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From Backyards to Backwoods: Swans are perfect for the photo challenge

The winter photo challenge is underway and photos are already coming in. So we can post photos by a cross-section of readers, we're going to ask that you limit your submissions so everyone receives equal opportunity.

Therefore, please send only your best choice for each of the categories - backyard birds and other wildlife, trees and other plants, landscapes or scenery, and connecting people to nature (especially kids). Include your name and a little information about the photo.

Entries have already been posted to the Park Rapids Enterprise Web site. Just check the Outdoors link, or the Photo Galleries section, and look for the "Bird's Eye View: Not Just for the Birds" gallery.

Throughout the coming weeks I'll throw out a suggestion or two for possible photo subjects. This week's suggestion is swans. There are over two-dozen trumpeter swans wintering on the Fish Hook River at Deane Park. They are being fed regularly and appear to have no desire to migrate. That immediately brings up the question of whether it is right to feed them and possibly keep them from their natural flight south. Each of you has your own opinion, but, setting that aside, the swans on the river lend themselves to a nice photo opportunity.

You can use the wide angle setting on your camera to zoom out and shoot the river scene with the swans swimming and the snow hanging on the trees or you can zoom in for close-ups of the swans themselves.

You are shooting white on white (white birds with a white background) so you may have to try a few settings on your camera to keep the scene from being washed out. Sunny days are better for contrast - white birds against a blue sky vs. white birds against a gray sky, but sunny days also mean shadows, where cloudy days mean even lighting. Remember that mid-day lighting is not as soft and pleasing as early and late lighting. The few hours after sunrise and the few hours before sunset are the 'golden hours' for photographers because of the sun's lower angle in the sky.

Observe the habits of your subject and it will help you get that special shot. It may be capturing the water dripping off their bills just as they lift their heads from feeding underwater, or the stretching and flapping of wings, or the interaction with other swans.

It's a nice local setting for taking kids along and letting them shoot photos of their own. Just remember that you're dealing with wild birds, open water, and thin ice so always think 'safety.'

I will be conducting a digital photography workshop at the public library on Feb. 4 and Feb. 11 from 6-8 p.m. It is set up to help you learn a little more about your camera and to offer tips for improving your photos.

It will also include computer time to download, edit, and organize photos into a Power Point presentation. You can sign up by going into the library or by calling them.

I'll leave you with one final question - If a male mallard is called a drake and a male goose is a gander, what's a male swan called?