Jackson Lake water levels are at record lows this Fall (in 2021) after a very dry summer. From this location on the dry lake bed, we could see mist rising on a cold Fall morning and snow covered Mount Moran in the background.
The Best Part of Wildlife Photography
I think the most exciting aspect of Wildlife Photography is the chance to observe wild animals in their habitat, doing what they like to do. You can learn a lot from watching their behavior, and in doing that, I feel like a privileged secret observer. While we always keep a respectful distance in order not to distract or interfere with the animal, we whisper to each other, and our excitement is palpable.
Early one morning in Grand Teton National Park, we spotted a bull elk in the field, and his silhouette in the bright morning sun was striking.
At one point, we observed the interaction of the bull, the cow and the calf elk, and then they ran out of our line of sight. While close-up photographs are satisfying and show us exactly what the animal looks like, these experiences are exciting, and the photographs share a story. Autumn is a busy time in Grand Teton National Park for the elk, as well as the moose and bears.
How to Improve Your Photography
Looking through my archives for color photographs that would make a satisfying black and white image made me realize that “seeing in black and white” will make me a better photographer. Any consistently successful photographer will pre-visualize the image before image capture. For starters, one evaluates dynamic range, depth of field, light quality, composition, timing of the action and whether the subject is meaningful.
To choose a good subject for black and white photography there are more factors to evaluate: tonal range and contrast, simplicity, shape, texture, interest. I like my black and white images to be strong. The image has to be eye catching and hold the viewer’s interest without the help of color. I admit, I’m a photographer who loves color, so this challenge is fun for me!
This photograph of a mother Bison and her calf grazing on top of the hillside made the cut for a color to black and white candidate. In my judgement, it has simplicity, large repeating shapes, texture in the fur, wide tonal range and plenty of interest — from the unusual wildlife sighting to the eye contact and tongue in mid-air.
When travel restrictions keep a photographer at home for months at a stretch, it’s a perfect time to exercise one’s creativity with new ways to process images in the archives. On this sunny day in June, I pulled up one of my favorite images of 2020: my daughter and son-in-law on a dog sled in Wyoming with a stunning background.
I was so happy that my dogsled, traveling just behind Courtney’s sled stopped in an opportune spot for me to frame her sled before tall pines, snow-capped mountains and a happy sky, blue with puffy clouds. And for just one second, Courtney and her husband Scott looked up at me and smiled. The triangular composition gives the scene balance and also offsets the white dogs.
Our winter adventures in Jackson Hole will give us some interesting options for holiday cards this year, and maybe a 2021 calendar. I’m sure your photographs from your family trips bring you joy at this time.
Bald Eagle in Winter
February 28, 2020 — It was just after dawn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with temperatures hovering around 8 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was scouting for wildlife with three other photographers. We spotted a Bald Eagle high in a frosty tree. A long lens (400 mm Sony) afforded us a closer look.
For my friend Chris, this was his first time seeing a bald eagle. I had just been bald eagle watching and photographing in Florida the previous week, but seeing a Bald Eagle is always exciting.
We were only weeks away from the lockdown to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, but we were blissfully unaware. How blessed we were to complete this trip to Wyoming before the crisis hit the United States. I think of that childhood game of Musical Chairs. This is where we were just before the music stopped.
Circle of Life: Wyoming Wildlife
The first clue to the unfolding scene of predators and prey was the Bald Eagle with fresh blood on its white feathers. Our group of four photographers pulled off the road in Jackson Hole to study what was happening on this snow covered hillside.
Soon, we identified two bald eagles and a golden eagle perched on boulders. The golden eagle was much larger than the Bald Eagle, but as the scene appears compressed though the 600mm lens, you can’t see the size difference in the photo.
Yes, with binoculars we spotted a bloody carcass between the boulders with a magpie (black and white bird common to the mountainous ecosystem) currently picking at the carcass. The eagles must have had their fill.
Up the hill, watching over the scene was a lone coyote. He was likely the killer of the elk, who may have wandered away from the herd, not feeling well.
Scores of elk stay safe in a tight herd in the valley. It is also possible that a pack of wolves took down the elk. All these animals and moose too roam the national park in great numbers. Soon the bears will break hibernation and join the throng.
While we humans tend to pity the prey, we understand that all wildlife have to eat, and this is Nature’s way. We are privileged to witness it.
Wake up time
I’m the first to admit that I like to sleep in. Waking up to a buzzing alarm clock when it’s dark outside is NOT the way I like to start my day, especially when it’s cold outside. Proof positive that I braved the dark and the cold and forced my sleepy body out of bed at 6am in Jackson Hole is this photo of Rendezvous Mountain at sunrise. As you can see, I was in position to take this sunrise exposure before the first skier appeared on the slopes.
With the temperature only reaching 8 degrees Fahrenheit, my toes felt like blocks of ice in few minutes outside, so I got back in the car to look for some wildlife. We found some bald eagles in short order!
Bison Action in Wyoming
Near Kelly, Wyoming —- Who knew that bison have black tongues? In this image, I caught Mama Bison chewing some plants while looking in my direction. I was shooting with a 600mm lens from a safe distance. At least, we hoped we would be safe!
In this next close-up, you can see the bison trudging up the hill in fresh snow. It was also snowing, windy and cold. I like the raised hoof indicating the action taking place. In no time, all five bison had traveled from the field where they were lying, through the hot spring, across the road and up the hill.
This was our best sighting of the week in Jackson Hole. While we spotted moose several times, we never had a good opportunity for photos like this. A shout out to our guide with Wild Things of Wyoming, Colin Boeh, for his experience with finding and safely observing wildlife in Grand Teton National Park. Thanks to Colin, we had a fascinating and very educational day!
Sunset on Jenny Lake
Grand Teton National Park is such a strong magnet for landscape photographers, that many of the popular lookout points are quite crowded for sunrise and sunset. Tripods legs are interlaced, and I consider myself lucky if the people around me are cooperative and friendly. If an inexperienced photographer starts to set up in front of another photographer who has established his spot, look out! There will be fireworks.
Our workshop group of nine had this spot on the edge of Jenny Lake to ourselves. Check! When we first arrived on the lake shore to see a bright blue sky and backlit mountains, I wasn’t sure how much I liked the location. We had carefully climbed down a rocky hillside, carefully making our own path over boulders and downed trees. I moved to the right and left, looking for foreground elements to create an interesting composition.
As we waited for the sun to sink lower and lower, the show began. Our group became very still when the orange light show reached its peak, and every photographer tried to perfect a long exposure.
As I packed up my gear, I could hear others murmur, “Did you see that reflection on the water?”
How could you miss it?
Learning from Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams made an iconic photograph of the Snake River Valley looking toward the Grand Tetons from this very spot in Jackson Hole in 1942. So, with my Sony mirrorless digital camera and the latest software, I followed the master’s lead and made this vibrant color image at sunset in late September 2018.
The view was even better in Adams’ day, because the Snake River made a serpentine curve leading the eye to the mountains. Today trees obscure part of the river from this lookout. It was still exciting to walk in Ansel Adams’ footsteps 76 years later.