by Heather Simonds
Foxes make great subjects for photographers because, unlike most wildlife, they are habituated to humans, often comfortable enough to cross paths rather than go out of their way to avoid encounters. They don’t even mind our domestic animals - sharing the den area with a horse, playing with a dog, even creeping into the henhouse at nightfall are common occurrences. A fox can be as curious as the photographer and might even give a hesitant glance for a few seconds before running off, possibly providing the patient with that winning image.
In the early spring mature foxes will be out and about more than any other time of year. It is time to start toting the camera in “ready to go mode” for that unexpected shot around the corner. This preparation may include checking for enough CF cards (there is nothing more disappointing than running out of “film”); confirm ISO (what kind of light- overcast, bright, shade); confirm shooting mode - aperture (what depth of field is possible or desirable) or shutter speed mode (moving animal) or manual; exposure compensation to finesse the shot, and think about steadying the shots (tripod, monopod, beanbag for handholds). Finally, check that nothing else has been accidentally switched from what you think it is, and, of course, have extra charged batteries. Take a test shot if time permits or at least think about what settings the camera may have been left on. Better to be safe than sorry. Finally don’t leave without binoculars to fill in the possible downtime searching the surrounds for something else of interest if you discover a fox catching a snooze outside a den. Of course when you return from fox hunting and start downloading your fantastic images remember to reset camera, check lens for contaminants and recharge batteries so that you are ready for the next outing.
Upon coming across an animal assess whether it is passive or more active- if the animal is sitting still Aperture mode might be desirable while movement shots might be best captured in Shutter mode. Experiment with panning (moving the camera with the subject at 1/60-1/30 sec) to blur the background and capture the feeling of movement. If time permits take in the background and decide what kind of light you are dealing with, i.e., forest background - dark, meadow - light, pond glare - light and make decisions on whether the settings you started out with should be adjusted. Some of this planning can take place if a den site is discovered that can be returned to for a second look.
The young are born in March and later on in April there is increasing activity outside the “foxhole” as they emerge and busy parents are scrambling for food for the group. Most young foxes are still dependant on parents for food well into the summer although they gravitate from the den as they gain independence. The most active hunting takes place in the early morning and evening although it is an ongoing priority for the adults. Try to be “out in the field” before 8 AM for the best chance of locating adults on the food circuit. Usually a wide aperture and higher ISO are necessary for early morning and evening shots when light is low and has a “warm, sweet quality”. Foxes eat a wide variety from insects and berries to small rodents, muskrats and even ducks (I have seen a mallard in a foxes mouth!) so they can be found in a wide variety of settings.
After the young emerge from the den they will spend their early days very close to the entrance and often there is a parent nearby who may not be obvious to an onlooker. Young foxes that haven’t left the den will often keep looking off in the same direction and that is a clue as to the direction of a watchful parent. A confident parent may be content to have its portrait taken as it lazes in the sun, always keeping an eye out for potential danger. Unlike the parent’s hunting activity, kits don’t usually emerge from the hole until later in the morning after which time you may be treated to a wide range of activities. Possible den shots of the kit range from sedate dozing to leaping on a wasp to sitting, scratching, even playing with siblings. They can flip between these moods in a flash so the prepared photographer is always asking what has changed in the scene and what camera adjustments should be made. Has the sun risen higher, have shadows crept in, is the scene full of contrast with a mix of shade and sun, has the fox gone from chasing it’s sibling to a watching and listening mode, out of focus or detailed background? When shooting den shots there can be opportunities from time to time to check settings when the young decide to catch a snooze. As the young mature the parent attempts to wean them from the site and soon the most daring will venture away from the den. The den will continue to be active until the last gains enough confidence to leave and even then they may linger around the site but not as predictably as when they first ventured out. With a little patience photographers can be rewarded with images of these charming, smart and inquisitive animals.
Heather lives on an acreage just outside of Calgary. She is rarely without photo equipment and binoculars and has found you don't have to go far to find an interesting subject in nature. "If you miss the shot, you can still observe and admire and learn. There is a lot happening in your backyard and neighbourhood, just waiting for you to open your eyes and become more mindful of your surroundings."
Recommended web site: talkaboutwildlife.ca
View Heather Simonds Article in Outdoor Photography January 2011 - Sneak Peek