I love my 600mm lens, but how do I get it there? Traveling with a super telephoto lens.

Most wildlife photographers start out using smaller lenses and work their way up to large super telephoto lenses as time goes by. In the beginning, I had a 300mm f4 and like most, lusted after larger lenses but wasn’t sure that wildlife photography was something I would stick with long enough to justify the expense of a larger lens. Once I saved enough and pulled the trigger on a 600mm lens I couldn’t wait to travel and test it out. My first trip with this monster was to Jackson Wyoming and Grand Tetons National Park. I knew it would be the perfect lens for the trip but getting it there on the plane was concerning and would take some thought.

Young Pronghorn Antelope Grand Tetons National Park
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The I-20 Wildlife Preserve

If you have ever been to West Texas then you know there really isn’t much to look at. You can literally drive a hundred miles and not change elevation more than 10 feet. For the most part, it’s dry and arid. The average yearly rainfall is about 14 inches and not a lot can grow in those conditions. Every once in a while though you’re lucky and you find an oasis in the desert.

A Canvasback duck at the preserve
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Yellowstone, a Wildlife Photographer’s pilgrimage. Part 4

If Yellowstone is known for anything, it’s one thing, wolves. My trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without trying to find and photograph a wolf. These iconic animals represent the west’s wild and untamed past. Hunted to extinction in the lower forty eight states long ago, they were reintroduced into Yellowstone in the early nineties. Since that time the have successfully established themselves in several western states. They are the subject of much controversy. Thousands of visitors a day are drawn to the park with hopes of getting a glimpse of these elusive creatures. In 2016 there were 11 packs with a total of 108 wolves who called Yellowstone home. Although there are over a hundred wolves in the park, as you might imagine finding them can be somewhat difficult and getting a decent photograph of one can be darn near impossible.

Map showing the wolf packs resident to Yellowstone.
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Yellowstone, a Wildlife Photographer’s pilgrimage. Part 3

I don’t know about you but the first night I try to sleep in a new place I never sleep very well. A smaller bed, strange noises, and anticipation of the day ahead led to a restless night. We all know that wildlife is more active early in the morning and at dusk. The plan was to rise early with enough time to get ready and be on the road shortly before sunrise. Times of sunrise and sunset vary by longitude and time of the year. Sunrise and sunset calendars for various locations can be found easily online. In the first week of October sunrise in Yellowstone was around 7:30 each day give or take a few minutes.  We were up at 5:30, coffee in the lobby by 6:15, breakfast to go from the Canyon Eatery, and on the road about 7:30, Scanning the roadsides for wildlife as we drove. This would be the morning routine for the next several days.

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Yellowstone, a Wildlife Photographer’s pilgrimage. Part 2

We arrived early in Bozeman, and by the time we had rented the car and were pulling out of the airport parking lot  it was only 10:30 in the morning.  As part of the plan we stopped at the Walmart in Bozeman and purchased various things we felt we might need for the week, water, snacks, bear spray, etc.  While these things are available in the park at general stores in several locations it was cheaper, and given the time of year we weren’t sure exactly what would be open. We grabbed lunch and were on the highway by 11:30 heading for Yellowstone. It’s a little over an hour’s drive through pretty country along the Yellowstone River from Bozeman to Gardiner at the north entrance to the park. Along the drive we saw several herd of elk with large bulls as well as a Bald Eagle perched in a tree along the river.  In no time at all we were entering the park through the north entrance and the Roosevelt Arch. We quickly paid our entrance fee and headed for Mammoth Hot Springs.

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Yellowstone, a Wildlife Photographer’s pilgrimage.

John Muir once said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”  For my entire life, my family has had a vacation home in northern New Mexico.  It was there that I developed my love of the great outdoors. I spent many summers there backpacking and fishing and grew to love the mountains. As a result, through the years I have visited a number of National Parks, but from an early age, I’ve had a dream to visit the grandfather of all National Parks, Yellowstone. Having an interest in Wildlife Photography as I do, requires one to make a pilgrimage to certain places in their lifetime and pay homage to these iconic Wildlife Photography locations, of which Yellowstone is the most iconic in the US. Recently I realized my dream. I took a week off, grabbed my wife, loaded up my camera equipment and went to the mountains of Yellowstone to “get their good tidings.”

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Wildlife Photography Technique ; Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional.

I love wildlife photography. Taking photos of birds and mammals with large telephoto lenses is fun and challenging.  As we discussed in a prior blog though, sometimes the animal or bird you have come to photograph just doesn’t cooperate and show up on time to have their picture taken. It’s at these times that we should, ” Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional”.   Macro photography is a favorite pastime of many photographers. The enlargement of small objects to a huge scale allows for the exploration of detail the naked eye usually cannot see.  Even though with wildlife photography you may only have a standard telephoto lens with you, you can still take near macro photos.

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How to Wildlife Photography Techniques ; The Wildlife Photography Apprentice, a man out standing in his field : Part 2

The sun was due to rise at about 6:00 am the next day, so I was up early to position myself.  Hidden at the base of a large tree at the edge of the field,  I sat listening to the sounds of the morning as sunrise approached. I adjusted my ISO to achieve an acceptable shutter speed in the low light conditions, and I waited.  It wasn’t too long before I heard the noise of large animals moving through the brush down by the stream.  Soon a number of what are the largest members of my field ecosystem began to wander into the pasture.  A small herd of elk.

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How to Wildlife Photography Techniques ; The Wildlife Photography Apprentice, a man out standing in his field : Part 1

As we discussed in the last blog, sometimes when you set out to photograph wildlife you have no particular animal or bird in mind to photograph but simply have a location from which to take photographs.   This may be the local park, a  wildlife refuge, a lake, or a friend’s ranch.  I’m fortunate to have access to a vacation home in northern New Mexico.  It lies on about forty acres of pasture and forested land with a small creek along one side. The large pasture out back is it’s own ecosystem with  a variety of animals, insects and birds.  It is a great place to employ the technique of simply concealing oneself, standing and waiting for wildlife to present themselves to be photographed.  In effect it gives me the opportunity to be ” a man out standing in my field”.

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How to Wildlife Photography Techniques ; The Lucky Wildlife Photographer

When I post photos of the wildlife I’ve taken on the internet or show them to friends and family, they often elicit comments along the lines of, ” You sure were lucky to see that”, or ” I can’t believe you saw that”.  Renowned entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel once said, “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have”.  People who aren’t wildlife photographers don’t understand that finding wildlife to photograph is not random or by chance in most cases.  It  instead takes significant work to put yourself in the right place at the right time.  In effect,  luck favors the prepared wildlife photographer. 

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