Photograph of the Month April 2022 – Winter Ptarmigan

The photograph of the month for April 2022 comes from my recent expedition to Ellesmere Island in Winter (trip report coming next few days – along with a wrap-up podcast) and is of a Rock Ptarmigan in full winter plumage. What makes this photograph so special for me isn’t just that it was -45º Degrees Celsius when I made the photograph and couldn’t feel my fingers as I lay in the snow and ice, but that there is such a wonderful delicacy to the small flowers that balance the image on the right-hand side of the frame. The combination of the bird’s gesture, delicate flora, and soft transition of light from top to bottom all work together in harmony.

It is often difficult to frame wildlife in the field using local flora, when the intent is to try and insinuate how docile or aggressive an animal is renowned for being. I rarely see this approach successfully pulled off in wildlife photography but when it succeeds it can produce truly stunning imagery. When framing this photograph, I made a very deliberate creative decision to place the Ptarmigan quite far to the left of the frame and let it walk into the image. This approach allowed me to choose my final composition (which included the flowers) and simply wait for the Ptarmigan to come into position. In the final image the Ptarmigan is not only balanced by the small flowers, but they impart a delicacy that works in harmony with the bird. Despite the fact that the Rock Ptarmigan is not a very impressive species in comparison to something as dramatic as a Polar Bear, this photograph remains one my personal favorites from the Ellesmere expedition.

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