18 January 2010


This fall I was asked to put on a presentation for The Photographic Society of America’s 75th annual conference. Since this year the conference was to meet in West Yellowstone at the end of September (the best time of the year to be in Yellowstone) I quickly agreed. Of course I decided that I would stay over a few days and work the park. Yellowstone is one of my favorite places I have been there more than a dozen times. I usually stay in Gardner Montana just outside of the north entrance, because from there I can get to most of the areas of the park I like to work within an hour or less. But this year because of road closures near Norris the park was pretty much cut in half. After a couple of days scouting we decided that most of the action was near Madison. Which due to the road closures was now an unacceptable 3 hour drive away, so we ended up relocating to West Yellowstone as our base.

One of the iconic animals of Yellowstone are the elk I have taken thousands upon thousands of photographs of elk over the years, but I always look forward to the opportunity to shoot them again. This year I was able to get some images of elk that I was very happy with here are a few of them.

This first shot is an image I have been trying to get for quite some time.  A shot of a bull elk with his rack laid back walking directly at the camera, this is the view a cow elk sees as the bull is attempting to heard her back into line. I really like the intensity, and the “in your face” feel of this image.

Here are a couple of images showing the kind of morning I am always hoping for when I go on a trip, a nice foggy morning with great light and a great subject in an interesting place. Whenever fall rolls around and I am not in Yellowstone I always yearn for the sound of bull elk filling the valleys with their bugling.

I really liked the nice black background in this next shot, I created it by lying on the ground in the meadow and lining up the shadowed portion of a mountain behind the elk. Nikon’s 200 to 400 zoom is the ideal lens for this type of large mammal photography. Because it is the perfect focal length (with a 1.5 crop factor it becomes a 300 to 600 zoom) and having the ability to zoom allows me to fine tune my cropping and composition prior to making the picture.

The following shot has a very painterly feeling about it, It is created using a motion blur technique, this technique also lends a real sense of motion to the image. This is achieved by shooting a slow shutter speed (1/30th sec.) and panning with the subject as it runs in front of you. The trick is to get a frame where you have a good background, good subject body position, and a reasonably sharp eye. Shooting digital makes it free to try these more experimental, low percentage techniques.

This final image shows a bull elk in full camouflage, he is probably trying to hide from all of us pesky photographers.

In my next post I will put up some of the other images I was able to make during my last trip out west.