How I Got That Shot: Snowy Owl & Vole

A tutorial in getting the perfect shot

Each winter, snowy owls migrate from their Arctic breeding grounds to the marshes of New England
Each winter, snowy owls migrate from their Arctic breeding grounds to the marshes of New England –Peter Gray

Text & Photography By Peter Gray

Each winter, snowy owls migrate from their Arctic breeding grounds to the marshes of New England, which offer an important source of food. This creates some excellent opportunities for photographing these beautiful birds of prey. 

This image of a snowy owl grabbing a vole from a coastal marsh in northeast Massachusetts took many hours to capture. It involved a lot of research and firsthand observation of the owls’ habits, particularly how they rest and hunt. It also helped that the owl in this photo was very predictable in its hunting habits. Obviously, I took great pains not to intrude upon the owl’s hunting territory. 

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In preparation for the shot, I donned a pair of high waterproof boots and set up my chair and tripod behind some brush in a tidal marsh before high tide. I knew that as the water rose, it would force the voles out of their hiding spots in the marsh grass. The owl would sit on perches overlooking the marsh, waiting for a vole to surface. 

When my camera was ready, l took some test shots in auto mode then switched to manual and made adjustments to dial in the exposure I was looking for. As the light changed, I took more test shots and continued to adjust the settings. Such preparation is key to increasing the chances of a good capture. After countless hours, a few fleeting seconds may be all you get. 

Sitting in my hiding spot, I waited patiently for the owl to fly my way—and it did! A few digital frames captured the “snatch and grab” from the salty marsh water. 

 

Equipment &  Settings 

Body: Canon EOS 80D 

Lens: Canon 100-400 IS II @ 400mm 

Shutter speed: 2500 

Aperture: F8 

ISO: 1000 

Focus: single-point autofocus 

Tip: Shooting over water can be tricky if auto settings are used, due to reflections from the water. Learning to use manual settings is key in many situations for consistent, high-quality images. 

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For more information on Peter Gray’s work, visit the Peter Gray Outdoors Facebook page. 

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