Canon Elan IIe, handheld
Canon 75-300 at 200mm
Fuji Provia 100
f5.6, 1/125 second


raccoon Procyon lotor

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, is a regular destination for nature photographers. Composed of broad expanses of swamp, shallow pools, and scrub brush, it's a haven for most of the denizens that define the Everglades even though, technically, it isn't really in the Everglades. One can find every variety of wading bird, as well as alligators, marsh crabs, lizards, snakes, osprey, woodpeckers, and so on. Except that, on this day for some reason, there was very little to be found, and I was about to leave the refuge with almost nothing to show for it.

Partially on a whim, and partially from determination to get something, I stopped and checked out Shell Mound Trail for the first time. It is essentially a raised boardwalk in thin wetland woods, appearing to be more of a picnic trail than a target for nature photographers, but I ended up shooting a couple of rolls there after all. Among other subjects, several raccoons (Procyon lotor) were scampering about on the boardwalk gathering what I suspect were palm dates that had fallen. This one naturally sought cover as I approached, but with some reluctance in abandoning its bounty visible in the foreground. The resulting pose was both expressive and photogenic.

There is a very subtle aspect of this image that I point out to my photo students: the lighting was such that there is a reflection from the eyes of the raccoon, called a catchlight. For any animal this is a useful effect to capture, but most especially for anything with dark fur, because it gives the viewer something to focus on and makes the eyes appear more vibrant. Without it, we'd simply be seeing the dark mask and some of the personality would be missing, so keep this in mind as you're chasing wildlife subjects.