Whether driving a boat or vehicle, those who pay attention will find some great photo opportunities. Pictured here is a black bear.
Whether driving a boat or vehicle, those who pay attention will find some great photo opportunities. Pictured here is a black bear.
DID YOU ever notice that some people drive with blinders on, paying little attention to their surroundings, while others are constantly waving and beeping at friends?  

I’m not sure if that first group is too busy thinking to look around or too nervous to have their eyes anywhere but straight ahead, but I cannot relate to that group.

My wife calls me a rubber-necked driver for good reason. Whether in a vehicle or boat, the scribbler is usually aware of what’s going on along my path of travel.

To me, driving in the North Woods is a great excuse to observe some of the best scenery this country has to offer. In this blessed land of lakes and forests, wildlife is a major part of the scenic draw.

I happen to have a keen interest in birds and animals, but seldom pass up a colorful sunset, unusual cloud formations, forest scenes and mirrored images on lakes and ponds.

The passion for wildlife comes from a lifetime of hunting, wildlife observation and nature photography as both a professional and a hobbyist, depending on the subject matter.

Last week while boating no-wake through an undeveloped channel filled with bogs, I spotted a great blue heron hiding behind a wall of thick green vegetation right at the water’s edge.

I pulled out the camera and zoom lens, spun the boat around and headed under power, slowly, in an angling fashion toward the bog. The plan was to make it look like I was going to pass by.

At the last moment, I turned the boat toward the heron and cut the outboard engine. The camera was up and ready, expecting the bird to bolt from cover and fly for an action shot, but instead it just sat there.

I snapped a few pictures as the boat got closer and closer, finally touching the bog. That’s what it took to get the big bird airborne, and it sounded like I was melting the shutter while following the action for some good photos. One of those is at right.

The point is, you never know whether it’s the right place, right time for photos if you don’t try. Chances are, they’ll run or fly off as you arrive and before you get anything decent for an image. But once in a great while, they just stand there like you don’t even exist.

Last month I saw a bald eagle sitting just off the ground, on the branch of a windfall off Highway 45, airing out its wet wings after a night of rain. 

I turned around and went back, expecting it would fly upon approach. But it just sat there watching me, eventually letting me walk right up to it for some close-ups before it flew into a nearby tree.

I’m sharing some experiences with wildlife photography, as I do every July, with the hope of giving some added confidence to those who’ve thought about such a hobby but haven’t jumped in.

Getting good wildlife photos does take commitment, but nothing more than what the average angler or hunter would do in his or her pursuit of fish and game.

One benefit of the digital age is what these cameras can do in low-light conditions, often eliminating the dreadful shadows that always haunted photographers in the film age. And quite often, the colors are richer where there’s no sun out to bleach them.

That’s not always the case, of course, because certain subjects are better with sunlight. Bears, loons, turkeys and bald eagles look better when the sunlight comes from behind the photographer, lighting up the image. It’s the only time a loon’s eye is truly red. It’s the only way to prevent a bear or black squirrel image from turning out like a black blob with no detail.

Being in the right place at the right time is what it’s all about, so you need to try, fail and try again. Sooner or later, your persistence will pay dividends.

Nothing teaches more character and skill than failure. And the only real failure is accepting defeat instead of trying again.

I’m using a Canon 50D digital body with a 70 to 300mm lens. What the would-be outdoor photographer has to avoid are cameras with slow focus speeds, which leads to serious delays between pressing the shutter button and actually getting the shot.

Good nature photos are just part of this hobby’s reward. More interesting are the stories behind some of the photos — the fabric of what makes the North Woods such a special place to live, work and play.

Whether it’s catching beavers in a trout stream, pine martens in the national forest or red fox on the hunt, photos are a great way to preserve those stories and memories for a lifetime.

Sometimes all it takes is a commitment to have the camera along, in the vehicle, boat or canoe, which increases your chances for the right timing.

I’ve blown some great opportunities with decisions to leave the camera behind, like a misty fall afternoon while fishing from a canoe.

As if the gorgeous fall colors on the Sugar Camp Chain weren’t enough to miss, then came the two eagles sitting on a low branch in a fire-red maple tree at close range. The screeches they gave felt like laughter and it still hurts that I didn’t take the camera bag, for that’s one image I don’t have.

Those missed opportunities will keep you coming back, especially if you are a person who likes a challenge.