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How Carolina Fraser Shoots Her Stunning, Award-Winning Wildlife Photos

“I was obsessed with National Geographic, especially as a kid,” says Carolina Fraser, the Audubon Photography Awards Youth Winner for 2015. “National Geographic photographers were my idols growing up. When I started taking pictures for the first time I made a habit of studying paintings and other photos on Instagram.” Carolina has experienced a lot during her career as a wildlife photographer so far. From being chased by random men in the brushes to bursitis in her shoulder, nothing has stopped her from creating wonderful photos. Part of this is thanks to the encouragement of her parents at a young age.

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In our eyes, Carolina Fraser’s photos are a combination of both fine art and wildlife photography. She goes for a few different styles of compositions. Some look like paintings and are evidently a product of her study of the art form. Others look like documentary-style imagery found in magazines. But overall, there’s a sense of brilliance to every photo we see. She told us more about how she got some of her shots.

The Essential Photography Gear of Carolina Fraser

“I have two lenses that I use the most. My 200-500 f/5.6 Nikon lens has been my favorite lens for years. I like it because I can zoom in and out and change the composition if I want to. It’s also great for birding which I like to do when I’m out taking pictures. It’s easy to photograph birds flying overhead and I can easily travel with it. Of course, the f/5.6 means that this lens won’t do as good in low light as a 500mm. F/4 lens. In certain cases I do prefer a huge 500mm. F/4 lens. It’s better suited for rain and snow, I can add a teleconverter for a further reach and it does better in low light. For any other purposes, I’ll use a wide angle lens. This is essential especially for a photo story.”

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography. What made you want to get into wildlife photography?

Carolina Fraser: I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by nature. My backyard was a state park. I’ve always been curious and my parents encouraged my interest in the outside world; especially my dad who enjoys birding. My mother had a small point-and-shoot camera and I saved up enough money to buy it from her, over many months. I would go outside into the jungle gym of the forest and photograph flowers from below, laying on my back in the mud… I was and still am, a very creative person and my mother’s camera was the perfect outlet. Eventually, I got a camera that was capable of zoom and that’s when I started documenting birds and other skittish animals. 

Phoblographer: You’re a former Audubon Photography award winner. What do you think this has done for your career?

Carolina Fraser: Winning the youth award in 2016 was such an honor- part of the award was going to Audubon’s hog island where I met some of my long-time photo mentors for the first time. It was the experience of a lifetime, and winning a second time was just as surprising to me as the first! I never expected to win the grand prize, and it’s been monumental in helping my photography – it’s incredible and humbling to have people from different areas of the world enjoying a photo that I created. Especially if you qualify for the youth category, I would highly recommend entering because the award is really priceless. 

Phoblographer: Your images look a bit like someone who was in love with National Geographic magazines growing up and decided to become a painter. Please talk to us about your influences.

Carolina Fraser: This is exactly true! I was obsessed with National Geographic, especially as a kid. National Geographic photographers were my idols growing up. When I started taking pictures for the first time I made a habit of studying paintings and other photos on Instagram. On Instagram, I have saved collections of my favorite photos that I’ve seen. I’ve found that studying other photos (why do I like this photo? Layers, colors, etc…) really helps as a photographer when I create my images. 

Phoblographer: What are some things you keep in mind when you’re photographing birds and wildlife?

Carolina Fraser: If you have the opportunity to create a photo, there’s several things to keep in mind. The background of the photo can change a lot depending on where you are standing. Maybe the bird would look better with a green background of the forest vs. the white of the overcast sky.. You need to move your body and really focus on the background. At the same time – thinking about how you want the exposure. One thing I love to do is photograph birds backlit. For that, I know that I will have to underexpose. For my roadrunner photo I underexposed and manually in camera adjusted my white balance so that the picture would come out exactly how I wanted it. The most important thing that I keep in mind when photographing wildlife though is simply making sure the animal(s) is comfortable. And you don’t have to get close to the animal! One of my favorite photos I’ve taken of a fox was from far away. I sat on a hill as the snow fell, comfortably watching it hunt in the cattails below. It never even saw me and I made a more environmental artistic photo of a fox in snowfall.

Phoblographer: What’s the hardest part of all this and why? Scouting? Making sure you don’t scare the animals? The actual physical trek?

Carolina Fraser: Wildlife photography can definitely double as a workout. It can be hard on the body too! I have bursitis in my shoulder from carrying my 500mm around and I know other photographers with similar ailments. There’s other challenges like cold weather, distracted driving, and finding animals. 

Phoblographer: Have you ever had any scary encounters? Can you tell us about them? And if no, maybe a funny story you remember?

Carolina Fraser: There have been many times where I’ve been trapped in brambles or mud, chased by horseflies, and bitten hundreds of times by mosquitos and ticks.

Once, I was walking in a grassy area of the woods, when I heard a buzzing sound coming from the ground. I thought it was a bumblebee trapped underneath the long, buckling grass so I tried to open the grass mound up with a stick. The next thing I knew, dozens of bumblebees started swarming out of the disturbed grass. I screamed without meaning to and took off due east. One of the bees was bumping into my neck as I ran and stung me.

One week later I was walking in a swamp and stepped on another one. Sigh. Safe to say, I know what bumblebee nests are now.

I’ve been the most (for real) scared when hunters started chasing me in the middle of the woods, another time a random man. 

Phoblographer: What are your favorite birds to photograph? Are you ever able to distinguish subtleties in the birds and their personalities? Can you give us examples?

Carolina Fraser: I like to photograph all types of birds. The window of creativity is larger when it comes to a city pigeon or mallard for example. If a bird is common and easy to photograph then the options to create art open. For me, when I shoot, I instinctively shoot artistically vs. a point and shoot documenting shots. For that creativity to become instinctual, it’s important to study other paintings, photos that you like, questioning why you like the photo you do… why do the layers work…. 

Phoblographer: For you, when is the toughest season to photograph birds? Does such a thing even exist? Here in NYC, I’ve found it more difficult to photograph them in the winter and the summer. The summer provides them with so much coverage, and they end up hiding anyway in the winter. But in the spring and fall, it’s a different story!

Carolina Fraser: In the past, I’ve photographed the least in summer in Pennsylvania because it’s very humid and buggy. I’ve found over time that depending on my mental health that can affect things too. In the winter it is easier to spot the red coat of a fox. I personally love the winter for shooting because I like to create really artsy photos with the snow. 

Phoblographer: What’s the next big goal for you? What animal do you really want to photograph that you’ve yet had the chance to?

Carolina Fraser: I’ve always thought it would be fun to go to a remote place and photograph or video a rare animal. I like documenting for science, and I love to create…. And since I was a little girl I’ve been eyeing the Russian arctic. If I do travel anywhere in the future I’ll probably be going to any arctic areas sooner rather than later because of climate change. Photography will always be one of my strongest passions. If not a career, it’s been instrumental in exercising my creative side. 

All images by Carolina Fraser. Used with permission. You can see more at her Instagram and her website. Want to submit your images? Here’s how.

2022 Audubon Photography Awards

The 2022 Audubon Photography Awards officially ends March 9, 2022 at 12 p.m. (noon) Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Judges will award eight prizes to photographers and videographers: the Grand Prize, Professional Prize, Amateur Prize, Youth Prize, Plants for Birds Prize, Fisher Prize, Female Bird Prize, and Video Prize.

For the second year, Audubon will award the Female Bird Prize and the Video Prize. The Female Bird Prize continues to showcase the beauty of female birds, which are often underappreciated and under-researched in both birding and science. The Video Prize once again will be awarded to the top video of birds demonstrating unique behaviors or highlighting bird life in its habitat.   

Winning photos and videos will be featured in a future issue of Audubon magazine. Top photos and honorable mentions will also be showcased in a virtual Audubon Photography Awards exhibit hosted by Audubon. For inspiration, check out the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards winners!

Prizes include:

  • Grand Prize: $5,000 USD
  • Professional Prize:  $2,500 USD
  • Amateur Prize:  $2,500 USD
  • Plants for Birds Prize: $2,500 USD
  • Video Prize: $2,500 USD
  • Female Bird Prize: $1,000 USD
  • Fisher Prize: $1,000 USD
  • Youth Prize: Six days at Audubon’s Hog Island Audubon Camp for Teens during the 2023 season

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