Thursday, September 16, 2021

How to Photograph Cute Baby Animals

Opening emails is not usually exciting. But as each message loaded and revealed photos of baby animals—each one more adorable than the last—my heart soared. I could already tell that the Museum’s Northwoods Animal Babies Photo Contest had been a success.

I compiled the photos in a single folder and sent it off to James Netz, a professional photographer with a gallery in Hayward, who has been sponsoring photo contests at the Museum off and on for many years. James also gets the unenviable job of picking just three winners from around a hundred wonderful entries.

When I sent an email to the participants, Bonnie Chase wrote back with a quick story about her photo of a hidden fawn looking up out of the garden with big, dark eyes. Her enthusiasm was contagious:

“It was a once in a lifetime shot of the little sweetie! On an early summer morning, my eye caught sight of a doe and her wobbly legged fawn walking across our hillside. When Mama stopped at the edge of the woods, the fawn tucked itself into some shrubs. Mama left after a few minutes, but I waited an hour before checking on the fawn. The little sweetie had found a cool spot on a hot day with a great view of the lake, staying there all day, until Mama came back hours later. She’s enjoyed eating my petunias ever since.”

Photo by Bonnie Chase


After I finished laughing about Bonnie’s petunias, I asked the other participants for their stories, too.

Some people mentioned using their knowledge of wildlife—gained from years of observation—to be there at the right moment. William Johnson wrote, “Knowing that deer with fawns will leave them and move away, I quietly watched the area for a few minutes, and this little guy stood up to stretch.”

Photo by William Johnson

Many photographers emphasized the importance of spending time in nature.

“A majority of my wildlife photography is simply based on good luck, good informants, and always having the camera with me,” wrote Monica Edeker. Susan Overson agreed. In early spring, she kayaks near the Namekagon Dam every day to “watch for nests, adults, and their young, and quietly observe and photograph wildlife at various stages of development.”

Photo by Susan Overson

Kris Dew was simply driving her pontoon across the lake to put it into winter storage, when, as she “drifted with one eye on the launch, this young loon kept popping up from under my boat. Was he fishing or taunting me? We enjoyed this game for 45 minutes. Amazing!”

Photo by Kris Dew

Monica emphasized her point with a story about traipsing into a cornfield in her good clothes on the way home from work to get photos of fox kits playing. “A couple kits were braver than the others and posed while I snapped away with the camera,” she recalled.

Photo by Monica Edeker

In another encounter with foxes, Bill Thornley embodied the respectful attitude that wildlife photographers must have toward their subjects. “Their mother barked nervously in the distance, so I snapped a few photos and quickly moved along. I didn’t want to disturb her anymore.” Photographing baby animals without impacting their behavior is as challenging as it is important!

Photo by Bill Thornley

As a professional photographer, James Netz will go to some extra lengths to get great photos. “I love to shoot images of owls,” he told me. And one encounter with a great horned owlet “was particularly special because while I was shooting images of it, with its parent and sibling, it decided it was time to fledge from the branch it shared with the rest of its family.” This created a few minutes of chaos—both for the owls, and for James’s camera angles. In the end, the determined expression that James captured on the owlet’s face was worth it. And, he noted with relief, the owlet was able to get back in the tree safely and reunite with its family “after it had some rebellious moments of freedom.”

Photo by James Netz

Owls also play a central role in my favorite story, which comes from Leslie Sullivan. Her family was lucky enough to have great horned owls nest in the back yard when they lived in Madison, Wisconsin.

“We watched them be conceived, we found egg shells when they hatched, we dissected owl pellets, we watched them learn to fly, we saw the parents feed them, and we had a very close relationship with them from February to the end of June. I think this experience formed my young children to be nature lovers for life.”

Photo by Leslie Sullivan

Thanks to these talented photographers, we can all enjoy adorable photos that reinforce our love of nature. You can vote for your favorites in our People’s Choice Award contest, hosted on the Cable Natural History Museum’s Facebook page now through the end of September. Winners will be announced on October 1st!

(A new album of photos will be posted every Wednesday at noon and Sunday at 6:00 a.m., so keep coming back to vote for your favorites! Winners of the 6 albums will go head-to-head in the Championship Round, September 29-30. Likes = 1 point and Comments = 2 points)

And, here's one more bonus story from my editor and mentor, who is also my dad! He was the outdoor writer for the Des Moines Register for 25 years, and took photos to go with his stories. 

Photo by Larry Stone

"Instinctively triggering the shutter in reaction to a ghostly sound and shape in the darkness, it was as much luck as anything that I captured this great horned owl bringing a sora to feed its eager, half-grown babies.

Luck helps. But it took a bit of preparation as well. We were secluded in a blind atop 30 feet of scaffold. The old Nikon F (yes, this was the film days!) was synched with a borrowed, high-output, battery-operated flash. And we’d come prepared with sleeping bag, warm clothes, and food for the expected long night of hoping for “action.”

When chill and fatigue drove us back to the newspaper office, we still had to wait a day for the Ektachrome to be processed. “Eureka!” was my first reaction to the stunning image that later made the cover of the Des Moines Register’s Picture Magazine. 

Luck was with us again days later when we returned to the blind to try for more photos. With a thunderstorm approaching, we delayed our climb up the scaffold. But that climb never happened. The gusty winds dumped our blind off the tower. Fortunately, we were not in it!"
--Larry Stone

Emily’s award-winning second book, Natural Connections: Dreaming of an Elfin Skimmer, is now available to purchase at and at your local independent bookstore, too.

For more than 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. The Museum is now open with our exciting Mysteries of the Night exhibit. Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and to see what we are up to.

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