Monthly Review: September 2019
Ah September! The month where autumn starts, cool evenings appear and the northern areas of North America are starting to get their first snows of the season. For me, and many other nature photographers, this is an extremely busy time of year that will run into early November, depending on locations.
The month started off with showing a client around Monterey on a one day private Wild Monterey Photo Adventure. We had a range of shorebirds, whales chin slapping just off the side of the boat, and rounded out the day with some beautiful light on a handful of sea otters.
As always, it is such a pleasure to introduce clients to this unique environment and all the critters that consider it home. It is my goal that by the time a client leaves at the end of the day, they walk away with not only images they are proud of but also a better understanding of the area's environmental importance.
With fall colors not really being much of a thing here along the coast in Central California, I packed up and headed for a place that I was introduced to back in spring and was super excited to revisit to during autumn: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem!
My first stop however was Antelope Island in Salt Lake City, UT. The Great Salt Lake is a well known stop for migratory birds as they travel through the Pacific Flyway in spring and fall. Having spent a day here back in spring, I thought I had an idea of what to expect. I was not prepared for the thousands of American avocets that were spread across the lake for as far as the eye could see!
The avocets flocked to windless areas of the lake, making for amazing reflection opportunities. Laying on the rather pungent damp sandy shore, I was able to get down at water level to really accentuate the soft color tones of the water with the feeding behavior of the avocets. Another reason to get to this level is that you look less like a predator to the birds so they are apt to come a bit closer. The negative is that with the combination of wanting these notoriously skittish birds to come closer to my lens and there being little to no wind, the horseflies found me, making it very hard to shoot while being prone to their attacks.
After several hours of working my way across the causeway that connects Antelope Island with the lake shore, I buzzed by my campsite before heading out in search of the island's other inhabitants. While it seemed that many of the pronghorns, for which the island is named after, had bedded down already due to an incoming storm that evening, the bison were not nearly as concerned and I found myself in a buffalo jam even though I was still hundreds of miles from Yellowstone.
The last of the wild flowers were blooming, adding autumn like pops of color to the relatively monotone beige grasslands.
The following day I woke to nothing but rain and wind, killing any chance of sunrise shooting there. So I headed for Yellowstone National Park, my first location in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The weather continued to be dismal the entire drive up and had a bit of a break close to sunset. It was during this time I was able to find this large bull elk with a good size harem of cows (female elk).
Mid to late September is the ideal time to see Rocky Mountain elk and moose in rut. For my time in Yellowstone, I wanted to concentrate on photographing elk, but also wanted to explore both Lamar and Hayden Valley for whatever those wildlife hotspots would deliver.
I spent just over two days in Yellowstone National Park. Most of the time was spent in rain that then turned to snow at the higher elevations of the park, closing roads overnight into the mornings. However, the weather helped keep traffic to a minimum which is a huge positive when in a park such as Yellowstone.
Wildlife was a bit scarce overall and I do put that due to the weather. Many times when storms, especially winter storms, are expected, wildlife will bed down and keep a low profile in order to wait out the weather. Yet, by the time it was time for me to move on out of the park, I had been able to photograph the elk I had come for, along with a large male grizzly, pronghorn and bison.
From Yellowstone, I drove south to Grand Teton National Park. For me this is by far my favorite of the two parks. Not only does it give plenty of wildlife encounters, it also has amazing landscapes and a varied selection of environments.
My general mantra for shooting wildlife is "We will see what we see." This is especially important when trying to cover such large areas as Grand Teton or Yellowstone. After the first two days covering areas more in the north end of the park but always seeming to end up at the south end as that was where the largest concentrations of animal sightings seemed to be happening, I moved camp south and started concentrating most of my time there.
This strategy paid off as I was able to start learning some of the animals' daily behaviors and patterns which led to better photographic sessions. Moose were number one on my list as I knew I would find them. Pronghorns were second as I just love pronghorns so much and they have always been a bit shy of my lens. This trip I was able create images of both in droves.
However, other creatures were also active during my time in the Tetons. While I didn't see any grizzlies, which is unusual according to several long time Grand Teton photographers I meet up with, the black bears were out in force, feeding on hawthorn berries. There was one road that they were particularly active on but parking and traffic flow were a real problem as it is a smaller road with little to no shoulder. This then makes shooting safely very difficult. So, while I did get a few images, the dense foliage of hawthorn bushes and extreme traffic made it almost impossible to get a decent shot.
The other aspect of field work that reared its head is that animals don't always cooperate on the photographer's time table. Much of my days were spend driving and hiking, seeing very little in the way of animals. When we did come across something, no matter how small, we would typically still try to capture some photos. Not only does this expand one's portfolio, but it also gives me additional practice. Every image shot is a chance to learn or further ingrain photographic field skills into muscle memory. With digital making it pretty much free to shoot, no longer do photographers have an excuse not to practice and make the most of their time in the field.
In practicing on smaller subjects like squirrels or chipmunks, I am able to practice rapid composition while ensuring the subject is sharp. It is also a good way to practice panning and tracking of fast moving subjects and shooting decisive instances in an animal's movement.
When not hunting wildlife, the scenery throughout Grand Teton National Park was spectacularly on display. Working several sunrises at classic locations like Schwabacher Landing, I was able to capture the iconic Tetons with a dusting of snow and slight alpine glow.
During midday, traditionally shunned by many landscape photographers, I went out looking for scenes that would work for my abstract impressionistic collection. Working with several in-camera techniques, I was able to create several new images featuring the brilliant colors of aspens.
Full images to be released on my website within the next week.
When all was said and done though, the moose were the real star of the show for me in the Tetons. I was finally able to get an image that I had in my mind for a while and that is always an awesome thing to cross off the list.
Want to join me on a Photo Adventure like this? Be on the look out for up and coming Photo Adventures as I am putting the final touches on my 2020 schedule and will be releasing it by December. All Photo Adventures are limited to five photographers (or less for some locations) so space is limited! If there is a location you are interested in exploring, please contact me and lets see what we can put together!
Until next time, cheers!