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.
Sunday afternoon, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming —
A close encounter with five enormous bison? It unfolded like this: As the bison waded across the hot spring that separated us and approached the road, we backed up several yards to give them plenty of space. We were mindful of National Park Service rules for keeping a safe distance from wildlife, and we anticipated that the bison planned to cross the road and head up the snow covered hill. This scenario was unfolding peacefully until a pick-up truck, pulled up right in front of the bison, blocking their path.
What did the bison do? They looked down the road to us and gave us the stare-down. “Move the truck!” we said quietly — to the driver, but only loud enough that the three of us could hear. Luckily, the truck moved on after a pause of a few minutes (surely taking photos out the window and oblivious to the spot they put us in). I looked behind me for a tree to hide behind, but there were none. I’m not sure what we would have done, had they charged at us. There were several cars and spectators on the far side of the bison, but the three of us were isolated, standing on the road.
Once the truck moved, the bison trudged across the road and up the hill, as we predicted, stopping a few more times to stare in our direction.
There were three adult and two young bison, causing the two mother bison to exhibit protective behavior. It was our job to stay distant, quiet and non-threatening. During this time, I used my 600mm Sony lens to capture as many action photos as I could. Watching these enormous wild animals at close range was a rare and special experience. If you like this image, stay tuned, as I’ve got more good ones!
This herd of bison can often be spotted near the state road 191 in Grand Teton National Park several miles north of the Jackson Hole Airport. I made sure to take my husband there to see them, since he was raised as a Buffalo Bills football fan.
In this image, you see the bison from a safe distance, since it would not be safe to approach the herd on foot. (My mother would be happy to hear me say this.)
There are an estimated 500 head of bison in Grand Teton National Park, and many more north of here in Yellowstone National Park. Spotting wildlife — bear, moose, bison, coyote — is a big part of what makes American national parks an exciting destination.