Photo Stories – Great Gray Owls with Ken Anderson

We had a chance to sit down and chat with Calgary based photographer, Ken Anderson. Ken is an extremely talented wildlife photographer and spends a lot of his time in the field with Great Gray Owls. These elusive Owls of the Boreal forest are large and powerful hunters – a favourite for birders and photographers alike. As a result of his experience with Great Grays, he was kind enough to share some helpful tips and insight on how to locate, photograph, and observe these beautiful birds – all while keeping the Owl’s well-being your #1 priority!

Sensitive species like Owls, are subject to a lot of harassment and unethical behaviour – especially by photographers. Ken is a great example of an ethical photographer, who studies his subjects, respects their space and well being, all while getting breathtaking images.

Here are some highlights from our wonderful conversation earlier this month:

Ken Anderson

Great Gray Owls with Ken Anderson – Introduction

Great Gray Owl – Photo by Ken Anderson

First, we chatted with Ken and about how he first got involved in the world of Wildlife Photography. We are always so interested to hear how people find their way into this very specific type of art – everyone always has a unique story.

Q: Alright Ken, we will get started! Tell us where you’re from, and how you got into wildlife photography?

A: I grew up in Calgary. My career is, a sports sales rep. I work for the middle man. I sell skis and bikes to stores, and I do this from Thunder Bay, ON to Golden, BC – so I cover a lot of territory. I grew up in the world of sports and got into photography when I was 18 from my dad and used to shoot some film. And then obviously married, kids, everything and set the camera down for a long time. But then got back in with a digital camera, like a Nikon D40 in the early 2000s to do sports mostly and stuff, but I’ve always been into the outdoors, hiking, backpacking, skiing, biking, you name it. I love the outdoors and I love wildlife. In 2010, with a good buddy of mine who I rode bikes with – sat back and thought, “We ride by bikes where all these big Owls are all the time. Let’s go take some photos. And we just sort of got into it.”

Barred Owl – Photo by Ken Anderson

Q: You mentioned riding bikes and noticing these big Great Gray Owls, these absolutely breathtaking animals. Would you say that’s your favourite subject to shoot? As far as wildlife goes?

A: Raptors in general, whether it’s an Owl, an Eagle, hell even an Osprey! They’re fascinating animals. They have to hunt and eat every single day to survive, and if you slow down and watch them and how they go about their life, that, for me, is the reason I love it. And then to document it, and relive the memory with a photograph on top of all that!

Great Gray Owls with Ken Anderson – Tips

Great Gray Owl family – Photo by Ken Anderson

When you have a photographer as talented as Ken across from you, you have to ask for some tips! Photographing Owls is a very hard thing to do. It takes an enormous amount of time and effort – especially finding such an elusive species like the Great Great Owl. Ken also mentions how he achieves these results, all while keeping the well-being of his subjects his #1 priority.

Q: What advice would you give to a young or aspiring Wildlife Photographer, who wants to photograph Owls and sensitive species?

A: On the smart-ass answer, bug spray in the summer and warm clothes in the winter. But, it is really about understanding that the photo comes second. Because of the draw to these Owls, if you just all of a sudden buy a camera and say, “I’m going to go out and I’m going to become this amazing photographer”, so you push yourself and you forget about the ethical side of things and you may not even know you’re not doing that. So to me, it’s about reading. Be passionate. Also, understand patience and perseverance. And then on top of all that, you’ve got to know the subject. But you also have to know your equipment. Equipment is key. There’s so much information online and there’s so many good people to follow out there. All you have to do is go to the big hubs (e.g., Audubon), or Instagram and follow big names in Wildlife and Owls. If you want some of the best information about Owls, check out Paul Bannick. Lastly, it’s about getting involved within a community, as well. Go out with others, because you will learn a lot. The Wildlife Photography community is very tight knit. It’s good, we can all learn from each other.

Great Gray Owls with Ken Anderson – How Close Is Too Close?

Great Gray Owl – Photo by Ken Anderson

Wildlife photography is a very specific type of photography. It takes specific gear, skills, and an ability to understand each subject you choose to photograph. Like he mentioned previously, Ken has a background in sports photography. Here is what he had to say about the similarities and differences between the two disciplines.

Q: I was curious, for people who are maybe into photography, but a different discipline, what are some of the similarities and what are the big differences between shooting sports let’s say, and shooting wildlife?

A: To me, it doesn’t matter what you shoot. Everything is a process, right. I’ve got a huge background in sports, which is mostly action. So to shoot action, you have to understand your shutter speed, your lighting, and everything else and constantly think about it. A lot of wildlife photography can be still shots, but more specifically in Owl photography, a lot of people want that in-flight shot. Sports action shots and in-flight bird shots, they’re one and the same. If you want to be good at shooting sports, you’ve got to know where to be. If it’s skiing, biking or motor car racing, you got to know where on the course to be. Wildlife is a little different because there’s no course, but there’s anticipation still, and there’s also using light. All photography is about using light. I watch people stand in one spot and never move. They’ll take 300 shots and they’ll post on Facebook the same 300 shots. They’ll zoom in and out. That’s it. They never go 50ft to the right or 100ft back or change lenses.

Now it was time to ask Ken about some controversial topics. Ethical Owl viewing/photography has been all the buzz lately on social media. Whether that is regarding baiting, getting too close, flushing, over crowding, or even (can’t believe people actually do this…) shaking a tree and being loud to get an Owls eyes to open. There are some pretty disturbing things happening out there that is catching the attention of many wildlife enthusiasts and naturalists across North America. Great Gray Owls are certainly no exception. These beautiful birds are a species that are often subject to baiting and lots of other unethical behaviour. Ken posted a video on instagram a few weeks back of a group of photographers baiting a Great Gray Owl with a live mouse. He came across this unfortunate event, and decided to share it with the wildlife community. So, we wanted to hear how Ken achieves these breathtaking images, in an ethical and respectful way.

Q: Of course, we would like to hear about the video that was shared across social media. Could you speak on your experiences of dealing with the unethical photographer side of things? And on top of that – how do you make sure that you are being ethical and respecting these incredibly sensitive species that we’re really fortunate to photograph and observe?

A: What I posted, obviously the baiting….let’s just say the word. I was out and about shooting myself, and I drove by and saw them around the corner. I hopped out and said, okay…one of the ways to change things in this world is on social media, the news, the media and everything. You can yell, scream, jump up and down, and do all kinds of things, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. So I sort of took a different route and thought, okay, a video. It’s actually two weeks old because I agonized for a week whether I was going to post anything. Then I thought, this will show whats going on and why it’s an issue, and what it does to wildlife – and here’s what we can do to help mitigate and change it. And that’s the post I wanted to share because I feel that education and educating people is the best method for change. Now the people who read and saw the post know it’s not intended to pick on someone, but to pick on the practice and what this behaviour does to wildlife. That’s what my goal was to do and I think it achieved it.

Gear used by Ken Anderson

Wrap up

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog! Be sure to check out the Blog Categories page to find more posts. We have more great interviews coming with some fantastic Wildlife Photographers from across North America!


  1. Wonderful photos.

  2. Wonderful photos.