If you have spent any time around Lakes in the Northern part of the United States and Canada, you are familiar with the sounds of the common loon. Their various calls and vocalizations are a bit strange and in fact sound almost maniacal, which helps explain why they are called "Loons". However, soon you become comforted by their haunting calls as they bring back fond memories of warm summer days spent at the lake.
I have been asked many times - How do you possibly photograph these beautiful birds? A few things are helpful, a big zoom lens, patience, calm and great light. I recommend spending time on the water viewing the behaviors of the loons. Learn their calls which are used to communicate, warn of danger, or remind passing loons that this territory is taken. This will help you learn when you are too close or are frightening the birds. It seems that loons are generally curious about humans and often will approach close to your boat. This is especially true if you are quiet and in a small fishing boat or canoe. If you find you need to get closer to the loons I would recommend using an electric trolling motor. This will allow you to move closer without scaring the loons or making them feel threatened. Again, pay attention to their behavior as they will let you know when you are too close for their comfort.
For a successful shoot there are a few key ingredients: locating your subject, good light and a great location. Common Loons provide some unique challenges because they are difficult to get a proper exposure without blowing out the highlights. Keep an eye on your histogram to make sure that you are not overexposing your images. This is why lighting is key. Take advantage of "The Golden Hours" which generally is the 30 minutes before and after sunrise as well as the hour before sunset. It is during this time that you will find the light to be very warm and soft that makes any subject look better. In addition, calm waters create for a nice reflection so pay attention to the background and if possible navigate your boat to where the sun is at your back and the loon is in front of your boat. This will help to illuminate the Loon as well as show-off their unique red eyes. Try to get low to the water to capture the images closer to their perspective and click away to your hearts delight. Lastly, enjoy the memories you captured.
Canon EOS 20D
Canon 100-400mm Image Stabilized Zoom Lens (hand-held)
To see my extensive loon gallery click here