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.”
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Often as wildlife photographers we spend considerable time, effort and money pursuing our passion. We travel to National Parks and Wildlife Preserves believing that these are the only places we will find wildlife to photograph. I have a trip to Yellowstone this fall that I’ve been planning for almost two years. Sometimes though, you find wildlife opportunities in places you travel to for other reasons and where you would least expect.
While certain breeds of dogs occasionally climb trees it is certainly an unusual behaviour for most. Dogs primarily prey on animals that live on the ground and therefore have not evolutionarily developed the skills and anatomy to climb trees well. Cats have strong backs and hind legs with sharp retractable claws which are well suited for tree climbing. Dogs have weak backs and dull claws. The exception to the rule in the dog family is the Gray Fox.
Walking the trail this morning I thought to myself that this may be the first morning that I just don’t see anything really worth shooting. It’s unusual to visit our local wildlife preserve and not see a variety of birds that change throughout the seasons. Most everytime I go out I find something to shoot. It’s been dry in West Texas for several months and the playa lake at the preserve is almost dry. This has a significant effect on both the amount and variety of birds that visit. I was almost completely around the trail and had only seen a few Redwing Blackbirds.
Have you ever wanted to go somewhere on vacation and spend all day taking wildlife photographs but weren’t exactly into roughing it. Maybe your spouse isn’t all that excited to spend the day watching you stare at a bird, waiting to take that perfect photo. If that sounds familiar, do I have the trip for you.
We use this saying around my house anytime someone doesn’t know how to work something. It has its origin in the movie Pretty Woman. In the scene at the opera, Julia Roberts doesn’t know how to use her opera glasses and famously says ” Mine are broken”, only to have Richard Gere show her the proper way to use them. I read so many photography forum posts on the internet from people blaming their equipment for their blurry out of focus wildlife photos and assuming their lens or camera is not working properly. I suspect the majority of the time they haven’t spent the necessary time and effort to learn how to use their expensive new camera equipment properly.