Rainy Day Photography- 1 ‘no wipers please’

I began thinking about photographing in the rain as I was editing a batch of pictures from Nunavut. On the day in question our weather forecast was deadly accurate as a spectacular sunrise heralded the approaching system. It started gently allowing me to make images of raindrops on rock formations along the lakeshore but quickly morphed into a driving rainstorm that left our group lodge-bound for more than a day.

Ennadai Lake at dawn ''Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning'

Ennadai Lake at dawn ”Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning’

Ennadai Lake shoreline rocks with first raindrops.

Ennadai Lake shoreline rocks with first raindrops.

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Still, when it comes to photography I have a ‘glass half-full’ attitude and while the rain pelted down I decided to photograph the landscape through the lodge windows. There was plenty of room to set up a tripod in the lounge area. I used an aperture of f16, expecting the water on the window to blur the terrain in impressionistic ways and distort the scenes outside. As I thought about these images I realized that I had others, taken years ago at home and in Algonquin Park.

Algonquin's highway 60 seen through a rain-soaked window. 1/15 s @ f11 ISO 800

Algonquin’s highway 60 seen through a rain-soaked car window. 1/15 s @ f11 ISO 800

Autumn trees as seen through a rain-soaked window. ⅛ s @ f16 ISO 800

Autumn trees as seen through a rain-soaked car window. ⅛ s @ f16 ISO 800

A little rain has never stopped me from photographing scenes in nature. Most experienced outdoor photographers recognize that rainy conditions offer wonderful opportunities to make distinctive images, so long as they and their equipment are protected from the elements. A quick internet search will reveal a myriad number of gadgets designed to make photography doable in wet weather. But it can be as simple as a clear plastic bag with a couple of carefully placed holes for lens and eyepiece or a plastic shower cap from the motel room covering the camera body. I like to attach a polarizing filter to the lens when it rains as it is more easily wiped with paper towel if rain drops accumulate (watch for fibers if it gets wet). Your lens hood should protect against raindrops accumulating on the filter and the polarizer offers the added advantage of saturating colours and removing glare and reflections from wet surfaces. The recently released Flex Lens Shade can provide additional protection to the front element of your lens

Garden flowers through wet window. Not rain. Brenda was watering the garden outside this window. I stayed dry indoors.

Garden flowers through wet window. Not rain. Brenda was watering the garden outside this window. I stayed dry indoors

Today’s professional and semi professional camera bodies and lenses are well sealed against water and can stand a little rain without damage. I try and towel off my camera body under the hatch back of the car when necessary and I sometimes use the hatchback as a rain shield if I can photograph a scenic close to the car. If the rain is pelting down I look for interesting images through the windshield while I wait out the downpour. Of course the wipers have to be off and the camera will likely have to be hand-held so higher ISOs will be necessary.

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

In a follow-up post I will present some close-up images of raindrops on vegetation together with technical notes and the best conditions for capturing similar photos.

Legendary Cape Churchill

Cape Churchill at sunset

A Tundra Buggy at Cape Churchill at sunset

The Tundra Buggy Lodge

The Tundra Buggy Lodge

Every year the polar bear viewing season culminates with a tour to Cape Churchill in Wapusk National Park, Manitoba. The adventure tour is run by Frontiers North and it is first class in terms of accommodation, food and polar bear viewing. The Polar Bear Lodge consists of 4 modules on wheels, together with some modules for staff and support. Two bunkhouses, decked out in Hudson Bay colours, a lounge and a dining car, along with the support vehicles are towed by Tundra Buggies, in a convoy 35 km from the Churchill Wildlife Management Area to Cape Churchill in Wapusk National Park. The logistics of such a trek are awesome. There has to be enough ice to support these large vehicles as they are towed across shallow bays, yet the operators cannot schedule this tour too late in the season otherwise the bears will have migrated out onto Hudson Bay.

Mother and cub investigate a Tundra Buggy

Mother and cub investigate a Tundra Buggy

About thirty paying clients from North America and around the world met in Winnipeg, flew by charter to Churchill, were outfitted in complimentary Canada Goose parkas, and were towed out to the Cape for six days of dawn to dusk wildlife and scenic photography in a bleak, windswept subarctic environment. The friendly, professional staff of Frontiers North tended to all of our needs.

Windswept Cape Churchill near sunset

Windswept Cape Churchill near sunset

Willows and snow along the Hudson Bay coast

Willows and snow along the Hudson Bay coast

We had excellent light on some days and encountered a nice variety of wildlife, from arctic hare, arctic and red foxes, snowy owl, ptarmigan and the bears. Big males together with mothers and their cubs. For the most part the bears looked fit and healthy. Part of the expedition included a group from Polar Bears International, who provided expert background updates on the status of polar bears, sea ice and the research that is conducted year-round on the bears. Our group of nine was recruited by Canadian wildlife photographer John Marriott who was unable to be with us, due to unforeseen family circumstances. John recruited a dynamic, knowledgeable and fun-loving group of wildlife photographers who spent 8 days together, in the capable hands of driver Bob Debets and guides Haley, JoAnne and pro photographer Richard Day who each accompanied us every third day.

Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus

Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) Sleeping in snow

Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) Sleeping in snow

The sun rises about 8:30 in November in northern Manitoba and sets about 3:30. The wind blows constantly but we were comfortable in our Tundra Buggy, even though the temperatures (excluding wind chill) were in the -20s Celsius. Photography was done through open windows, using bean bags for support of our long lenses. There was an option to photograph from the back deck. I sometimes chose that option, then being able to set up a tripod. One of the attractions of the Cape Churchill tour is the opportunity to see and photograph polar bears at first light in the morning and last light near sunset. We were fortunate this year to get both.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) heading to Hudson Bay

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) heading to Hudson Bay

Hudson Bay coastline at freeze-up- polar bear wandering along the coast at sunset

Hudson Bay coastline at freeze-up- polar bear wandering along the coast at sunset

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) Sparring males

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) Sparring males

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) running in the snow

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) running in the snow

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus),

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus),

The red fox might be an indication of climate change, expanding its range northwards into the arctic. We witnessed the red fox dismembering and eating an arctic fox it had killed near the Cape. Disturbing but compelling to see.

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) preying upon an Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus)

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) preying upon an Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus)

Some bears were nicknamed BABs- “Big A** Bears”. Cape Churchill is famous for its big males. These guys steer clear of the town of Churchill, choosing to migrate out to the ice through Cape Churchill instead. Once the Big Males have moved through, they are followed by females and cubs.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) waiting for the sea ice

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) waiting for the sea ice

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) near Hudson Bay

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) near Hudson Bay

A big male

A big male

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus), Wapusk NP, Cape Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus), Wapusk NP, Cape Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

It appeared that the polar bears were going to have a slightly extended ice season this year. I had a dream (nightmare?) before the tour began of seeing the last bear at the Cape disappear into the ice fog as it receded from sight, leaving us on land as it returned to its seal hunting territory in Hudson Bay. That dream became a reality on our last day at the Cape.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) Radio-collared mother and yearling, second-year cub

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) Radio-collared mother and yearling, second-year cub

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) Mother and yearling cub

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) Mother and yearling cub

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) Yearling cub

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) Yearling cub

Other polar bear images from this trip may be viewed by linking through to my 500px site. http://500px.com/don_johnston/sets/cape_churchill_manitoba_animals

Bosque not always for the Birds

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico is the winter home for thousands of waders and waterfowl. The visitor center boasts the bird counts and the snow geese, sandhill cranes and ducks number in the tens of thousands. It is a magnificent spectacle, drawing nearly as many birders and bird photographers (slight exaggeration). The bird photographer needs to arrive an hour or so before sunrise just to secure a decent vantage point for the awesome ‘blast offs’ or fly outs by the geese and later the cranes as they take off to feed in nearby grain fields.

This is what the photographers come for.

Dawn Blast off- Ducks and sandhill cranes

We had the ‘pleasure’ of photographing Bosque under unusual winter conditions. Sure, the refuge gets snow on occasion but never in the amounts, coupled with the extreme cold temperatures as we experienced in early December this year. Our Bosque veteran tour leaders, Gordon and Cathy Illg remarked that not only have they never seen conditions like these before, they have never seen pictures of conditions like these before.

Frosted cottonwoods near the Flight Deck

While I love photographing wildlife I am also partial to landscapes, plants, and abstract patterns. The unusual conditions created by that memorable winter blizzard persuaded me to divert my attention from the birds, for periods of time, to capture some amazing scenes, without feathers. Here is a small selection I hope the reader will enjoy.

Frozen crane ponds with the Chupadera MountainsFrosted cottonwood and Chupadera Mountains before dawn

Cottonwood at dawn

Frosted sunflower seed heads near icy pond

Frosted cottonwood and Chupadera Mountains before dawn

Frosted cottonwood with sunstar