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Photography advice on wetland photography

Photography advice on wetland photography - Shawn Soderstrom takes some great pictures in wetlands. Here's how.

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Spring in Wetlands USA
Photo by Shawn Soderstrom.
Wetlands offer an almost infinite number of potential images. While figures may vary, in some US states as much as 90% of original wetlands no longer exist. Nationally almost a third of all endangered or rare animal species depend upon wetlands and visiting these unique areas will provide unique opportunities to photograph creatures that are amazing.

What can you find to photograph in a wetland?
"There are a wide variety of plants, bushes and trees to be found in wetland areas. There's a fair amount of dead trees that have fallen in winds and snow - all of which hide and/or house many wetland inhabitants. I started making a list a while back and as you can see, there is a good quantity and I am still adding new inhabitants as I find them."

What you can photograph in Wetlands:
  • American Crow
  • American Gold Finch
  • Bald Eagle
  • Beaver
  • Black Capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay (Western)
  • Bull Frog
  • Canadian Geese (Cackler, Lesser and Greater)
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Common White Tail Skimmer (Dragon Fly)
  • Downy Wood Pecker
  • European Starling
  • Golden Crowned Kinglet
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Green Heron
  • Grey Squirrel (Western)
  • House Wren
  • Mallard Ducks
  • Northern Flicker
  • Nuthatch
  • Nutria
  • Osprey
  • Ring Neck Pheasant
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Warbler (Black Throated Grey)
  • Western Pond Hawk (Dragon Fly)
  • Western Tanager
  • White Crowned Sparrow
  • Wrentit
Spring in wetlands
Photo by Shawn Soderstrom.
Are the subjects hard to capture?
"Well, the short answer is yes and no. Some of the creatures are only slightly camera shy - like some of the water fowl (geese, ducks) but there are others like the Great Blue Heron and Green Heron which require a somewhat more stealthy approach."

Are there certain advantage points which you think are best to sit and wait in?
"A simple answer is yes but which place you select to wait in depends on what you want to see. The first time I visit a wetland area, I look for specific feeding and nesting areas. When I find an active area I set up my gear including a mono scope, pad of paper, scribble stick (pen) and a chair.

One important thing to remember is that your visit to the wetlands should not be apparent. Don’t set off “cross country” willy-nilly, tramping on plants and small creatures unknowingly. Remember you are visiting someone’s home. Do not disturb the inhabitants of this fragile ecosystem - if certain species are too disturbed they may abandon their nest and not be back.

Do you need to be patient?
"Yes, just like my mother taught me - patience is a virtue. Once I am set up, I spend the next couple of hours quietly watching for activity, noting it and capturing images as they present themselves. This patience, being watchful and documenting what you see will make future visits to the wetlands more enjoyable and successful."

Is there any planning involved?
"Adequate planning and patience is essential to having a successful outing. Most established wetlands have a website devoted to them. On these sites you can find invaluable information on what animals frequent that wetland, seasons and hours of access. In most cases these websites have detailed maps to help you find your way around."

Taken in a wetland in the USA
Photo by Shawn Soderstrom.
What time of year is best for wetland photography?
"I have the most success in Autumn and Spring. There are also good images to be taken during winter months. During the Summer, at least here in the Pacific Northwest, the vast majority of colour is relegated to greens contrasted with fairly large quantities of dried grass. This is not to say that good images are not available; I simply have had better luck during the other seasons."

What time of day is best for wetland photography?
"In most cases you get the best lighting conditions mid to late morning and again in the mid to late afternoons. The Wetland creatures are the most active during those times as well. It’s worth mentioning that most days this won’t change with the exception of during late fall and early spring but thanks to temperature ranges, one can find the ideal time for getting good creature activity can extend through morning and into afternoon.

During these same “ideal” time periods… Fall comes with an EXPLOSION of color and spring brings not only signs of new plant growth, but the families of the wetland creatures are having an explosion of their own. You should find the making of nests, mating behavior and “birthing” of young ones.

What equipment (other than your camera and lenses) is essential for this type of work?
This is an important consideration and apart from my camera and lenses I take:
  • Protection for my camera gear - I always bring with me “Storm Jackets” for my camera gear.
  • Hat or stocking cap
  • Warm socks and adequate, comfortable shoes
  • Pants that are either water proof or water resistant
  • Chairs - It's important to be comfortable since it is hard to be very quiet if you are not.
  • Shelter from the elements - The ultimate shelter not only protects you from the elements, but shields you from the eyes of the wetland creatures you have come to photograph. I use a light weight “Hunter’s blind”. These blinds have shooting ports that are the ideal size for sticking a lens through and quietly taking an image of one or more of the wetland creatures. Remember that when you choose an area for this or any type of shelter, the goal is that when you leave no one can tell that you were even there.
  • Snacks - Bring a good supply of high energy snacks… Fruit is good as well. What ever you bring remember to take your rubbish with you when you leave.
  • Water or something liquid and warm - I bring a thermos of coffee and bottle(s) of water. Take note that if you drink excessive amounts of liquids, that rarely will you find a restroom nearby if “nature” calls.
Wetlands in the Spring
Photo by Shawn Soderstrom.
What lenses are useful, why and what can you capture with them?
"I use a Sigma 50-500mm for capturing Herons, Geese, Beaver and creatures that are camera shy. I have a 47-150mm telephoto lens, a 14-45mm and a 10-20mm which I use to photograph insects, creatures that are less camera shy, flowers and plants."

Are there any ideal camera settings and do you do any post production work?
"I tend to shoot primarily in “Aperture Preferred” setting which helps me control DOF (Depth of Field). When it comes to post production, I feel most creative issues are and should be taken care of through the lens. Although, I will do some cropping and colour enhancement in order to bring the viewer eye to the subject of the image."

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