Thursday, December 27, 2018


Ruffed Grouse
Well Christmas is in the past and 2018 is almost as well.  How was Santa to you?  Did you get that new lens, camera body, or some other cool gadget you've been dreaming of, I know I did. And what was the first thing I did after taking it out of the box?  Use it?  Nope!  My wife got me one of those new camera triggers and I immediately downloaded the manual!  That's right, the manual.

Javelina or Peccary
I know the temptation is to go right to using it but even if you're very technically inclined, and I spent 30+ years as and engineer, understanding what it can do and how to get it to do what it can do ain't a bad thing.  Turns out this gadget has several modes I was not aware of and it can be triggered by a number of different methods.  Things I'd of had no idea it could do without reading the manual :-)  I still have more to read and a learning curve ahead of me but understanding and comfort will come with time.

So, for this short but probably accurate blog, read your manual, get to know your new photography tool, and practice with it.  Using it to its fullest potential can only lead to better images in the long run.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

It's Winter

Yes I know, it's winter, it's cold, it's snowing, the lights bad, and there's some amazing images to be
Pronghorn in Winter
had for those hardy few willing to put forth the effort to go bet them!  For those living in the northern tier of States, Canada, Alaska or several other parts of the northern hemisphere it's winter and the ground is covered in a blanket of snow, lakes are frozen and grey skies are more common than blue.

With 26 years in Alaska and now14 in northwestern Montana I've seen my share of winter and have even learned a thing or two about surviving and yes even enjoying the season.  For the photographer, both amateur or professional, the winter season poses a whole list of challenges we don't have to deal with during the heat of summer; so with that let's take a look at what's waiting for us and how to deal with it.

First, the temperature, if the snow's sticking around the temps are averaging below 32F and depending on where you are may even fall below 0F.  A dream destination for many is Yellowstone NP in winter where subzero temperatures are the norm and not the exception, want that frosty bison?  Pray for -10F or colder!  So, we've got to stay warm in order to stay out; that includes your head, hands and feet.  I've said it before but it's worth saying again, layers; a good base layer to start followed by a cover layer, next a light outer layer and finally a heavy outer layer.  Your exact layering will depend on your individual comfort level, obviously if the worst you'll be experiencing is low to mid 20's you won't need the same covering as someone who will be spending days in a sub-zero environment. You can always take off a layer if you get too hot but you can't put it back on if you don't have it! 

Lonely Winter Barn
Next your head, a baseball cap will do if it's not too cold but if the temps are dipping down into the teens or colder a trappers cap or knit cap are needed and if it's cold enough a face mask may come in handy.  For your hands I recommend a mittens with a finger-less glove inside.  This will allow you to pull the top of the mitten off your fingers and shoot.  In addition, I often wear a pair of light liner gloves to prevent my bare fingers from touching the cold camera or other metal.  Now how about you feet, shoes, maybe the most important for comfort.  If you're feet are cold you're done for the day.  I prefer Sorrels, a -40F pair are fine when you're moving but I like a -100F pair if I'll be sitting in a blind or other non mobile location.  A handy item to have in your bag are a pair of ice cleats in the event you find yourself on a frozen pond or stream.  You can also carry a few chemical hand warmers just in case.

The Chase
OK, so how about your gear?  Pretty much any camera gear will handle those chilly winter conditions but there are a few things you can do to keep it working; first, once your camera is cold, keep it cold!  Don't take it in and out of a warm car or worse in and out of your jacket.  This will cause condensation to form in the camera and lenses and the free moisture will freeze when exposed to the cold.  The cold will not hurt your camera, the water inside it will!  Once I'm done shooting I put the camera back into a cold camera bag, this allows the air in the bag and the camera to slowly warm together preventing moisture from forming inside your equipment.  If you're changing locations use this method to keep your camera cold inside the warm car.  You can however keep your extra batteries inside your jacket keeping them warm and ready to use.  In extremely cold conditions you need to be careful of hitting your equipment as the materials they are constructed from will become more sensitive to impact and can easily crack if hit by a solid object such as a rock or ice.
A Stream in Winter

Alrighty, we've looked at clothing and gear care, how about you?  Unless you'll be standing next to your car or even staying in it your likely to find yourself standing in or plowing through varying depths of snow.  This can be very tiring especially if the snow is older and has had a chance to settle leading to post holing through it.  Getting yourself into a little better shape is never a bad thing and it comes in handy in the winter when hiking take a little more effort than usual.  If you haven't worked out in a while get some advice from a Dr. or trainer before starting, you don't want to get hurt and miss winter photography all together.  

As with any hiking you'll want to take a snack or two and stay hydrated!  This is especially true in the winter when the air is extremely dry, the extra water intake will help keep your lips
Nature's Snow Plows
from chapping and help to moisturize the air as you breath in. 

Well, you've read through all this waiting to hear something to improve your winter photography, well you have.  Believe me, when you're comfortable regardless of the weather you'll take more time to compose your images and invariably take better picture.  But, here's a tip that many photographer's, especially beginners, are unaware of, with an abundance of light tones, in the form of snow, your camera is more likely to underexpose the image sometimes by quite a bit; this will become evident by looking at your histogram.  If the snow is white when you look at it it should be white in your
Marking his Territory
picture.  So, get acquainted with your exposure compensation.  This is a function in the camera that allows you to add or subtract light from your image when the meter has set an incorrect exposure level.   Each camera model does this a little differently so read your manual to see how yours works.  In the case of under-exposing light tones you'll add light to the image to create a correct exposure.  On sunny days you'll see less light will be added than on an overcast day.  This is  because on sunny days here is more light available for your camera to acquire a meter reading from and therefore has a better chance of getting it right.

I hope you've taken something away from this and even learned a thing or two.  Until next time "Good Shooting"!  If you'd like to learn more drop us a note, I'd be glad to answer your questions.
Mountain Monarchs
Lone Bull

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Northwest Montana Fall Photograpy Workshop Review

The Rocky Mountain Front
Fall Colors in the mountains


A short review of my recent Northwest Montana Fall Photography Workshop.

Well fall is waning here in Northwest Montana and snow has covered the high country as well as some of the valleys.  The cold bite of an early winter is in the air and around the house firewood is being split and stacked.
Fall on the Flathead River

This year’s Northwest Montana Fall Photography Workshop was blessed with good weather and some of the best colors in years.  The yellows of the cottonwood and reds of the dogwoods were amazingly vivid giving us plenty of subjects to work with.  Participants explored a variety of locations including streams, rivers and lakes, pastures and farmland, and aspen, birch and poplar forests ablaze with golden color and of course all with the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains; they were even treated to a grizzly fattening up for the winter!  For those that came
Bull Elk Bugles
a day early a trip to the National Bison Range provided plenty of wildlife; elk, mule and whitetail deer, bison, and pronghorn were on display at their best.

Fall colors along Logan Creek
Besides pointing our cameras at the beauty of fall in northwest Montana, techniques for landscape, macro, and even a bit of wildlife photography were covered.  Techniques such as; use of fill-flash, under exposing and using flash to recover the foreground, ultra-long exposures, and pleasing blurs and zooms.  In addition, understanding composition and effective use of available light were explored in the field in real time.  A great time was had by all and everyone left more knowledgeable and lots of new tools to practice upon returning home.

If you’d like to know more about my 2019 Northwest Montana Fall Photography Workshop or any of my Photo Safaris, workshops, local tours and private instruction, please contact me at and request our 2019 safari and workshop schedule.  Our 2019 fall workshop is limited to 10 persons.

Aspen Trees

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Practicing for Better Results

Workshop practices panning on a tripod

We practice to become better musicians, we practice to become better athletes, we practice to obtain a driver’s license and yet for the majority of photography enthusiasts the only time we pick up our cameras is when we’re heading to the field in the hopes of capturing that once in a lifetime photograph.  Yes, I know, you’ve taken a photography class, attended a workshop, or sat through a seminar but that’s not practicing; your being introduced to new techniques that if used may help elevate your photographs to a new level but being shown how to do something does not mean your proficient at it.  

Tripod use
Here’s a good example; for years we’ve all heard that using a tripod will improve the sharpness of our images by increasing our stability, and you may even have gone out and purchased a tripod.  Now, be honest, how many of you use it?  I’ve been teaching photography classes and leading workshops for over 25 years and if they own one many of my students don’t use it.  Why?  The answer is simple, they don’t know how, it’s too awkward or uncomfortable or it’s just too slow and they feel they’re missing too many shots.  Sound familiar?  While all may be valid points they quickly disappear with a little practice and familiarity with the device breeds comfort with its use. 

Several years ago I purchased a tripod for my wife for Christmas in anticipation of an upcoming trip to Costa Rica.  Prior to the trip I had her sit in our living room and get used to adjusting the legs, mounting the camera, working the head and carrying it around. After a couple days in Costa Rica she came to me and said she was amazed at the difference in the quality of her images…nuff said!  

Whether it’s the functions of the camera like tracking modes, exposure modes, or focus points, accessories like a flash, or remote trigger or a new technique such as fill flash becoming familiar with the how, when, and where to use them can spell the difference between a successful outcome and just another image to erase before someone sees it.

Practicing tracking
The first thing to become familiar with is the user’s manual; I’m always amazed at the number of students I have that have never even cracked the cover of their camera’s user’s manual!  If you don’t know the camera can do it, how do you expect to use it?  Next, let’s take a look at the functions the camera does that can be useful to the type of photography you enjoy and learn these first.  For instance, about 80% of my work deals with wildlife photography so functions such as focus points; single point, point groups and how to move them, and tracking modes are important to me and I’ve learned their locations and how to quickly change them.  I’ve also learned how to quickly set up and be ready to shoot when in the field, setting up the tripod, attaching the camera and adjusting my settings.  Practicing each of these has made it second nature when in the field, and as my good friend Roy Toft likes to say, “Reduces my dick-around time”!

Practicing subject coming at you
It’s equally important to practice shooting; the time to practice tracking a running subject is not when you have a bull elk chasing an opponent during the rut.  Pets are great subjects to practice with, I love photographing my Labs and they love getting out and showing off their tracking and retrieving skills.  Their speed, rapid changes in direction and sudden stops are all common with wild subjects. Practicing your subject tracking and placement are important techniques to become good at.   This is also a great time to practice with those camera functions and settings I mentioned earlier.

No matter how or when you do it, work practicing into your schedule.  There’s no travel required, can be done at home, and is one of the few things in photography that’s free!  In a short time you’ll see improvements in your images, a higher success rate when dealing with challenging subjects and lighting conditions and you’ll gain a new sense of joy and excitement in and with your photography.

For more information on any of my photography classes, workshops, or safaris or you’ve just got a question you’ve been pondering; drop me at email at

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Seasons in the Wild

Mule Deer rut
As the season changes from summer to fall many will be heading to the field to partake in a bit of wildlife photography.  Fall is my favorite time of the year and being in the field is a spiritual experience for me.  Cold crisp mornings, the changing of the colors and the anticipation of spectacular wildlife images to come!  Whether you’re an amateur or seasoned professional we all feel the excitement of photographing wildlife even if from our car windows.  But for most of us we know very little about their behaviors, habitats, migration patterns or even the subjects themselves.  How is it that some photographers come back with inspiring, jaw-dropping images, is it luck or do they know something they’re not telling the rest if us?
Well, truth be told, it’s a bit of both; yes we can all use a healthy dose of luck whether it be dramatic light, a spectacular specimen or an unbelievable performance by our quarry luck is not a bad thing to have on our side.  But there’s a bit more to the story; just like the changing of the seasons, wildlife have seasons of their own.  These seasons drive their behavior, their movements, and even the timing of the birth of their young.
Elk combat
Let’s take a look at some of these seasons and how they can play a role in improving our photographic successes.  First we’ll look at a season you might be a bit familiar with, for ungulates or hooved animals the RUT, or the breeding season.  Whether you’re a bison, elk, pronghorn, deer, or antelope you go through the rut.  Whether you’re in the northern or southern hemispheres the rut takes place in the fall of the year but, its genesis begins much earlier with the increasing of testosterone levels in the males.  Throughout the spring and summer months these levels slowly increase until as the daylight hours shorten in the fall the rut is triggered.  Depending on how long the gestation period is for the females the rut may begin early in the fall, mid-September for elk, or very late, late November or even December, as with Bighorn Sheep in North America.  For instance, elk and moose have longer gestations than deer so they rut in mid to late September and into early October, deer on the other hand don’t begin their rut until mid to late October and stay in rut through late November.  This is when you’re going to see those unforgettable battles between the bulls or bucks to win the right to breed.  Herding, sparing, flehmen, and mating are other behaviors to look for during the rut.  The animals are also much more active during the rut as the urge to breed is all consuming.

Breaching Humpback Whale
How about MIGRATIONS?  Migrations are normally triggered by the search for food or to escape the colder temperatures brought on by winter.  For instance caribou in the far north migrate both in the early summer and fall; in the fall they’re moving from the more open tundra in the taiga forests where winter temperatures are warmer and the biting cold of the arctic winds is diminished.

However, in the spring they’re on the move again, back to the tundra where an explosion of growth brought on by the long daylight hours offers abundant food.  But, the male and female caribou only migrate together in the fall when the rut takes place during the seasonal migration. 

Each spring Humpback whales undertake one of the longest migrations of any mammal, from their wintering grounds near the Hawaiian Islands to the cold nutrient rich waters of Alaska.  Want to photograph breaching, bubble netting, and the classic tail shot?  Head to Alaska in June.

Alaskan Brown Bear chasing salmon
Generally mammals give birth in the spring and early summer, their BIRTHING season.  How about predator species?  Well, many predators key on migrations in order to feed their young or to put on weight lost during the winter.  Each year millions of salmon return to the rivers and stream of the Pacific Northwest.  Here, the gigantic brown bears gather to take advantage of this seasonal feast.  These coastal brown bears, actually grizzlies, grow much, much larger than their interior cousins on a fat, calorie rich diet of salmon.  The young of many predator species are born in March and April, that way when they are weaned prey species such as deer, moose, and elk have given birth in late May and June supplying plenty of food for the parents to feed the youngsters.  Looking to get some stalking images? 

Turkey Strut
These seasons hold true whether you’re north or south of the equator, remember the seasons are off by 6 months depending on which side of the equator you’re on; for instance spring in North America begins in March while it’s the beginning of fall in Australia.   One exception to be aware of is in tropical regions near the equator daylight hours vary very little and many mammals can and do breed throughout the year so it’s possible to see young in December and January.  Since food is readily available throughout the year, temperatures don’t vary, and daylight hours are constant, traditional rutting seasons are less likely.

Dall Seep pursuit
Understanding when these key seasons take place will dramatically increase your success rate at capturing stunning wildlife images your friends will be amazed with.  Of course you still have to get out in the field, what’s the old saying, “f8 and be there”.  A healthy dose of effort and ambition will go a long way also, if you’re willing to get out of the car are you willing to walk a mile?  If you go once are you willing to go day after day for a week?  Do your homework before heading to the field and you’ll be seeing results before you know it!

Hope this has helped even if just a little, if you’d like to learn more email; and request information on our photography workshops and safaris; we offer both private and group, field and classroom instruction.  

Nick Fucci Outdoor & Nature Photography, your “Photo Coach”