This Sunday is Mothers Day and is a very important day to be thankful. We all know them, we all love them, they do so much for us as we grow up, so remember to say thanks this weekend.
It’s really easy to photograph the same thing over and over again and get a little frazzled. You start looking through your photos and think how you don’t want to photograph that subject anymore. But then you see it and knowing how much joy it brings you capture another image. This happens to every photographer and the best answer is to look for something different. Go through your images and look to see what you don’t have and figure out how to capture that image.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years working with Bison and have over 7,000 images of them in my files. Despite that, I’m still looking for that iconic Bison shot which I haven’t gotten yet. Nor have I gotten a shot of just the head that I really like. It takes time and persistence to fill in those holes and sometimes it takes just being in the right spot at the right time. I don’t often get a chance to look up at a Bison on a cliff, so when I saw this female munching away it seemed the perfect time to stop. This is a straight shot with the D5 and 600 f/4. This is what Bison do a lot of, head down and eat. A lot of shots are made that way. Getting something different, while still not what I had in my head, can bring all new inspiration back to the subject.
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.
By now I imagine many of you have heard about the baby dolphin that died being passed around for selfies that happened on a beach in Argentina and made worldwide news. Normally I don’t post about issues like these on my blog because that was never the purpose of this blog. However, as I have spent many years working with the critters of this world I felt I should write something because what happened is just wrong.
As photographers our job is to capture images of the world around us. In no way is any photograph worth endangering the welfare of yourself or the subject. While it wasn’t a photographer that made this horrible incident occur it was for the sake of a photograph. Selfies have become such an important thread in our pop culture now that the rules around them seem to not apply. It’s always who has the best one. In cases like this when there is another life present the rules have to be followed. I see this too often in Montana, in close proximity of Yellowstone, as too many tourists come up to take selfies with Bison. Inevitably they get gored. It’s stupid and shouldn’t happen. Just as the baby dolphin shouldn’t have been taken out of the water. When you’re out shooting either in front or behind the camera remember it’s not just about you.
Over the last week the big storm that was gone across the northwest has brought with it lots of new snow and cold temps. While most people just enjoy that because it means good power days on the slopes, which I can’t argue are pretty nice right now, for us photographers it means great photo ops with big critters.
Winter time is one of the best times to photograph critters for numerous reasons. Often times during big storms large ungulates tend to bed down meaning when those nice days roll around they will be more active. Also the white background combined with the dark fur coats adds for great contrast. Now you might think the range of light is too great in those scenarios but the snow also acts like a reflector and bounces light in. Lastly the cold temps add steam to waterways that aren’t frozen over. Here in Montana and Wyoming we have a lot of those areas especially in Yellowstone and steam is another great natural element to add to wildlife photography. Simple things when combined with just getting outdoors.
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.
The last lesson for the week is quite a simple one in context but can be the most difficult in the long run, in part because not everyone lives in an area where these guys live. The last lesson is to go out and find the big game. The big critters Elk, Deer, Bison, and Bighorn Sheep are some of the best photographic subjects you can find in North America. However this is one of those location dependent cases. Well all Mammals look better in the Fall. The Fall is when they start to get their big fluffy winter coats and they honestly just look their best. If you have ever seen a Bison or Mule deer with a bad shed going on then you know what I’m talking about.
Half of a Mammals look or bodily shape is dependent on that fur coat. It provides color, depth and texture to that creature. Thus it creates all those elements in the photograph. Not to mention it also provides warmth for that critter. Fall also brings with it the rutting time for males. While each one has it’s own technique they generally can be quite exciting to watch. One of my favorite creatures to watch this time of year is the Bighorn Sheep. Not only are they interesting critters but their rut includes literally butting heads together. The sound of two big males slamming their horns into one another can be as loud as a gunshot but impressively neither one is affected by the force of the other. It’s truly amazing to biology.
So why did I post this lesson considering not everyone has big game in their backyard? Well it’s quite simple, not everyone has big game where they live but odds are everyone has some species near them, which means that there is a possibility to get shots of something that you ordinarily might not be able to. Keep in mind it’s Fall, migratory species are on the move. This comes with the changing of the weather and can be a lot of fun. There is one very basic and important rule when it comes to Wildlife photography, no photograph is worth sacrificing the welfare of that critter or the home in which it lives in.
When it comes to Wildlife photography there isn’t always an option when it comes to lighting the subject. Often times it’s a matter of holding still and letting the critter do as it pleases. That’s where knowing your biology really comes into play. Knowing what that critter will do and how it will behave can help get that image when the time comes. Well, I have spent a lot of time working around big game, it kind of comes naturally living in Montana, and one of the best and worst times to work with them is in Winter.
Winter time shooting can be one of the harshest times to shoot because of the extra light or lack of light. On Sunny days harsh light can be an understatement as the snow acts as a fill light on everything. It can be also a blessing when working with a dark critter like this Bison. Seeing how it’s back lit there really shouldn’t be any detail in the fur or face but the snow is acting like a reflector bouncing light in. With the D4 and 200-400 VR, all it takes is simple tracking along the path the other Bison have made to know where this one is going. On the other hand when it’s cloudy act that snow just becomes a grey blob that really isn’t that desirable. Keep in mind the trick is not only using the snow for light but also as a good background.
I talk a lot about my travels and especially the shooting adventures from those travels. Well there is one thing that I don’t talk enough about and it is one of the smallest pieces of tech I carry with me in the field and is probably the most important, flash cards. It’s an amazing piece of technology when you consider how much storage space is on each of those little pieces of metal. Not only that but how important it is to have good ones. I have always used Lexar Flash cards in all of my cameras. They simply are the best. When I upgraded to the D4 it was with no question that new cards were a must. The file sizes would just eat up any small cards. The 64gig 1000x CF cards rock! There fast and dependable which is what I like. For when in that moment that you need that combo you don’t want to be left out.
Last week when I was down in Yellowstone photographing Bison in the snow, I wasn’t worried about getting that image. I knew by waiting with the D4 and 200-400VR, that this female would eventually turn her head and the moment would be captured. When I got home, I uploaded the cards with the Lexar 3.0 Reader and in a couple minutes there it was for me to enjoy. If you haven’t checked out there line yet then you really ought to.
Working with wildlife is about pushing yourself to get out more often and photograph them in their natural element no matter how uncomfortable it might be for you. Keep in mind that those critters are out there just like you are and they don’t have a warm fire to go back to afterwards.
One of my favorite places to go in the Winter is Yellowstone. I know i talk about the park a lot but hey it yields a lot of different possibilities. With the cold temperatures comes great fog coming off of the rivers and geothermals. What that creates is a background that is not only clean but also more interesting.
In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, 600 f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film