As parks open back up and the weather gets better, just like the wildlife of Canada, we are emerging out of hibernation. To get the excitement flowing, I had the amazing opportunity to have a phone interview with Nikon photographer Frank Scott! Frank has seen tons of wildlife from all kinds of interesting places, but to bring things back home I interviewed him all about Wildlife Photography in Canada.
To start off, I asked Frank what got you interested in Wildlife Photography?
“Quite a number of years ago I bought an SLR from a department catalogue. I already had a little point and shoot, but I didn’t like it much. A friend of mine who was in photography took me out to try it. One of the first photographs I took was of a chickadee. My friend then helped me develop the black and white print, and the whole process was a lot of fun. I really enjoy capturing a moment in time. A moment of that bird or animal’s life. I’ve also always liked creating things, so it all just kind of fell into place. I still have that photo today.”
What are some of your favourite places, and animals, to photograph in Canada?
“Starting off, close to home, would be the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. This is a fabulous place, full of a number of birds, especially waterfowl. I got my first picture of a wood duck there. I was having a tough time finding one, then I went to the Bird Sanctuary and there were lots of them. It’s an excellent place and right in the city so it’s easy for anyone to go there and have a great time.”
“There is also Frank Lake, south of Calgary, which is run by Ducks Unlimited. It’s mainly waterfowl, so you’ll find coots, pelicans, geese, and more. You can spend as much time as you’d like there because there are lots to photograph.”
“Moving on, there is Kananaskis, which is quite close and accessible to people in the Calgary area. I would recommend this to customers when I worked at Vistek. I’d get customers coming in, often tourists, who would be in need of extra batteries, cards, tripods, and I would tell them about all the animals – everything from wolves, bears, deer, and moose. I’d recommend them to go up there and to the Bow Valley Parkway since there is so much wildlife to see.”
“In Alberta, down Highway 40, there’s Rock Glacier where you can find pikas. They’re hard to come by and spot. For me, it became a personal challenge to find more. The Icefields Parkway is another amazing place where you can find mountain goats. Sometimes you can spot them right from your car. These places are great scenics too.”
“Outside of Alberta, some of my favourite places in Canada would be Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick and Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in British Columbia. Grand Manan is in the Bay of Fundy and when you go by boat, you can see puffins and north Atlantic right whales. Tweedsmuir Park has lots of bears, mainly grizzlies and black bears. Most of my bear pictures are from Tweedsmuir Park.”
What camera gear, and more specifically, Nikon gear, do you normally pack for a trip?
“I am more of a minimalist. If I don’t have to carry it, I won’t bring it. I will bring my tripod, gimbal head – either Wimberly or Jobu – then my camera, lenses, 1.4 extender and sometimes a backup body. I have a Nikon D750 that is my main body, and a D300 as my backup. For lenses, I usually bring my Nikon 200-500 and my Nikon 70-200 f2.8. The 200-500 is amazing. You can’t beat that lens in terms of quality, it is that good.”
Do you have any non-camera gear you tend to bring on trips?
“One of the most important and useful items I have purchased is a Pacsafe. It’s a bag with an aviation wire cinch top, so you can store your extra gear, attach it to the steering wheel and not have to worry. I’ve seen and heard of many break-ins, but the Pacsafe fits lots and lots of stuff in it while giving you peace of mind, it’s quite super.”
“Another thing I bring is a full list of my equipment with serial numbers. In the event that I dropped a lens into the river, or someone stole something and I went to the police, I would have a description and all the other necessary information.”
“For any trips where I am outside for extended periods of time, especially if the weather is unpredictable, I have this special umbrella set-up. I can’t take all the credit for this, I saw another photographer doing it, but you get a huge golf umbrella, a super clamp, a mini clamp and a lighting stud, and you use these to attach the umbrella around your tripod so the umbrella covers your camera, lens, and most, if not all, of you. I’ve spent hours under my umbrella, either along the river waiting for bears, on the beach or in the tropics. It protects you rain or shine.”
My next question for Frank was a tad vague. In a broad sense, how do you get the perfect shot?
“To be honest, I don’t think I’ve got that perfect shot yet. It’s still a work in progress. I would tell anybody to look at lots of pictures, really look at them. Notice the light direction, the position of the animal, its position to you as the viewer or photographer. Ask yourself if you like it, or don’t like it. What about it do you like and dislike. Ask yourself all these questions then go out and copy it.”
Do you have any animal specific tips?
“I am a firm believer that the eyes of the animal should be in sharp focus. I don’t think the image is worth it otherwise. For animals that graze, such as deer or moose, try not to take an image of their head down. You want their head up looking. You don’t want your subject looking out of the frame either. Ideally across the frame to create depth within the image. A nice clean background, nothing too cluttered that takes away from the subject. It’s always good to get down to eye level with your subject. It helps you get that tack sharp image, plus you don’t want to be looking down on your subject because it can create too much foreground or background, depending on your placement. Be aware of the subject you are photographing. My passion is bears and I would not want to pop a flash in the face of a bear! A general animal tip, be patient. Animals operate on their own time, not yours.”
Any overall tips?
“Take the time to think about your composition. Composition is very important to me, so I try to be very aware when I am taking my photos. I use the rule of thirds whenever possible, try to create lots of depth within each image, and focus on getting the image I want.”
“Another tip would be to plan ahead. I had a couple who I was taking on a 4-day guided trip and it wasn’t until we reached our location that they realized they forgot to bring their charger and extra batteries. You want to make sure you have your batteries, cards, chargers, or else it could ruin your trip. You also want to plan for the location you’re going to. If you’re going out to photograph bears during the salmon run, you want to make sure you’re there at the best time.”
Focusing our interview back onto Frank, I asked him do you have a favourite wildlife image that you have taken?
“I quite like a lot of the photos I take, but if I had to choose one, it would be the one of the baby howler monkey I took in Costa Rica.”
Why is it your favourite?
“I was living in Costa Rica and had just finished giving a talk to a ladies group. I was driving back home when a group of howler monkeys were running across the road. I jumped out to grab my camera because this was my first opportunity ever to photograph howler monkeys at eye level. Normally they are so high up that you need an external flash and extender or else you’ll end up with a backlit image, and it’s not often you see them on the road, because it’s safer for them to be up high. Since the mother had left the baby to make sure it was safe for them to cross, I was able to get this perfect image. I was in the right place at the right time, it was really special.”
I already knew Frank had spent time living outside of Canada, so I had to ask where else have you photographed wildlife?
“Costa Rica, where I used to live and do tours. It’s amazing for photography because there are 4 species of monkeys, lots of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, crocodiles, caiman, and hundreds of colourful birds, you’re not going to miss out on anything. It’s also terrific for birders because Costa Rica is a very small country that is the linking point between North and South America. Because it’s this linking point, you get 850 birds migrating throughout the year.”
“Another place, which was on my bucket list, was Lake Clark National Park in Alaska. It’s a unique location because bears accept you being there. When I got there, I was sitting outside reading and a bear was right there walking through. It walked within 10 feet, didn’t mind I was there. I couldn’t get myself together quickly enough to take a picture because I was so shocked this bear was right in front of me.”
“When we went for our guided tours, our guides would take note of a bear and it’s direction, then position us about half a mile down from the bear and let the bear walk towards us. This gives you the best photo opportunity, and since the bear can see and smell you early on, it’s comfortable to walk right past you! There aren’t a lot of people up there and there’s no hunting because it’s in a national park, so the bears are accepting of the people.”
Before our interview, Frank had emailed and graciously asked if I could include a quote if it fit into the interview. I said of course, but curiously asked, why is this quote important to you?
“The significance is, we don’t have enough respect today, enough respect for wildlife. Our government isn’t much better and we aren’t doing enough. We have to try to live together. They [wildlife] were here first. They’re opportunists and we have to show respect for nature, because, in the end, we will be the loser. So many animals are dying and going extinct… The ice is melting, where are the polar bears going to go and how are they going to live.”
I took a pause, as I let it sink it. I agree with Frank, as simple as that. To hear his passion and love for animals, for bears, I respect his strength and advocacy for these animals that I wanted to finish on Frank’s chosen quote.
Track of The Grizzly, 1979, by Frank Craighead
“Alive, the grizzly is a symbol of freedom and understanding – a sign that man can learn to conserve what is left of the earth. Extinct, it will be another fading testimony to things man should have learned about but was too preoccupied with himself to notice. In its beleaguered condition, it is above all a symbol of what man is doing to the entire planet. If we can learn from these experiences, and learn rationally, both man and grizzly may have a chance to survive.”
Thank you, Frank, for this amazing interview! I look forward to hearing more of your incredible wildlife photography stories!
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