Musk Ox in the snow

How I Shoot | Photographing Wildlife in the Snow

Floris Smeets

Covered in a blanket of snow, the landscape has a calming feeling. All of the distracting rocks, twigs, autumn leaves all disappear in a blanket of white. It gives me a completely blank canvas to work with. The perfect scene for me to focus attention on my subjects and photograph them in a minimalistic way.

two musk ox fighting in the snow © Floris Smeets | Sony α9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 1.4x teleconverter | 1/250s @ f/4.0, ISO 1000

Master your Kit
In order to do this I use my Sony Alpha 1 and Sony Alpha 9. Both cameras have superb AF systems and fast shooting rates that mean I will never miss a shot. I pair the cameras with the Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS, FE 200-600mm f/5.3-6.3 G OSS and FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lenses. Those three lenses come with me anytime that I am shooting wildlife.

Shooting in such a snowy environment, one feature that really helps me to create these images is being able to see my exposure before I fire the shutter. With the electronic viewfinder I can check the exposure and make sure that I have created as close to a pure white background as I can. I can see when the light is changing and use the histogram to adjust the shutter speed or iso sensitivity, all whilst still having my eye up to the camera, ready to take a shot.

Mountain hare hidden in the snow © Floris Smeets | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1000s @ f/5.6, ISO 1000

Be Prepared
Photographing wildlife is always about being able to spend as much time as possible with your subject and in the winter this becomes more challenging. Without the right gear I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time out taking photographs. I usually go out for a few days at a time, so the most important piece of equipment is my expedition tent that can stand up in hurricane force winds. The weather can change so fast you need to have a place you can escape to.

group of reindeer in the snow © Floris Smeets | Sony α7R III + FE 100-400m f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS | 1/320s @ f/14, ISO 800

Compose
The landscape isn’t always perfect white and covered in snow; it's all about positioning myself at the right spot, at the right angle, at the right distance and with the right focal length lens. This will often mean getting down low with snow in front of me to hide any disturbing elements such as rocks sticking out of the ground. I will often shoot with the lens aperture wide open to help blur the foreground as much as possible, which again can help to hide small distracting elements and create a clean background. Once all of that is done, it all comes down to the position and posture of the animal.

three roe deer in the snow © Floris Smeets | Sony α1 + FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS | 1/2500s @ f/4.0, ISO 3200
I can see when the light is changing and use the histogram to adjust the shutter speed or iso sensitivity, all whilst still having my eye up to the camera, ready to take a shot.

To get the shot I set my Alpha 1 and Alpha 9 to back button focus. This allows me to use Focus Tracking knowing the moment I press the shutter I will have a perfectly focused shot. If I am fortunate to be able to recompose an image then I can simply lock on to the subject and change the animals position in the frame. However, with the frame set up to be this blank canvas of snow I often cannot move the camera, or I may introduce a distracting element into the frame. So instead I lock on to the animal and then wait patiently until they have moved into a good position in the frame. The focus systems of the Alpha 1 and Alpha 9 allow me to concentrate on the subject and composition, knowing that the subject will be perfectly sharp.

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Floris Smeets

Floris Smeets | Norway

"The constant change in nature makes nature photography so attractive. You can visit the same location every day and still come back with a different image every single time"

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