Capturing nature: 5 tips from an award-winning photographer
Get up early, and consider cloudy days your friend
Tracy Munson may have discovered her passion for photography later in life, but she's always had a love of animals.
Before she became a full-time photographer, Munson was a veterinary technician in Ontario for 25 years, so pet photography was an obvious transition for her.
"I didn't even own my first camera until I was, like, 21," Munson said.
Munson said her experimenting with early iPhone photography and Instagram changed the game, and soon people were contacting her to ask for prints of her work.
"People would be surprised probably on my feed at how many of the photos actually are just iPhone photos," she said.
She also shoots with several Nikon cameras. Last year, Munson was named photographic artist of the year for the Atlantic region by the Professional Photographers of Canada.
Here are her top tips for nature photography.
1. The best sunsets happen after stormy weather
"If you think about it, the best sunsets happen when there are some clouds in the sky when there's some shape to it," Munson said.
She recalled a trip to Newfoundland, where she told someone about her plans to shoot the sunset at a certain lighthouse. She said the person cautioned her that it may not be a good one, because the day had been overcast. Munson said sure enough the clouds broke up and the sun streamed through, creating some dramatic lighting.
This goes for sunrises too, although Munson said she prefers to shoot sunsets, so she doesn't have to get up early. The exception applies to popular tourist spots, where sunrise may be the only chance to get photos without a bunch of people in them.
To get the best of the dramatic lighting of sunrise and sunset, Munson likes to shoot in HDR mode, where the camera takes multiple images at different exposures to ensure both the foreground and background aren't either blown out or overshadowed. Most smartphone cameras have this capability.
2. Keep a respectful distance when photographing wildlife
Use a telephoto lens when taking photos of wild animals. Even non-predators like deer and moose have been known to attack and injure people if they feel threatened.
Munson recalled a trip to Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, where she was photographing bison. Park rangers told her the rule is to keep enough distance that you can cover the animal with your thumb if you extend your arm. She did so, but some animals snuck up on her while she was focused on ones farther away through her telephoto lens.
"Then suddenly I looked up from my camera and they were, like, really close," she said. She got back in her car with her husband to wait for them to pass.
"We were just sitting there in the car, and this whole huge herd of bison came and surrounded us. And we just were driving a tiny little Toyota Echo. Like the bison were bigger than the car."
Munson also recommends carrying bear spray if you are in bear country and to make enough noise so any animals will know you are there.
"It's always a bit of a toss-up, right, if you want to see them and photograph them but on the other hand you don't want to surprise them, especially if they're there with maybe their cubs or something."
3. Pop out a screen from an upper-storey window to capture birds at eye-level
Munson said springtime is the best time to capture pictures of birds, since they are often tired from their migratory journeys and stay closer to the ground or eye level.
She pops the screen out of an upper-storey window to get photos of birds flocking to her bird feeder.
Another bird photography tip? Watch for poop.
"If you want to try to get them in flight or taking off, they'll poop and then they take off," Munson said.
4. Get up early
Wildlife photography also takes a lot of patience — and early rising. Early morning is the best time to catch animals active in the daylight.
"Ninety-nine times out of 100 you're probably going to not see anything," Munson said.
"It's more just putting myself in areas where the wildlife are likely to be when they're likely to be there."
5. Cloudy days are your friend
When photographing waterfalls or forest scenes, Munson prefers overcast days.
"Depending on what you're looking for, you have to get the sort of smooth texture of the water, you actually need to use a longer shutter speed," she said.
Something as long as a quarter of a second can be enough, but you'll need a tripod to stabilize the camera.
If you are shooting in the woods on a brighter day, Munson recommends a filter to help soften the harsh dappled light effect coming through the leaves.