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The Whiskered river otter

Yesterday my 5 year quest to successfully photograph the elusive, wet, whiskered, wild and wonderful river otter in the White Mountains finally came to fruition. You don’t see too many of these amazing creatures out here, and when one does pop out of the water in a river or wetland, getting a picture is devilish tricky.

Conservation makes a difference for Otters

Thanks to conservation and restoration efforts throughout the country, the North American River Otter has made a comeback and their numbers are growing here in the northeast!

Getting the shot

From my secret spot here on the northern edge of the White Mountains, I laid in wait some distance from a hole in the ice where I had discovered little “belly slides” where this feller (and possibly a mate!) had created their own frozen bobsled runs right down to the water.

Sure enough, right about the time my butt had securely frozen to the ice on the riverbank, the otter finished up its underwater fishing for the morning and popped out onto the snow. I lay hidden in the brush as my camera immortalized the moment, with the otter striking a majestic pose in the sun (maybe a little TOO majestic, for an otter).

I really love how the tangle of birch branches droop down to the river’s edge in this scene. As I size up an unfolding situation and the impending moment I expect to photograph an animal, I try to use my artist’s eye to think about the “scene” and how I might photograph it in a compelling way. Earlier, I had taken a few snapshots of the otter out on the ice with a dead fish, but I really thought something more interesting and intimate might be possible. That’s what led me to search out its “exit hole” in the ice and position myself in a way that the otter would be framed in the morning light against the birches when it arrived on land.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but yesterday it did!

Understanding the animal you’re Photographing is key

If you practice thinking this way, you can eventually start to take your animal snapshots to the level of artful photographs that are composed and purposeful, and that convey a little bit of how YOU as the photographer understand the animal you’re photographing.

Fine art photography isn’t about using editing software to apply soft filters and Disney colors to your pictures to make them look like “art” or paintings; it’s about understanding the landscape or the animal in such a way that you can anticipate its wiles, pre-visualize and compose a scene in your mind, and press the shutter only in those moments when the light speaks to your soul.

The early morning light really adds a nice touch to this image. And despite my claim about my frozen rear, it actually turned into a warm spring day. I think the otter and I really enjoyed that morning equally!

I hope you enjoy the picture.

Wait, there’s More!

Did you enjoy this wildlife post? Read Shaun’s meditations on driving and adventure here. Want to learn more about this cool animal? Learn fun facts about river otters at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center.



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