If there are two animals that really sum up “the plains” it’s the Bison and the Pronghorn. These are true plains mammals. Both were hunted for their hides and meat and at one point were on the edge from being over hunted. Today both can be witnessed throughout the west.
Photographically these two mammals couldn’t be further apart. One is massive and dark brown the other is tiny and a bright tan/white. Both together they represent a history. This morning was perfect for the two of them as the cloud cover created a nice scrim to diffuse the light so neither stuck out or blended in. Using the D5 and 600 f/4, I watched as the two herds moved by each other.
So I know right off the bat that this post may or may not be well liked because of the title but it came up recently so it seemed like a good learning experience to write about. What’s the right white balance? Notice I said right not best. There is no such thing as best. The answer is, the right one is the one that best tells the story that you’re trying to communicate in the photograph at the moment of capture. Since each moment is different it’s impossible to say that one works the best with everything. This Bull Elk was the perfect example this past week.
On a very windy day this bull was bedded down with his buddy just below him on top of a ridge. He was very nice to lay down where he did. Notice the ears, as I mentioned earlier this week little details like the ears forward is important. As for the white balance, that day was nothing but clouds with intermittent sun shining down on the ridge. So what was the answer? First off, he’s a light subject putting a dark background behind him makes him pop more. Second, the white balance depended on what the light was doing. When it was behind the clouds, the light was very different from when it was directly on him. I ended up jumping back and forth between Auto, this image and Cloudy WB.
This image was taken in cloudy WB. The difference when the sun is behind the clouds is pretty apparent. But there is another option.
This last one was taken with more direct light on the Elk, notice the harsh shadow under the neck. I went back to Auto WB but I added in A +2.0. This raised the Kelvin Temperature which brought out more warmth in the image. This is a very useful option when it comes to white balance. While holding down the WB button and spinning the front dial you can change the kelvin temperature either up or down, B or A, which adds blue or adds yellow. Thus changing how cold or warm the image is. So in the end the answer kept changing as the scenario kept changing and how I wanted to tell the story. This applies the same to you.
Images captured with Nikon D5, 600 f/4, TC-17EII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
Have you ever photographed something so many times that you start to think about new ways to make it interesting? This thought was going through my mind when I was photographing Mammoth Hot Springs last week. I have spent many days over the years at these springs and have worked them on some truly beautiful days and some hideous days. As a result I have learned a few things about that spot. In this case I figured I’d try something new.
Mammoth Hot Springs is known for the steam and the brilliant colors that come from the bacteria growth in the water. It truly is beautiful under the rights conditions. What are those conditions? Really cold but sunny days. The sun brings out the color and the cold brings out the steam. On this day we had neither and the whole scene seemed more gloomy then anything else. So with the D5 and 70-200 VRII, I looked for patterns in the contrast between the snow, the trees and the geothermal. It’s a different take on a place photographed so many times.
Bison are one of those great American west animals that I truly enjoy photographing. Right now is a great time of the year to be out working with these big mammals because the the Spring calf’s are starting to drop. When I was out on Saturday in Yellowstone, I saw only three of four this year calf’s but a lot from last year. In fact there were Bison everywhere on Saturday which rather surprised me but it to lead to some great shooting towards the end of the day.
Photographing large mammals, especially in the middle of the day, can be rather challenging between the light and the background. I spent quite a while watching the Bison and finally found a spot where they were gathering around a watering hole. This was a great spot because it added something different to the background besides the brown grass. It’s important to watch the color relationship between the subject and the background to find more interesting shooting scenarios.
Now the whole time I was shooting I was hand holding the D4 and 200-400 VR outside my truck window. Not only was that way safe but also acted like a blind. The other big challenge when working with large game is the direction of the light. Because Bison have a very dark color to their hides, harsh shadows can really hide key features, like the eye. Finding the right subject and watching where he/she goes is key to getting the best shot. One other thing that can make a big difference when shooting in direct afternoon light is switching to cloudy white balance. This raises the kelvin temperature so the images appear warmer an more accurately reflects the feel of that afternoon light. With brown grass and a brown subject it makes both of those visually pop.
The temperature is finally starting to drop. This week we might actually be back in the below freezing temps at night here in the valley. This past weekend was the closing day of the interior of Yellowstone. Soon the snow coaches and snowmobiles will be bringing people into the park to see the splendor of Yellowstone in winter. This time of the year is one of my favorites because it brings about a change that I love to photograph, the great steam coming off of the geothermal rivers.
I am in no way a morning person but the truly the best time to photograph the steam is in the morning. It is in the morning when the temps start to rise after a below freezing morning that the river really starts to talk. In the glow of the morning sun you’d swear you weren’t on this earth anymore. I shot this with the D3 and 24-70 AF-S, nothing tricky just a simple click of gods splendor.
This week marked the 99th Anniversary of the National Park Service. 292 million people visited National Parks in 2014. What will the numbers be like this year? I don’t know. But I can tell you that I will be among those people this year. Will you? National Parks, Monuments, Historic Sights, and Memorials are some of the most inspiring and educational places in the United States to visit. I have spent a lot of time growing up in only a handful of the 408 National Parks in the U.S. and I can honestly say that every one of them is special.
From the red rocks of Bryce Canyon.
The valley floor looking up at El Capitan of Yosemite.
The geysers of Yellowstone.
The peaks of Glacier, everyone of these places holds a different story and a different photographic challenge. For some of these places I have still yet to capture that one image that symbolizes what that place has to offer but it is that challenge that keeps me shooting and hopefully, you as well.
Today is the 99th Anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. For almost a century the NPS has helped maintain this countries natural beauties while helping others get involved and inspired with the world around them. There are 407 national parks in the United States and each one has something special to offer. I am extremely fortunate to have been to so many of them but I am truly grateful for having spent so much time in Yellowstone. It is places like these that allow us to be immersed in nature and all it has to offer.
One of my favorite places to go to in the Winter time is Yellowstone. The calm peacefulness that exists when going through the park is amazing and yet at the same time the amount of life that is busily making it’s way through the snow is ceaseless. The geothermal properties of the park often make lots of steam arise from the many rivers that inhabit the park, like the Madison River.
At sunrise on cold days the change in temperature from the water and the air makes for some really steamy conditions and when the morning light hits the steam, the photographic possibilities are endless.
The clam cool morning seems like any other with the light hitting the peak but as the sun slowly gets higher and higher the steam comes up and the magic is born.
In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70 f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
I awoke this morning to the cold creeping in and white flutter falling outside. Looking out the window I saw the first snow of the season already coming down. It was just the other I was saying how much i wanted to get out for Fall color shooting and how early it seemed to have come. With snow on its way there’s no telling how long those leaves will stay on the trees. Pretty soon it will look like this.
This was taken a couple Winters ago deep in Yellowstone. It’s one of the most isolated snow areas in the Rockies with a true feeling of being solemn.
In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70 f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
For years I have worked with Grizzly Bears, mostly up in Alaska. I have my Dad to thank for that for it was he that kinda of got me hooked on them. Despite the belief that they are just vicious animals, they really are just animated teddy bears. Most of the time they sleep and the other half of their time, they eat. It’s what they do. I was very fortunate last weekend to see be able to photograph a Griz in the park. It’s not always common. The more surprising thing about that one afternoon is that he wasn’t the only one. I saw 6 bears that day all black except for him, but even more surprising they were all by the bloody road. I can honestly say I have never seen that happen.
This particular bear caused quite a stir the whole day. He stayed in the same spot for most of the day, which just happened to be in a bad section of road with limited parking space. That’s usually the case in the park. At first glance i didn’t see anything so i drove on by. It wasn’t until about 8:00 when i was heading out and drove past again that i saw him. With big groups and large cameras you always got to be careful, and I wasn’t really bummed that i missed the first time around. Since it wasn’t sunset until 8:45 there was some time but not much. With the 600 out i got a few shots. Enough to have in my files for the first time a wild Grizzly Bear photographed in the lower 48.
He was actually quite a character. About 2 years old maybe a tad older, probably just kicked out by Mom, this guy kept challenging a Big Bull Bison for a patch of grass. At the bottom of the hill was a marshy grass area and the Bison was grazing. Well the Bear also wanted what was down there. So when the Bison moved away he would go down. When the Bison came back or looked at the bear, the Bear run back up the hill and lay down. The bear would wait for the Bison to move and do it all over again. It was rather comical to watch. That’s just how it went.
Now for anyone wondering why I used the straight 600 and not a teleconverter to get a better shot, a teleconverter does increase length but takes away one or two stops of light depending on what size teleconverter. Well with that increased depth, shutter speed would go down and since i was already at 1/60th of a second, losing any more would have yielded no results. Despite his clam demeanor, he was still breathing, wind was going through his fur, and he kept twitching his head. All of that movement would have made any shot blurry.
In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 600f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film