Winter is magical for photography in a lot of ways, but one of the things I am beginning to appreciate most are critter tracks. Not just because it’s a way to tell what lives nearby, but because I like thinking of them so tangibly; that they walked right where I’m walking. Yeah, it’s a bit fanciful. I don’t care.
Last year I read a book about trials; human and animal made and I learned that animals will often find by instinct and imitation, the most direct, least arduous route across a landscape. That’s probably the primary driver for animals, but I also think it’s habit. There are two paths through my yard that the deer nearly always use. And when walking to the mailbox at the end of the road, I often notice tracks overlapping each other in the same places. Maybe it’s a food source they’re after or just shelter, but I love seeing sign of the activity. So far it seems to be the herbivores that follow the same paths; mostly rabbits and deer. The predators seem to strike out on their own more often. Sometimes I find and follow a game trail with no snow on the ground, but it’s obviously much harder than when there is.
Early morning is a great time to photograph these because of how low the sun is and how that brings out the shadows and texture of the snow. Really makes the tracks distinct.
I also try to frame the trails so they don’t get lost in the undergrowth they way the all eventually do. The woods across the street was logged about 15 years ago, so it works for this kind of thing pretty well.
Changing perspective, too. I sometimes forget because I’m so enchanted by the woods after new snow, but I got around to it.
So that’s my take on game trails and critter tracks and ways to photograph them for maximum impact. They’re a natural subject and one that I love to find. I think there might be a couple game trail cameras in my future. The yard seems to be such a popular spot. There’s always a party I’m not invited to!