this year capturing baby animals both with still images and video. With this field note we have the chance to show you a wonderful experience we recently had photographing a fawn.
The morning after returning from Tomahawk Creek Flooding Jen and I got to photograph a fantastic little fawn. Jen's video gives the chance to get an over the shoulder look at some wildlife photos in the making as well as an incredible moment. Below are two still images from the morning followed by a short video that shows the images as they were created. To view the video your browser will need to be able to display Flash files, which most computers do.
Whitetail deer fawn, Wexford County, Michigan. This fawn was just a few hours old, as you can tell in the video when he takes his first steps.
If you've been in one of my workshops you know that I advocate a slow, long-term approach when working with wildlife. I believe that whenever possible I'm better off trying to foster a long term relationship with wildlife than to try to get a photo in the rush of a moment. I like to have the animal at ease and to take my time. I always hope that I'll get the chance to work with the same animals again, and that they will either get used to my presence or sense that I don't mean any harm. This morning was a great example. All told we spend about three hours photographing this fawn.
I've been fortunate to photograph a fair number of fawns, but this is the most relaxed one that I've come across. We started out with what I think of as "establishing shots", photos made from a distance that place the animal in its environment. These shots also force me to slow down and make sure that everything is set up correctly.
We moved closer to this little guy who was partially hidden in the tall grass. I paid really close attention to his behavior and especially how he reacted to us. For example I noticed that Jen and I needed to stay fairly close together because when we were separated by much of a distance I could sense that it made it harder for him to keep track of both of us and made him a little anxious. When we were roughly in the same spot I could see that he was relaxed.
Most of the time the fawn was just curled up and resting. Occasionally he would get up and stretch his legs and then curl back up again. For the first week of a fawn's life it is common for it's mom to leave it behind. The fawn is basically devoid of odor which makes it hard for a predator to find it, and it's not that great at moving around, so it works out better to have mom drop off the fawn and go eat than to bring the fawn along and possibly call attention to it. (So if you find a fawn alone don't worry, it's not an orphan, the doe will return later on.)
Whitetail deer fawn, Wexford County, Michigan. This close up photo was taken with a wide angle lens about 10 inches from the fawn.
After we spent a couple hours with this fawn he did something quite amazing. He stood up, came over to me, and actually walked underneath my tripod. In the video you can see him between a tripod leg and my leg. I just held still and watched. I had a big lens on my camera that couldn't even focus that close. I didn't try to move, I just held still and enjoyed the moment.
You can see in the video how wobbly he was. He was smaller than the first segment of the tripod leg, that's 12-15 inches tall. He was just a little larger than my shoe. After visiting my tripod he curled back up in the grass and rested again. I changed to a wide angle lens to try to make some images that placed him in the foreground of an enveloping field. A little while later he got up again and visited me. The video that you see here is actually a combination of a couple different sequences that we shot that day.
At one point I bent down and the fawn came over like he was going to touch noses with me. I got the distinct feeling that if I had laid down in the field he might very well have curled up next to me for heat. When we got the last set of photos I told Jen that I thought we should get going. I was a bit concerned that the little guy might get so comfortable around us that he'd follow us. In the evening we came back to see if we could photograph him in the warmer light of the setting sun, but his mom had already come back and picked him up.
I believe that not rushing and not pushing the fawn really made all of the difference. We spend a lot of time getting closer to the deer and letting it get used to us. When the fawn first walked under my tripod I could have tried to get to my camera bag, switched lens and tried to photograph him up close. Instead I choose to hold still, not make any motion that might threaten him, and let him come in as close as he wanted. He checked me out, obviously didn't feel threatened, and returned to resting. The next time that he got up and came over I could photograph him in a relaxed way without scaring him.
How can you tell if a fawn is nervous or relaxed around you? A nervous fawn will hold its head down as still as it can and follow you with it's eyes. Sometimes its muscles will twitch. If you look at the beginning of the video you can see how relaxed the fawn is, it is licking grass, moving around, smelling and unconcerned about us (but interested in the exciting new world around him!). Taking time really pays off for both you and the wildlife in the long run.
Charles St. Charles
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